Last night I went to see the new Tomb Raider movie, directed by Roar Uthaug and starring Alicia Vikander as Lara Croft.
I went into the movie as a pretty big Tomb Raider fan already. For many years I’ve loved the Angelina Jolie movies, which hinged on Lara’s looks, crazy stunts that sometimes seem to defy the laws of physics, and cheesy one-liners meant to indicate what a sparkplug she is. They’re not the best movies, but watching Jolie perform aerial acrobatics in Croft Manor, solve puzzles in archaeological ruins, and kick ass all over the world is so much fun.
More recently, I’ve played the new video games, which rebooted Lara as a realistic young survivor, rather than a badass babe created in part for the male gaze. And I loved them, much more than the movies or even the old games I tried to play before I really got into gaming. In these stories, Lara is still brave, buff, and brainy, but she also has real emotions. She shivers in the cold, gives herself pep talks when things get rough, and even grieves over her first time killing a deer for food. It’s interesting to see her grow from the first game to the second, becoming more capable but never cold.
So I went into this new Tomb Raider movie excited to enjoy a blockbuster action movie starring one of my favorite characters ever. I like her so much, I dressed up as Lara for Halloween a couple of years ago. She’s just one of those characters I’ve always felt connected to and inspired by, and knowing that this film would be an origin story just like the reboot games, I was eager to see how Alicia Vikander would play her.
The Tomb Raider movie draws from the newer games in many ways. The setting is similar, and although the story is set up differently, some shots are exact replicas of those in the original game. If you’ve seen trailers of either the 2013 reboot or this new Tomb Raider movie, you might be able to compare the shot of Lara teetering across a fallen tree branch over a teeming river far below. She also whips out a pickaxe to climb rubble, just like in the games; and she’s fond of firing arrows from a wooden bow. Even the outfit Alicia Vikander wears — right down to the bandage around her upper arm — is plucked straight from the new games.
Whether or not this is the best movie ever, I loved it. And a big part of that is because Vikander completely won me over as Lara. Though early on she doesn’t quite pull off the moxy I’m used to seeing from the Jolie films, once she starts adventuring, her courage is not so much as impressive as believable. It’s not the sort of courage that requires a quip to back it up (although that’s there a couple of times); instead, it’s a bravery that makes itself evident because that opposing force of fear is ever-present too.
In the film, Lara looks genuinely scared in many scenes, as if she really fears she will die any second if she doesn’t do this one thing, like make this one jump. I always felt like I was right there with her, and a lot of that comes down to feeling her emotional state rather than just watching the action. It’s hard to truly relate to a character who goes in guns blazing — but a character who expresses trepidation, hopelessness, and remorse is certainly easy to understand. If I were in the crazy situations Lara gets into, I would feel just as terrified.
There’s also a scene in which she has to kill someone to survive, and it’s not quick or graceful — you can see that this takes a lot out of her, and that survival is a dirty, ugly business that can rip away part of who you are. Similar moments in the video game reboots made me love the new version of Lara Croft, and they rang true in this movie, too.
Many of the film’s action sequences center on endurance and quick thinking, such as when Lara must balance on the wing of a rusted airplane and make it to safety without upsetting the plane’s precarious balancing act over a waterfall. Later, Lara runs around an enemy camp, taking cover along walls with her bow half-drawn. People move all around her without seeing her. Later still, she’s puzzle-solving in an old tomb, while the floor literally gives way under her feet. While the action scenes in past Tomb Raider movies was more visually exciting, I was much more riveted by the ones here, because they focused so much more on survival.
If anything, I would have liked more archaeology — exploring works well in films, even better than a lot of action scenes. In fact, I can see some people arguing that the action is better in the games, and that watching it onscreen could be a bore. But I actually enjoyed the details of Vikander’s performance enough to appreciate the action as an onlooker instead of a participant, and the movie flowed well enough that I lost track of time and was surprised to learn afterwards that the film is a full two hours long. I just wanted more history, because that’s such a big part of what Lara is all about. I expect if there’s a sequel, we’ll see more of that — this is just an origin story, after all.
In short, Tomb Raider totally lived up to my internal hype. I’d love to hear everybody else’s thoughts on the movie!