I’ve seen a number of threads about Lara’s relationship with Sam that suspect there’s something more going on under the surface. With Faith as well. I’ve seen an entire essay about how I have a “gay agenda.” That was an interesting take on it, and not necessarily something that I’d considered. There’s part of me that would’ve loved to make Lara gay. - Rhianna Pratchett, writer of Tomb Raider.
I’m of two minds on the recent Tomb Raider reboot. On the one hand, I found it an enjoyable game in its own right. On the other hand, it was presented as a Tomb Raider origin story and I can’t help but think it fails on that count.
I guess the thing itself is that the game’s thesis is throwing the previous games under the bus as, pretty much, sexist tripe and now, finally, they’re doing Lara Croft as a strong, independent woman who don’t need no man. And I’m no scholar and I’m not a Tomb Raider mega-fan, but I did play a few of the old games and I don’t think they’re the most problematic things in the world. I know, I know, Lara Croft in a wetsuit or a tanktop and shorts, but is that so out of line? I know Tomb Raider: Underworld gave players the option to choose Lara Croft’s costume, so she could be in the iconic outfit or in long pants and a jacket. So is Tomb Raider suddenly feminist, just because they removed the option of shorts altogether?
I think that’s a bit of a gray area of game design social justice. I know there’s been some resentment of Batman games where Catwoman has her costume unzipped, and it does get pretty ridiculous. However, what if the default option was for her to be zipped up to the neck, Brubaker style, and the game gave you the option to show some cleav, the way some fighting games have alternate costumes for the characters? Would it be sexist just having the option?
Anyway, the new Tomb Raider goes to almost ridiculous lengths in the opposite direction. “So, won’t take Lara seriously because she’s hot, huh? Well what if we just COVER HER IN SHIT FOR THE ENTIRE GAME!” No, seriously, pretty much the entire game. Which sorta short-circuits the whole “hero’s journey” thing since she starts out the game beat to shit and pretty much just gets beat to shit in other ways. Imagine if John McClane had started Die Hard with his feet cut up and his wifebeater covered in blood. Honestly, I’d be more impressed if Lara had taken a jacket off a dead nogoodnik before she climbed one of the snow-capped mountains instead of staying in her grimy tanktop throughout. Maybe all the blood and shit on it provides insulation.
Speaking of nogoodniks, I can’t help but be unimpressed. The game’s villains are a cult of strange, woman-hating assholes, but they come across as the same Eastern European terrorist mercenaries you’d find in any other game, chatting about who stole whose lasagna out of the fridge and whatnot. They’re a strange, woman-hating cult! Can’t they talk about something more interesting, dare I say creepy? The extent of their religion seems to be having candles everywhere, so I have no way to prove they’re not worshipping a love scene in a Cinemax movie. And the Big Bad has the most obnoxious voice actor. When he first shows up, he does everything but yell at Starscream to identify himself as absolutely being the villain. Alright, I get it, yous evil. Tone it down a notch. I would’ve been more impressed if he actually conducted himself like someone who truly believed his shit, like a youth pastor for Darken Rahl, instead of having an Evil League of Evil union card.
As I was saying, I don’t buy this as an origin for the Lara Croft we know and are aware of. I suppose that’s nothing new; could you see Casino Royale leading to anything Roger Moore does? But there’s a certain commonality to all the Bonds. This Lara Croft doesn’t feel at all Croftian; she feels like generic Nolanism. I played a few of the games and I watched the movies, and Lara always came off as a thrill-seeking adventurer who raided tombs for fun and excitement. I don’t see anything particularly wrong with that characterization; why can’t a heroine be cool and sassy without having standard-issue secret pain and survivor’s guilt and parental issues?
I suppose the answer is that explaining how Lara, however she started off, could go from that to a cool, nigh-invincible tomb raider was too hard. It’s far easier to turn her into Ripley, even if it doesn’t fit the character. After Batman Begins, I could kinda see Christian Bale as Michael Keaton’s Batman, in a rough sort of way. But I couldn’t ever see this Lara going on another “adventure.” She’d be like the final girl after a slasher movie; popping pills and having nightmares and possibly cutting herself.
Really, the problem goes all the way to the logline of the project. “A survivor is born.” Would “survivor” be anyone’s first choice to describe Lara Croft? Adventuress, maybe, thrill-seeker, daredevil, etc etc. Survivor—every action hero is a survivor! John McClane is a survivor, but we don’t watch his movies because he happens to be really good at not dying from being shot, stabbed, and blown up. Making Croft’s defining characteristic “she doesn’t die” is like Casino Royale’s tagline being “A wine snob is born.”
Now, there are some good moments where you can believe that Lara is transitioning into a badass and not just someone with a high tolerance for horrible things happening to her. After she gets a machine gun, she basically runs around yelling for everyone to LICK IT UP BABY. But those are few and far between, which is weird, because it seems like they’re the entire point of the exercise.
Also, the QTEs pissed me off. Sorry I didn’t hit the arbitrary button in a half-second, I’ll just watch Lara Croft get strangled again, that’s fine.
Or a Hot Pocket. Give me one of those, universe! I read The Secret, I know how this shit works!
“This is how thoroughly we women have been sexualized, that we cannot make the kind of noises that come with physical exertion without it being associated with sex. In fact, everything about our bodies has been sexualized in one way or another. If we groan during sport or we breast-feed in public, we are criticized for making people think about sex. If we talk openly about things like menstruation and poop and farts, then we are criticized for making people not want to think about sex. Think about what it means to be ladylike and all of the adjectives that go along with it: elegant, cultured, classy, sophisticated. To be successful at being feminine means being successful at being private, keeping your body’s natural functions behind closed doors and never letting anyone know they exist. It means to be constrained, that you do not let your legs spread wide in public transportation and you do not make noises that are harsh on the ears. It means presenting a polished, shiny surface to the world at all times, one that allows others to project whatever they wish onto you while never showing too much of your true self.”
I actually got into an argument at the breakfast table about this the other day with some friends. I’m not a tennis fan by any means but this is absolutely ridiculous.
Redirect: With the recent Tomb Raider controversy, notice all the complaints about how Lara’s sounds of pain and fright were erotic? Well…
Dear Internet: Calm Yo Tits On Tomb Raider (new title: my original was the more respectful “Y’all gon crazy about this Tomb Raider shit”). Tries to sum up the controversy and how/why it’s overblown. Sidenote: Is it just me, or is the weird nostalgia for Old!Lara that I mentioned really weird? Correct me if I’m wrong, old-school gamers, but wasn’t Lara Croft something of a joke? The game was good, but the way she was marketed with magazine covers of Duke Nukem grabbing her breasts and Lara Croft models running around and Angelina Jolie wearing boob padding to play her… no one was confusing her with Mario Mario, were they? Then Crystal Dynamics rebooted her and I played those; they seemed to be trying to have their cake and eat it too, still having Lara be a sex symbol but giving her more of a backstory and at least giving the player the option of putting her in people-clothes instead of short-shorts and a tanktop. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s sort of the difference between the Sean Connery Bond and the Daniel Craig one. Connery is 90% fantasy, while Craig is more 50/50.
Now they seem to be going all the way to just having the cake—wait, why can’t you have a cake and eat it? Isn’t having a prerequisite to eating? Are you supposed to steal cakes?—by making Lara a ‘girl next door’ figure who spends most of her game bloody, bruised, and covered in filth. I don’t think they’re cynically going after the lucrative “likes ‘em bloody, bruised, covered in filth” market so much as they’re legitimately trying to transition Lara from Angelina Jolie to Jennifer Lawrence. So in that context, I don’t see an attempted rape characterization tool as ‘flippant’ as a “look how bad the villain is, he’s rapey!” scene in a more conventional Tomb Raider game.
Speaking of fun rape discussions, has anyone ever brought up that the biggest issue with J.J. Abrams’ Superman script is actually that someone tries to rape Martha Kent and a young Clark beats him half to death, traumatizing Clark to the point of spending half the movie as an introverted child abuse victim? Because holy shit, is it just me?
Tomb Raider, Lara Croft by Bianca Beauchamp
Bianca Beauchamp as Lara Croft