In the trailer for the new Tomb Raider movie, Lara Croft — played in the reboot by Alicia Vikander, who gained 12 pounds in muscle mass for the part — attempts the daunting feats that have defined her character for over 20 years. Lara leaps gigantic distances. She rappels down a cave. She solves logic puzzles.
And she also talks a lot about her father, the disappeared archaeologist Richard Croft (Dominic West). Aside from demonstrating Lara’s physical and mental prowess, the movie’s marketing materials make it clear that Richard Croft and his unfinished legacy will play an enormous part in the movie’s narrative. The very first line uttered in the trailer encapsulates the expectation of Lara to fulfil her daughterly duty perfectly: “Lara, your father’s gone. You can pick up where he left off. I see so much of him in you,” Ana Miller (Kristin Scott Thomas), Richard’s partner, says.
With that single sentence, women fans of the Tomb Raider video game franchise realised what they’d be getting in this movie – and shuddered. With another Tomb Raider movie about Lara Croft and her father, the gulf between the starkly independent video game Lara, and the daddy-pleasing movie Lara, widens again.
“In the new trailer, 80-90% of the time, Lara is talking about her father,” says superfan Noelle K. Adams, who writes extensively about the Tomb Raider franchise and has been a member of the fandom since 2013, told Refinery29. “I wanted it to be her own story, and her own choice. It seems very much to be following her father’s instructions. I’m a little concerned that it’s going to rob her of agency.”
For the uninitiated, Lara Croft is a professional archaeologist and full-time adventurer who has spearheaded extraordinary journeys in Tomb Raider video games and movies since 1996. Her outfits have evolved from turquoise tank tops in the 1996 video game to sensible khakis in the 2018 movie, but her fundamental badassery has remained the same across platforms.
What has changed in the Tomb Raider franchise over the years, however, is the role of Lara’s father. How did her father go from being a barely mentioned British aristocrat named Henshingly Croft in the original 1996 Tomb Raider game, to a visionary architect named Richard Croft who guides the course of Lara’s life? We can point the moment back to the 2001 Tomb Raider movie. The third act of that film features Angelina Jolie’s Lara reconnecting, through a trick of space in time, with her dead father, renamed Richard Croft — played by Jon Voight, who also happens to be Jolie’s real-life biological father. In the 2018 movie, Vikander’s Croft is coaxed by bread crumbs set by Richard.
“Richard Croft was never a part of Tomb Raider until the 2001 movie. After that, the parental issues seeped into the games, and they haven't really gone away,” said a female fan of Tomb Raider, who goes by her online moniker Stellalune. For Stellalune, this is a major bummer. “I think following in her father's footsteps is a sad cliché. It would be marginally better if she were to follow a female role model, but what's wrong with setting your own goals and going after what interests you personally?”
They seem to have gone a more safer, commercial route, [rather] than to make a big statement.
Noelle K. Adams
Some fans consider the focus on Richard a fundamental betrayal of what attracted them to Lara Croft in the first place — her iconoclasm, and her decision to live according to her own inner voice. Essentially, what makes Lara Lara. “In all versions of Lara Croft, she’s a character who basically has given the finger to expectations and has the courage to live life on her terms,” Adams said.
From what fans have gleaned from the marketing for Tomb Raider, it seems that Lara isn’t giving the finger to expectations — rather, it’s quite the opposite. She’s tethered to parental expectations. After all, Ana gives the directive in the first line. “Lara, your father’s gone. You can pick up where he left off,” she says. Lara doesn’t go on an adventure. She is sent.
This is diametrically opposed to the history of Lara Croft, and what Adams, who’s been a member of the Tomb Raider fandom since 2013, experiences when she has on her Lara Croft short-shorts and light blue tank top. At that moment, she’s imbued with everything she admires about the video game character. She’s courageous. She’s a rule-breaker. She gets knocked down, and she gets up again. “It is weirdly empowering. You sort of walk differently. You feel like you can take on the world. It’s quite a buzz, to be honest,” she told Refinery29.
What Adams feels while dressing up as Lara is what many fans feel while playing the games. When the first Tomb Raider game came out in 1996, Lara Croft stood out in a video game landscape devoid of women in prominent narrative roles. Most female characters were generic fighters without personalities, like the street fighters found in Mortal Kombat; barely disguised sex objects, like the scantily clad women of Grand Theft Auto; or damsels in distress that needed a plumber named Mario to save them.
Lara Croft filled the yearning that gamers like Kelly Maguire didn’t know they had. “It’s hard to describe the feeling of discovering a new game that starred a female Indiana Jones-type who wielded dual pistols and traveled the world solving ancient puzzles and exploring long-lost cities. It really was everything I could have hoped for in a game and a role model,” Maguire told Refinery29. “I couldn’t help wanting to be her when I grew up.” In a way, she has — Maguire runs the Archaeology of Tomb Raider website, devoted to exploring and cataloguing the games’ intricate details.
Vikander’s Lara Croft in Tomb Raider hardly compares to the initial Lara in those 1996 games. Back when McGuire started playing Tomb Raider on Playstation, Lara was a British aristocrat who, after surviving a plane crash in the Himalayas, decides to abandon her stuffy life in favour of something more thrilling. She breaks her arranged marriage and heads off for adventure in a turquoise tank top and cargo shorts. Her family – including her father, who was then named Henshingly Croft — disowns her completely. The game is, according to players like McGuire, a ball. “I just loved the idea of a rebellious gun-toting aristocrat ditching a life of luxury for a life of high-octane adventure,” she said.
In 2006, with the release of Tomb Raider: Legend, the presence of parents began to trickle into Lara Croft’s backstory. Up until that point, her parents remained in a barely mentioned whisper of a backstory. In Legend, she goes off searching for her mom. But the parental storyline played even more heavily after the 2013 reboot, when the game was radically revamped by writers Rhianna Pratchett and Susan O’Connor and released by Crystal Dynamics — and Lara’s backstory changed completely.
The 2013 reboot of Tomb Raider recast Lara at the start of her career as an adventurer. Lara is younger, less sure of herself. She’s an orphan (her mother died in a plane crash, and her father died at his desk). She’s not teflon-coated like the earlier Lara — she occasionally falters, but forges through with resilience. She experiences bouts of self doubt in between incredible feats. “She messes up a lot of the time, which for me makes her more relatable,” Adams said. “She’s not a superhuman.”
Lara is self-motivated in the 2013 game, and joins an expedition on her own accord. “In the 2013 reboot, Lara made it clear on several occasions that she wanted to distance herself from her father’s legacy, and make her mark,” Maguire said. But the 2015 sequel, Rise of the Tomb Raider, mirrors the plot of this upcoming movie. In the game, Lara discovers her late father’s research, just like what you see in the promotional material of the upcoming Tomb Raider movie starring Alicia Vikander.
Granted, a movie often requires devices like parental motivation for the plot to move forward. But the emphasis on Richard Croft signals to fans like Adams that this will be a safe Hollywood movie, after all. This was a chance to bring the essence of the video game world’s most badass, feminist character to life. Instead, the studio chose to pin her storyline on completing a man’s work, not starting her own.
“We’re trying not to be so excited because of the lost potential,” Adams said, speaking for the fandom. “That’s the overarching feeling. While they could’ve done something really amazing — we’ll get to see it soon — they seem to have gone a more safer, commercial route, than to make a big statement.”
To be fair, the fans are reacting to the movie’s marketing, not to the final product. There’s a very good chance the Lara in the 2018 Tomb Raider will be the embodiment of the character they adore, and one of the sole women video game heroes to make it to the big screen. But these fans are realistic about who the Tomb Raider movie was created for – and it probably wasn’t created just to please the Tomb Raider fandom. “We're still just a small fraction of the [moviegoing] audience. So the movies have to appeal to a broader base in order to be successful,” Stellalune said.
Essentially, they’re not expecting a boundary-pushing moment in the vein of Wonder Woman from Tomb Raider — even if both Diana and Lara are ass-kicking woman action heroes. “Superhero movies have been around and developed enough now that I think people are happy to make more daring choices, whereas video game movies are still very much constrained by the idea of trying to please a certain audience or a certain demographic,” Adams said.
With the inclusion of a father figure and so many male characters, it’s pretty obvious who this movie is being marketed to. But fans haven’t given up hope for Vikander doing their beloved character justice. “As long as the movie remains true to the spirit of the games and gives us a heroine we can look up to and root for, that’s good enough for me,” Maguire said.