First Action Heroine 

“Action movies are cool. Like, really cool. Like, you don’t understand, they are like soooo cool.” That isn’t a direct quote, but I think it fairly accurately depicts my abilities as a wordsmith when I was a kid. Whether it was nature or nurture, I have always loved action movies. Give me a fire fight and a strategically ripped shirt over a bulging pectoral muscle or give me death. True Lies, Terminator 2, Predator, Independence Day: just give me explosions and chases and sweat and apparently a lot of Arnold Schwarzenegger, and I was a happy child. Action movies to me were always ridiculous and over-the-top, with heroes that leapt free and clear over the line of what is actually humanly possible. They also primarily starred men.

I had never really noticed nor did I care that these action movie heroes were all cut from the same mold. That was all there was to my knowledge, so what other way could there be? And then there was Tomb Raider. Both Tomb Raider movies encompass all that is good and  “no effing way” about my favorite action films. I may be focusing on the first Tomb Raider film, but let’s not forget that in Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life, Lara Croft escapes from Alexander the Great’s collapsing sunken treasure temple by cutting her arm to attract a shark that she could then ride to the surface before running out of breath. That shit doesn’t happen as much in movies these days, and I think we are the poorer for it. I have found that people are quick to say that the action in Tomb Raider is unrealistic due to Angelina Jolie’s small frame and thin arms, and to that I say, ‘all of the muscle in the world doesn’t make it anymore realistic for Arnold Schwarzenegger to catch his daughter on the nose of a jet while fighting a terrorist, soooo…’

However, there was something extra special about this particular action movie. Maybe not as mind-blowing as the fact that where I would once expect to see a rippling pectoral muscle I now saw breasts, but still uniquely special to my particular brand of geek. Tomb Raider, for better or worse, was straight-up a live action video game. I never really realized it until recently, but there is a pulse to it that resonates more with gamers. You can feel which scenes would be a cutscene and it all but perfects the different layers to a genuine boss fight. One of the best examples is the Cambodian temple.

First comes the puzzle. Figure out how to get the prize. You did it! Wait, that was too easy. Oh no! Animated stone demons. Phew! Killed them. Oh no! The boss! I don’t know what to do so I am going to shoot up the face. I think it’s working! Dammit! It has three more faces and now it has swords too, but I am running out of ammo. Hmm, the giant heavy beam with a big pointy end is still swinging, I wonder if I can use that? Oh no, more stone demons.

You get the idea. Not to mention the final boss fight includes a fantastical race up a pyramid, which is 100% okay in a video game, and 100% “what hell is going on?” in a movie.

Okay, But Does It Hold Up?

Meh.

I can’t sit here in good faith as a writer and say that this movie stands the test of time. It unfortunately more accurately falls into that category of a bad movie that I can’t help but love. Most notably, I have found over the years that I am really only attached to the first two thirds of the story. What was a cool fun action movie mostly flatlines after the Cambodian temple. The bungee ballet that leads into the massive firefight inside Croft Manor is one of my favorite action sequences of all time, and the battle inside the temple, horribly outdated visual effects aside, is just so damn fun, but once it is over, the movie feels wanting. As cool as the big planetary orbit inside the snow cave is, the passion and pace from earlier is gone.

When I say Angelina Jolie is the glue of this movie, I truly mean that. Iain Glen is an indefensibly terrible villain. The more I watch this movie as an adult, and the more I fall in love with Iain Glen as the forever friendzoned Jorah Mormont, the more I realize that every single line he has throughout the entire movie is bad and cringeworthy. They do a good job playing up how extra he is, but it should have been taken a step further. He just ends up feeling like a Bond villain in a high school play. He is in no way a worthy adversary for Lara, and the mediocrity is 10 times worse upon learning that he murdered her father. You’re left with a feeling of “Really? That guy?”

Although the live-action video game aspect makes for a super entertaining and unique take on the action, the story ultimately suffers for it. Tomb Raider is a video game adaptation before video games rivaled Hollywood movies with A-List actors lending their casts and top-notch screenwriters crafting the story. I couldn’t figure out why the ending always felt so strange to me, and it finally occurred to me that for a movie, it feels out of order. In a video game, that final “Oh, you thought this was over” boss fight between Lara Croft and Mr. Powell makes sense; in the movie, it feels tacked on. I really wish it had been revealed earlier that Mr. Powell had murdered Lara’s father so that there would have been that much more anger and intensity in the final sequence, and it would have made that race up the pyramid and the rotating of the knife while time is frozen that much more gripping.

Final Thoughts

What I learned most from revising these movies is how important it really is to have more female leads like Lara Croft. It didn’t matter that Tomb Raider wasn’t the best movie, because Lara was all we really had. There were 22 years between Alien and Tomb Raider. Twenty. Two. Years. There aren’t even twenty-two months or sometimes weeks between male-lead action films. Those numbers are even more drastic for women of color. So, yeah, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider may not hold up that well, but Lara was revolutionary and she was mine. My future children will never know a world without Katniss and a big-budget Wonder Woman series and one day we might even get to argue about which Lara Croft is better. I look forward to those conversations.

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