Lara Croft: Tomb Raider: 5 STARS

*Quick note for all my many legions of fans, there is a tab at the top of this page called ‘Star System’ which I hope can answer some of your questions about how the star system works, but I think we all know who the real stars are here don’t we? …. Exactly it’s you guys for reading my blog. Well done you*

(SPOILERS once again you’ve had a long time to watch this but who knows you may not be a big action-archaeology fan. I find that difficult to believe but there we go. So yes there may be some spoilers. TW there is male violence against women in this film, so that must be noted, but very much in the sense of ‘having a fight’ rather than ‘being beaten’)

“A lady should be modest” – Lara Croft

Now if someone said to you ‘Like James Bond, and Indiana Jones, but a woman’ I am sure that you would be excited. I know I would, I mean I just watched Diamonds are Forever and you don’t get through that without bewailing James Bond’s persistent maleness. And by and large I think Lara Croft lives up to this description. She is massively sexualised. She, unlike Daniel Craig her male tomb raiding counterpart, is almost constantly dressed in lycra. When Angelina Jolie says that she wouldn’t put those shorts on until the week of filming because she felt naked her fears seem entirely justified. On the other hand she really does do some good proper fighting, she takes the stereotype of the English lady she is presented with and shoots it and she saves her rather lack lustre love interest from a grisly death rather than having that terrible moment many female action heroes suffer from in which they suddenly have to reveal their “feminine” (read weak) side by being saved. As Jolie also notes Lara beats the men she fights not because she’s a woman so they in some way go easy on her, but because she’s better than them. Giving a female character a gun doesn’t make her a wonderful role model, or an example of a strong woman, but in this instance, it kinda helps.

The Bechdel Test

– Developed Female Relationships

(A bad start. Dead mother syndrome rearing its ugly head again. Now you may say that her father’s also dead, but that doesn’t stop him appearing all the time and being the major plot driver does it? No, no it does not. Lara kind of tries to sneak her way into this one by having “conversations” with small native girls who then turn into flowers, but as they are unnamed and seem to exist solely to bear messages between Angelina and Jon Voight (who is her real life father, fun fact) they shall not count. So yeah like many films with a central heroine Tomb Raider corrects it’s crazy gender imbalance by having no other women. That seems fair)

STAR: Non-stereotyped Female Characters

– STAR: Developed, Prominent Female Characters

(Ok so the main thing Lara does is shoot things. Which is not character development. But she does have some emotional moments (did you know yoga heals wounds? well it does, if you really trust the smiling monks whose religion is definitely being appreciated in all its entirety) and despite how heavily loaded these are with cultural appropriation they do add up to a woman, with a father, a career, an ex, a relationship to the world and a nemesis, obviously. He is kind of awkwardly effeminate, like I’m not sure if he’s part a homophobic attack? Or just a sleazeball? Because sleazy and surrounded with lush fabrics seems to be the standard Hollywood depiction of Evil Gay Man. Anyway this section isn’t about him it’s about Lara who is also kinda funny, for a woman who used to be a silent computer game character she has done very well)

STAR: No Excessive Air of Misogyny

– STAR: No Rigid Adherence to Gender Norms

(More stars! Yay! This is where Tomb Raider really comes into its own because this is a tricky star to get. Here it is revealed that Lara Croft isn’t a more prominent love interest. She is the hero. This doesn’t just mean she’s got more screen time or does more fighting, it means that this is her story. No one cares about Daniel Craig the worst American impersonator in the world. She saves him. And she breaks into his hotel while he’s showering which I feel is a revenge move for her earlier entirely inexplicable shower scene where the camera breaks into her personal space with no jokes with Italian maids or sultry talk of cold showers to lighten the mood. Also people seem really willing to shoot her and view her as a skilled professional in a physically demanding job. Which is cool, like there’s never a big deal made about how she’s *a woman*)

No Excessive Female Exposure or Sexualisation

No Objectification of the Female Body

(No chance. The opening sequence alone, so many crotch shots, those are not practical shorts and there is the aforementioned inexplicable shower scene. So, yeah, no. Angelina Jolie’s spin on this is quite interesting, because she really stresses Lara’s “curves” as a body positive image. And really she’s right, having large breasts while wearing a t-shirt shouldn’t equal objectification. A skinny lady would look far less sexual than Lara in the same clothes and maybe having an action hero with a big chest is pretty cool. On the other hand I don’t think empowering large chested ladies into a life of physical exertion was exactly what the film’s creators had in mind. Tight tshirts might not equal objectification but I really think crotch shots do. Oh, and there shall be no talk of Death of the Author here. The patriarchal ‘film creators’ who I imagine behind these decisions live on in this blog, if only so I can try to kill them)

STAR: No Gratuitous or Trivialising Scenes of Rape or Male Violence Against Women

– STAR: No Threat of Male Violence Against Women

(So there is a lot of violence in this film. And much of it is directed towards Lara. However none of it is sexual and neither are we in any real fear for her health. Lara’s physical prowess, and the amount of training Jolie had to go through to achieve that, can be seen from two distinct perspectives. On one hand she’s a bad ass warrior woman who fights off armies of intruders when they try to burgle her house. And on the other hand Jolie described herself as ‘everyone else’s experiment’ during the making of this film and for all her talk of curves her entire body seems entirely devoid of fat. The debate about whether one should be sad that this level of training is perceived as necessary even when a female character is not meant to be particularly concerned with her appearance, or happy that the training is now not gendered and that Jolie is held up to the same, gruelling, standards as male action heroes rages on. The men Lara beats to death do not. (Some would say I have stolen this joke from Malory Ortberg, I prefer to think of it as an homage))

Right so 5 stars. And 4 Bonus Points. 2 earned by those mysterious native little girls, Cambodian and Siberian respectively, who clearly would be working class if that wasn’t a very western word and which this film really really just scrapes. And 2 for women in traditionally masculine roles/women in power, which this film really nails. Lara was in the army, and she’s an action hero, and she has servants. How much more masculine and powerful can you get. So in conclusion Lara is a woman who refuses to be a lady and demands to be thought of first and foremost as a tomb raider. She successfully reverses the conventional damsel in distress plot by saving her co-star and almost balances out her own sexualisation by eyeing up his naked body while remaining fully clothed herself. She is unquestionably female without having to be vulnerable or sensitive or girly. Obviously she capitulates at the end when she wears the dress but that moment when she walks into that room of old white men wearing her leathers and puts her boots up on the chair in front of her. That moment is triumphant. Obviously there’s her massive wealth and aristocratic status to deal with. She is after all Lady Croft. But while the evil sleazeball lounges on feather sofas as Cambodian peasants slave away for him/stand on his back Lara, for the most part, rejects the power that comes with her class (bar her massive house and servants, obviously) by, quite literally getting her hands dirty. I think when Lara sits on the Illuminati throne (no film is truly complete without the Illuminati) we’re meant to see something subversive. Not a rich person sitting on a rich person chair, but a woman sitting on a man’s chair. Also I’ve seen enough films full of maids to want some nice male servants to even the odds. So maybe Tomb Raider just balances the scales a bit rather than making its own significant contribution. But frankly those scales could do with some fucking balancing. In my humble opinion.

*A note on the game. So I know absolutely nothing about the game this film was based on. However Carol Pinchefsky – http://www.forbes.com/sites/carolpinchefsky/2013/03/12/a-feminist-reviews-tomb-raiders-lara-croft/ – does. I just read her review of the game and I think the similarity in our rating systems means that either we’ve both been meditating too much with Cambodian monks and have developed a psychic bond or that these are important questions that should be asked of all films, and indeed games. One or the other*

Advertisements

One thought on “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider: 5 STARS

  1. Pingback: STAR LEAGUE | Feminist Film Stars

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s