Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

March 19, 2018

Tomb Raider Radiates Authenticity and Female Empowerment

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I had low expectations for Tomb Raider given past video game adaptations, including 2016’s Assassin’s Creed which I barely got through. I had played the origin story video game Tomb Raider and loved it for the more realistic approach to Lara Croft as opposed to the previous midriff baring Angelina Jolie incarnation. This film stars Academy Award winner Alicia Vikander, a surprising choice that works. Focused on Croft’s story, Vikander imbued each scene with believability and emotional depth while still showing she really could leap off cliffs and fight with the best of them.

From the start of the film, Croft is portrayed believably: she is a strong member of a boxing club, a characterization that makes some of the later fight scenes more believable. She moonlights as a bike courier to make money, since she stubbornly refuses to sign her father’s death certificate which would enable her to receive her inheritance. Besides lending credibility to her inability to back down from a fight, her ability to race at high speeds shows her physical evasiveness. The biking scene was a standout, beautifully shot and set to a heart-pounding score by Junkie XL. As part of her wealthy upbringing, she was also trained in archery, which sets up skills she utilizes later in the movie. The depth of her origin story gives context before the viewer is plunged into an island full of gunfire and mystery.

Lara’s world shifts when she learns that her father’s disappearance was tied to hidden journals in a secret room in their family mausoleum. Lara’s father was searching for the Yamatai island where a murderous Japanese Queen Himiko was supposedly buried. Her father disappeared after chartering a boat to the island and she follows in his path with his journals; going against his posthumous wish for her to destroy his research so it doesn’t fall into the hand of an evil militant group called Trinity.

In Hong Kong Lara teams up with Lu Ren (Daniel Wu), the son of the man that chartered her fathers doomed boat to the island. This connection solidifies the stakes for both characters, as most people would not want to sail into certain death regardless of the price. As soon as they reach the island, the boat crashes and Lu and Larare separated.

Villain Matias Vogel (Walton Goggins) who says he killed Lara’s father, shows absolute ruthlessness, such as when he kills a slave worker for resting. I never doubted that he would kill Lara as his motivations were believable: needing to return to his wife and two daughters. Vogel had been on the island for seven years but “they” will not let him leave unless the job is done. His motives and stakes make him dangerous because he is willing to sacrifice anything for his family. Goggins elevates the role by portraying Vogel with crazed eyes and a calm demeanor, ready to snap at any point.

One moment on the island that showed Lara’s physicality is when Lara falls into a fast moving river ending in a waterfall. Croft manages to get onto a rusty airplane that starts to break apart. She exclaims “really” before getting out of it again with a flimsy, rotting parachute. When she lands, Lara is covered in dirt and blood, breaking the mold for females often in action movies that seemingly come out scott free without much effort. She was able to be in pain without being oversexualized or demeaned.

Badly injured, Lara sees a figure that resembles her father. After scaling up the side of a cliff, she sees it is him on the verge of insanity. Reunited, they decide to stop Vogel from opening the tomb. As Lara attempts to free Ren and the other forced laborers one of the movie’s largest flaws shows: Lara wanders around the camp, many shots showing her hiding in plain sight and yet seemingly no one can see her. Not even standing under a grate that is heavily trafficked. This continues in a comical way until only Ren sees her and starts a coup of the workers. They escape and leave the island.

One of the best parts of the movie was the melding of science and magic that appeared once Lara and Vogel’s team reach the inside of the tomb after solving puzzles and booby traps a la Indiana Jones.  Instead of a mythical CGI corpse that comes to life that I expected, Tomb Raider made a much smarter choice as Lara figures out that the queen was a carrier for an unnamed disease: anyone that touched her dies from a flesh eating bacteria. As they open the tomb and a henchmen touches the body, he starts to seize and dies violently. Lara stops Vogel who took a finger of the queen in hopes of transporting it back to his bosses.

Once she returns to London, she uncovers another secret related to her guardian, Ane, and the Trinity militant group which perfectly teases the next installment of the movie.

Vikander crafts her Lara Croft with a sense of humor, loyalty and strength. While some minor points in the movie did feel almost too like the video game, as a whole, it was a fun time. Lara Croft was given a great origin story, setting Vikander up to further explore this iconic character.

 

Ashley Davila is a junior in the school of Industrial and Labor Relations. She can be reached at amd395@cornell.edu