While other girls wanted a disco or a sleepover, all I wanted to do for my twelfth birthday party was to go and see the 2001 film ‘Tomb Raider’. It was judged’ for mature audiences so of course my Mum and Dad had to come with my friends.
In the late 90’s and early 2000’s, few if any action films or video games had women as the lead protagonist. I grew up with an action movie obsessed brother, so James Bond, Indiana Jones and TinTin were frequent visitors in our household. While I enjoyed these exciting romps on-screen, I found myself excluded from them. There was no-one who looked like me in the stories. They were either silly ladies who flung themselves at men or they were older over-the-top women like Madam Castafiore.
While visiting my parent's friends house who had a Playstation, my brother and I got into playing PlayStation. Tomb Raider was the one game we always agreed on playing when we were together (The Spice World Playstation Game was not tolerated). We would spend hours playing unintentionally bonding as we sent Lara over the edge of ledges onto spikes in the undergrowth. Later, we played another version of the game on our own PC. I seem to recall we also had a Gameboy colour version of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, which we clocked multiple times over.
Personally, I couldn’t get enough of Lara. Much like hearing Patti Smith singing for the first time, discovering Bechdel Test or seeing TV shows like Borgen that put women at the heart of them, playing Tomb Raider the video game was a revelation for me (actually - I think the first film was called Tomb Raider: Revelation? It just occurred to me now). The saying goes, we cannot be what we cannot see. And up until then, all I saw of women was their ornamental purpose to the mission of the man.
As a pre-teen, Lara Croft loomed big as a role model, a powerful woman. She didn’t sit at home. She was out, in amongst the action. I didn’t think twice about her big boobs or tiny shorts. It was what she could DO that really interested me. Also, we both wore our hair in a plait.
Despite enjoying Tomb Raider, Angelina fell somewhat short of the Lara Croft I had created in my mind. Now, having seen the new Tomb Raider film, which was released last week, I have to say, with deepest apologies to Ms Jolie: THIS is the Lara Croft I needed when I was 12 years old - and still do now. Because I DO love an action film. It's just it gets boring when its ALWAYS about the boys blowing one another up! Ammiright ladies?
Alicia Vikander plays 21-year-old Lara, who is working as a Bike Courier in East London. The film has a grittiness to it which is more believable than Jolie’s Croft. She's not making rent and she's basically a bit lost. Vikander is to Jolie what Daniel Craig was to Roger Moore in Bond. I loved the shots of London streets and Lara’s ‘regular’ life before she becomes Tomb Raider. She’s of regular proportions too, unlike Jolie, or indeed Lara in the video game. Vikander doesn’t have the richest source material to work with, as Lara’s personality was left relatively unexplored in the video game, except that she’s a badass. Vikander develops a believable persona from the somewhat dry source material and brings this unusual woman to life.
Lara is tasked with discovering what happened to her father who for some unfathomable reason decided to go and chase a myth about a Japanese woman who created death. Personally, I would have just stayed at home, but of course, Richard Croft set off on an adventure. 7 years later, Lara is asked by her families business manager/housekeeper, the AWESOME Kristen Scott Thomas, to certify he is dead. Lara naturally discovers a puzzle just before she signs the paper and discovers a clue that sets the story in motion. She pays a visit to Nick Frost, excellently playing a Pawn Broker, before heading to Hong Kong. With a sailor friend in tow, she sets across the sea to discover what happened to her Dad. But nothing is what it seems…
I feel that if I had had Vikander as a role model when I was twelve, I might have had a more realistic role model when it came to Croft than Jolie. I'd like to think that, inspired by Lara, I may have taken up bicycling more seriously or mixed martial arts. She does present a very active, physically and positive body for the role. Whether I would have stuck with it is another question. However, that will have to remain as much of a mystery as for why Richard Croft decided to call Croft 'Sprout'.
Some reviewers have complained about the films Orientalism (it is set in Hong Kong and Japan) or Daddy Issues (Ioan Grufford - grr - you are too young to play Lara’s father, surely!), I would simply say no one dwells on the Orientalism in Indiana Jones and James Bond. Lara Croft occupies the same realm. A realm where humans can jump huge distances off rusty planes, survive a shipwreck and uncover a tomb full of traps. Except in this instance, satisfyingly, it is Croft who gets to go out and save the day. Save your snooty judgements, and let me enjoy the ride, suckers.