(Welcome to Nostalgia Bomb, a series where we take a look back on beloved childhood favorites and discern whether or not they’re actually any good. In this edition: Angelina Jolie’s original Tomb Raider movies.)

In 1979, my mother walked into the theater to see Alien, and to this day talks about how floored she was to see what she described as a “real woman hero.” Not a beehive updo in sight. My mom was represented and she was inspired. My mother may never watch Alien now, because, well, it’s terrifying, but she still remembers how she felt seeing Ellen Ripley.

In June of 2001 my mother saw the previews for Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. She knew nothing about the video game, but that didn’t matter. She took me and my sister to see it, and for two hours we got to watch a strong, cool, intelligent, driven woman lead an action movie. No critic, no bad review, nothing could take away the feeling of seeing our first real action role model in film. 17 years later, Angelina Jolie’s Lara Croft is still engrained in my psyche. She was the epitome of everything I wanted to grow up to be, and I feel like she motivated and inspired some of the cooler moments in my life.

Let There Be Lara

Let’s get something clear: Tomb Raider is not just totally wicked cool because it is an action movie starring a woman; it is totally wicked cool because it is an action movie based on a video game starring a woman. A child of 1991, I have grown up with the evolution of video games. Having older brothers, I was able to balance playing colorful games like Super Mario 64 while also learning how to uppercut my way to victory in Mortal Kombat. Whether it was Turok, Doom, Serious Sam, or Golden Eye, video games were about the coolest thing in my small but ever-growing universe. There were heroes and there were princesses, and then there was Lara.

I never played Tomb Raider. In fact, my first time ever taking on the character was with the 2013 reboot, but she was always there. I would always see her peering out of the stack of games. Somewhere between ‘Doomguy’ and James Bond, there was Lara. I can’t honestly recall if we actually owned the game or I just remember seeing one of those little paper “coming soon” ads that fell to the floor as you were quickly ripping open the box to get to the game you actually purchased. But I remember her. I couldn’t quite identify why I was staring at her, but I was so curious about this woman with a long brown braid like the one my mom always put in my hair, standing strong amongst all the boys.

It wasn’t until I got to college that girls playing video games became cool and the norm and like “so hot.” Games may have been evolving at a rapid rate, but they still weren’t quite the staple they are today. I remember as late as my junior year in high school getting a condescending “That’s cute” when I told a guy, who I considered a friend, that I played the same video games as him. My freshman year of college, I proclaimed at a party that I was pretty awesome at Mortal Kombat, only to be laughed at by a male acquaintance. He believed me later, but only because a close male friend vouched for me and said, “No, dude, it’s true.” I was thankful for the assist, but still sad that it was required. Don’t get me wrong, I had a lot of friends both gamer and non-gamer alike, but as far as I know, none of my male gamer friends have stories of being grilled to the nth degree at GameStop because they had the audacity to not need any help.

However, through all of those years, I had Lara. I still hadn’t played the game, but Lara’s existence mattered. Tomb Raider the movie mattered. After the movie came out in 2001, everyone, gamer or not, knew who the Tomb Raider was. My sister and I became obsessed with her, and even my mom thought that “she is just such a badass.” Lara Croft was a household name. She was the best parts of James Bond and Indiana Jones, but without the machismo. It was one thing to see that computer-generated, best-graphics-the-mid-90s-had-to-offer video game version, but the movies? This was major. A giant budget, an Oscar Award Winning lead, based on a video game, and starring a woman. It really wasn’t until June of 2017, when I saw Wonder Woman, that I felt that kind of validation in action again. Whatever the critics said, whatever anyone said, my sister and I walked a little taller from the moment we saw Tomb Raider.

A Lady Should Be Modest

One needn’t look any further than the woman herself to figure out what makes Tomb Raider entrancing and entertaining. Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft is some of the most perfect casting that I have ever had the pleasure of seeing. To state the obvious, Angelina Jolie looks exactly like the title video game character, with all of the necessary charm and endowments. However, it is much more than looks that make the woman. She was able to perfectly portray so many different facets of femininity and be believable as an action star. She is emotionally vulnerable and almost childlike when it comes to talking about her father, she is coy and delightful and endearing and respectful when interacting with native peoples and children, she is tough and fierce and commanding when dealing with her foes, and she is focused when facing a task. Honestly, there is a part of me, as a child and even now as an adult, that isn’t completely convinced that Tomb Raider is work of fiction, and Angelina Jolie just did the movie to throw people off her superhero scent.

I remember when I first saw the scene where she gets out of the shower. Her butler tells her that “a lady should be modest,” and she throws off her towel and proclaims “yes, a lady should be modest.” She gave not a single fuck, and my 10-year old self was thinking whatever the 2001 pop-culture vernacular equivalent for “Yass queen” was. Her confidence in herself doesn’t end there. Later, she startles a naked Daniel Craig, her frenemy/lover(?) of sorts throughout the story, after sneaking into his room. With a quick exchange and a subtle hint of flirtation, she lets the future James Bond know who he is dealing with. She owned the room, and put fear and doubt into this confident man’s eyes. This empowerment, however, does not reside solely in private rooms with partial nudity. When it comes to the task at hand, she fearlessly stands on a ledge in a temple staring down at a room full of men armed with guns and egos, and when she tells them they are wrong, they listen. Like her beauty, her intelligence and her abilities were never questioned. Not by her friends, not by her enemies, and not by herself.

Angelina Jolie’s Lara Croft has been “#Goals” for me since the hashtag was merely a pound sign. The ’90s were full of a lot of teen romcoms, and entertaining as some of them were, they really put people into specific categories and fairly strict boxes. The pretty girls weren’t nerdy, dirty, or funny and a lot of the protagonists required some sort of makeover to be heard. Don’t get me wrong, I firmly believe that Clueless is a national treasure, but where was our variety? It had been years since Ellen Ripley took on the xenomorphs, and in 2001 the toughest woman that I remembered seeing was Sarah Conner, who, though strong, is a fairly shaky role model to say the least. Lara Croft was beauty and brawn. To this day one of the highest compliments in my universe is, “Omg that is so Lara Croft.” In layman’s terms, it means your outfit, or look, has achieved being both sexy and tough. Lara Croft is that perfect embodiment of the brand of feminism so prevalent in our modern times, and one that means so much to women like me. You can want to be sexy and want to be tough. You don’t have to choose, and one never negates the other.

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