Looking Back: Tomb Raider

The year was 1996. The Summer Olympics took place in Atlanta, Bill Clinton (pre-Monica) was in charge of the “free world”, and the cringe-inducing wedding playlist staple “Macarena” dominated the charts. It was a different time.

It’s been 22 years since the release of Tomb Raider on Playstation, and, to think that in 2018, almost a quarter-century later, that a franchise would be alive and well not just on consoles but in movie theatres, it’s a testament to the brilliance of the Tomb Raider franchise.

Female protagonists in the early days of video-games were a bit of an abnormality. Most of the time female characters were either your “damsel-in-distress” types or just bit-part players, with Samus from Metroid Prime the only outstanding exception to the rule.

The arrival of Tomb Raider in 1996 helped begin a paradigm shift for female protagonists. Lara Croft differed from the previous archetype; she was iron-willed, courageous and strong.

While a powerful female character is one thing, the success of a franchise also hinges upon the finished product – Tomb Raider is regarded as one of the greatest video games ever developed. The original Tomb Raider (at the time) boasted revolutionary graphics, a cinematic approach to gameplay and tremendous control flexibility. An emphasis on the puzzle-based aspects of Tomb Raider’s gameplay is also a testament to Lara’s intelligent, cerebral approach.

Tomb Raider’s cutting edge graphics (for 1996).

All these elements timed perfectly with the skyrocketing popularity of the Playstation console and it proved to be the perfect storm. It laid the groundwork for a monster franchise – 18 games, three films and a fiercely impassioned fanbase. Can you imagine any other video game elevating Angelina Jolie to superstardom?

In 2018, there is still a need for Lara Croft. In a time filled with Hollywood scandals and the rise of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, the character of Lara is a zeitgeist of sorts.  A strong, independent woman who embodies fierce determination and strength. Think about it, would want your daughter to look up to Lara Croft or Princess Peach?

Tomb Raider’s 2018 release is fitting. Casting Academy Award winner Alicia Vikander showed that Warner Bros. were serious in bringing top-notch acting chops to the role. The noticeable lack of over-sexualisation in Lara’s character, compared to previous installments (be it video game or film) is extremely refreshing and much needed.

Tomb Raider has always tried to portray Lara as a symbol of strength rather than an “object of desire”. It would be foolish to not say that Lara hasn’t been sexualised. It is unfortunate that in the past, at times, her superficial qualities have taken over what really matters – her skills, her strength and her drive.

Tomb Raider (2018) throws those tropes out the window. It’s a perfect execution of Lara’s character, in a time where powerful female characters are needed. Take your Mum, your sister, your daughter, your niece, your wife to the film. Better yet, get her to play the game. It’s a franchise that proves it isn’t a dusty relic that lives in your garage, but rather, the story of a powerful woman that can stand the test of time.


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