‘Tomb Raider’ revamps Lara Croft as feminist action icon

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Grade: 3.5/5.0

From Core Design’s initial introduction of the infamous gun-toting brunette in 1996 to Square Enix’s current iteration of the adventuring archaeologist, Lara Croft has long been the epitome of the female action protagonist across the “Tomb Raider” games and films. Yet as director Roar Uthaug’s heavily anticipated reboot of the beloved series proves, Lara isn’t simply the trigger-happy busty babe and overt sex symbol she was built to be — a positive change for the franchise.

Starring Academy Award-winning actress Alicia Vikander as Lara Croft, “Tomb Raider” largely follows the storyline of Square Enix’s eponymous 2013 game, occasionally borrowing elements from 2015’s “Rise of the Tomb Raider” while crafting a redesigned origin story for the beloved heroine.

Lara is not quite the seasoned scholar and adventurer who fans of the franchise have come to love — she’s still reeling from the disappearance of her father, the renowned archaeologist Richard Croft (Dominic West). Instead, “Tomb Raider” introduces Lara as a struggling courier with a sharp tongue and a penchant for boxing who refuses to accept her inheritance after her father’s supposed death.

After stumbling across Richard’s research in the depths of Croft Manor, Lara learns of the mysterious Himiko, the notorious regent of the island of Yamatai who was sealed away in a tomb in order to protect humanity from her wrath. Desperate to find her father and uncover the secrets of Himiko, Lara sets sail to Yamatai, where she discovers that a shadowy organization named Trinity has a more sinister plan for Himiko’s legendary powers.  

Armed with just her trusty bow and climbing ax, Lara stands as the sole heroine against Trinity’s villainous men, relying on her affinity for historical texts and puzzles as much as her combat skills to remain the last woman standing.

From start to finish, “Tomb Raider” is a thrilling experience with scenes and effects that are as stunning as video game cut scenes. The film always leaves audience members on the edge of their seats, holding their breath as Lara maneuvers yet another precarious environmental obstacle. It’s thrilling to watch her stealthily sneak around an enemy base camp, taking her opponents down one by one with a silent arrow.

Yet, both in terms of its plot and general tone, “Tomb Raider” strays significantly from its game counterpart — the film fails to make substantial use of some of the most compelling aspects of the “Tomb Raider” games, such as the complicated puzzles and historical texts that differentiate the series from a slew of similar action-adventure role-playing games. Instead, Lara is tasked with solving a handful of fairly obvious puzzles and codes that give the film a cheesy “Indiana Jones”-esque vibe.

In fact, despite its brilliant pace and excitement, “Tomb Raider” takes on a less combat-intensive approach to Lara’s adventuring, instead focusing on the heroine’s self-development. Here, Lara is neither Core Design’s image of engineered sex appeal, nor Square Enix’s brilliant scholar — she is instead a realistically tough and fiercely independent young woman who slowly becomes a compelling character.

This focus on Lara’s origin story allows “Tomb Raider” to delve into Lara’s complicated relationship with her father, lending the film a few lighthearted moments while adding dimensions to Lara herself. Independent, witty and a prime example of female empowerment, Vikander’s Lara is unrestrained by conventions that have bound the character since her creation, rendering her a joy to watch.

While not as complete or contemplative as the games that “Tomb Raider” fans have come to expect from Square Enix, the film is undoubtedly an entertaining adventure that presents a fresh, winning take on Lara Croft herself. Vikander expertly portrays a witty and humanized Lara, crushing Croft’s previous sexed-up image, to instead establish the heroine as an admirable and intelligent feminist icon. After getting a taste of the new and improved powerhouse that is Croft, fans are left dangling from a cliff — hanging on by the handle of a climbing ax — waiting for the next installment in Lara’s filmic adventures.

“Tomb Raider” is currently playing at UA Berkeley 7.

Contact Manisha Ummadi at [email protected].