Review: ‘Tomb Raider’ Causes A (Tiny) Ripple In The Case For Women’s Empowerment
*Note: Minor spoilers ahead.*
Upon viewing the highly anticipated reboot of Tomb Raider: Lara Croft (Mar. 16), the lack of women characters left a deep yearning for more. Yes, the movie is a reboot of 2001’s original Tomb Raider starring Angelina Jolie, which was inspired by the ubiquitous video game that was created off the strength of a singular woman’s prowess. Albeit, the wish was always to see more than just one girl in the room. Throughout the film, there were many fight scenes where it would’ve been awesome to see Lara accompanied by a fierce group of women—like with Black Panther’s Dora Milaje, the fearless army that protects Wakanda.
However, it’s worth noting that Tomb Raider still has a great legacy of casting strong female leads. Director Simon West’s decision to select Jolie was stellar, but it was something that didn’t come easy—he had to persistently coax Paramount Pictures to hire her because of her reputation. “She spoke her mind, and she had a notorious reputation. It was quite hard for me to get her through the approval process at the studio, because I wanted an actress who was going to bring something to the part, and she brought this great Angelina Jolie mythology with her as this dark, crazy, wicked woman with a very particular and interesting personality,” West told Entertainment Weekly. “I wanted that mythology of Angelina Jolie to fuse with Lara Croft.”
A mere 17 years later after the original film, it’s Swedish actress Alicia Vikander’s turn to knock Lara’s one-woman show out of the park. And she does, under the limitations of the film’s rapid-fire transitions and anemic script. Still, her presence (like Jolie’s) is required in today’s socio-political climate—especially with tinsel town’s habit of mistreating women. We need to get comfortable seeing women in positions of power on and off the screen.
Inside a Warner Bros. conference room in New York City, British actress Hannah John-Kamen, who plays Lara’s best friend, Sophie, echoes these sentiments. “100 percent you have to get used to seeing women in power, and I think definitely it’s what the movie industry is incorporating, especially with strong female leads,” she said. “You have Wonder Woman this year, and having Lara Croft in Tomb Raider. It shouldn’t feel uncomfortable and it shouldn’t be abnormal, different or an anomaly to see a strong powerful female lead, so I think it’s the right step forward.”
It’s a step forward that allows women to experiment with action roles and take cinematic risks that might set them back. Bustle highlights this notion where Olivia Truffaut Wong writes, “In the past, the ability to fail in Hollywood was a privilege traditionally saved for men. Just look at Armie Hammer, who survived the badly-reviewed The Lone Ranger and The Man from U.N.C.L.E to become a movie star.”
Female empowerment aside, more could have been done with Tomb Raider’s plot to back up the action. When we first meet Lara, she fits the lost rich girl narrative. She chose the struggle life, sought adventure and found herself instead of spending her trust fund. She’s a boxer and works as a bike messenger in the streets of London. Against her advisor’s wishes, she goes on a quest in Asia to find her billionaire father (Dominic West) where he fled to chase down a Japanese mythical goddess.
Lara treks off to Hong Kong to meet a drunk captain (Daniel Wu) and coaxes him to take her to the mysterious land. She fights off villains, hangs from a cliff positioned in the midst of a waterfall reminiscent of Niagara Falls and continues to fight. She ends up finding her dad but is forced to leave him again. Directed by Roar Uthaug, the film presents a story about a girl with daddy issues. In the end, we’re not sure if she finds a solution to them. Yet her tough demeanor and high flying stunts are appreciated.
While Tomb Raider’s plot could have been more colorful and dotted with other female heroes or villains, it works in opening the door for more women to try their hand at action films in general. Let’s hope this space keeps widening for more than just one major role in action films; in both the fantasy and real worlds.