Growing up I played the games of the Tomb Raider series and many of my female friends did too. I guess we played it because it was the only video game where as a woman one could shoot a bunch of guys. I hope that’s not all it was to us. The idea of being an archeologist, traveling to remote areas of the world to find long forgotten treasures and artifacts is just so exciting and amazing. And being a woman, we girls were able to identify ourselves with Lara. In the game Lara is not just a side-kick, but a hero on her own. She chooses her own adventures and aims, and definitely she’s not a Damsel in Distress.
And playing Tomb Raider is not only about shooting around. Lara Croft is a smart women interested in history and old cultures. As player one explores ancient sites and has to master tough puzzles.
Surely I was excited when the first Tomb Raider film was released in 2001. I was way to young to watch it then, but my mum took me to the cinema. Re-watching the film now I must say it’s not the finest piece of art. The story isn’t that well written, sometimes in-coherent and the character’s decisions sometimes are not comprehensible. Still for me this Lara Croft was inspiring, this educated Lady, speaking several languages, who studies old leather-bound books to find hidden leads to ancient treasures.
So it was clear to me that I would watch the new Tomb Raider film that was released this year. And as I expected, I was disappointed. Not only by a boring and flawed story and uninspired characters (like I’m used to from Hollywood productions), but foremost by Lara Croft’s total lack of self-determination and her passivity. Lara from the first film isn’t a feminist’s dream, but she is an independent woman, who fights against-killer robots when she feels like it. In the new film she became a puppet, her actions led by the male protagonists around her.
Both stories are initiated by male characters, namely the father of Lara Croft. (A woman without Daddy-issues? I don’t believe that exists in Hollywood) The Lara of 2001 receives the task to find a magic artifact before the villains do, to save the world. In the new film Lara finds the old study of her lost father and despite destroying his notes, as he wishes, she goes on a journey to find him. So the new Lara’s journey is founded on her own will, but despite this, in every scene it feels like she is a passive character who has no control over what is happening to her. It is the male characters who decide what’s going on and she’s struggling through this pre-made world. When a gang of guys steal her backpack she fights fearless, but in the end, it is a drunk guy with a gun who saves her. On the island Lara is either on the run or has to do what the villains want from her. She does not open the secret temple because she wants to, but because otherwise her father would be shot. She doesn’t kill the villain in the end because it was her own idea, but because her father told her so. Lara never is in control. She is like a shy deer that is kept a hostage and is forced to do something.
In comparison Lara from 2001 is always in control of her actions. She decides what is happening next and choosing her steps with confidence. She knows what to do in any moment of the film and is confident with her strength and her abilities. It is always her who is smarter than her male companions and solving puzzles in the last moments.
There are two scenes in the films I want to compare: In the film of 2001 Lara visits an old friend of hers, it seems like he is some sort of historian specialized in clocks. She brings this one clock that she found, but doesn’t understand yet. While he takes the first look at it, she already tells him all she found out about it. In the end her friend only adds that he can’t say more about it than her. Here Lara shows that she has knowledge and ideas of her own. She consults her friend to gain more information, but she is not dependent on him.
In the new film Lara got some notes of her father that she needs to decode to be able to open a secret box. She studies them but can’t find the answer. Then her travel companion, a drunk sailor, takes just one glance at it and tells her the answer.
Comparing the scenes show, that Lara from 2018 constantly relies on her male partners. The strong woman with a fierce smile at any time, became a timid girl, who always needs to be saved with a look on her face as if she would start to cry at any second.
This struggling Lara is not inspiring me. She’s not my role model that inspires me to follow my aims fiercely, to make the first step on my own into the direction I choose to.
I’ll rather turn on the game console and step in as Lara myself. Here it’s me and her who are the main protagonists. It is us who solve the puzzles and fight against the villains and the tyrannosaurus rex (Tomb Raider I). And when Werner is telling us what to do, we ignore him, because we know what is going to happen to him (Tomb Raider IV)