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“Tomb Raider” proves a surprising light in the darkness

An action film that respects human dignity, the feminine genius, and the bonds of family – and that’s based on a video game?

Alicia Vikander stars in a scene from the movie "Tomb Raider." (CNS photo/Warner Bros.)

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of violence and action, and for some language)
USCCB Rating: A-III – adults
Reel Rating: 4 out of 5

In my previous review of I Can Only Imagine, I expressed frustration over Hollywood’s handling of its sexual harassment crisis. While my statement still stands, Tomb Raider demonstrates that at least some mainstream filmmakers are using this dark period as an opportunity for growth and reflection rather than hypocritical, self-serving condemnation. It’s an even further surprise that this “light in the darkness” comes from the most unexpected of genres – a popcorn flick based on a video game.

When Tomb Raider opens, it seems that Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) is a penniless waif barely scraping a meager existence as a bike courier and amateur boxer in the streets of London. Soon we learn she is sitting on an enormous fortune, but claiming it would require signing a document that admits her father, Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West), is dead rather than simply missing. Before giving up, Lara decides to retrace her father’s steps and find the lost tomb of the evil Japanese Empress Himiko, who could kill a person with only a touch of her hand. Of course, Lara isn’t the only one looking, and she finds a great deal more than she expected.

Ninety percent of Tomb Raider’s success comes from the performance of Swedish actress Vikander, who manages to muster more emotion and empathy in a single glance than Angelina Jolie was able to do in two previous Tomb Raider films. Vikander is the perfect 2018 antidote to both the over-sexualization and the masculinization of women so prevalent in action films. She is brave, fierce, and skilled while also compassionate, gentle, and – best of all – vulnerable. As fully fleshed-out character, she makes mistakes and must learn to accept the mantle of “hero,” which involves knowing when to push through and when to stop fighting.

Director Roar Uthaug, previously know for his fantastic Swedish disaster movie The Wave, never uses Lara Croft’s sexuality as a cheap gimmick. This is particularly notable given the history of the Tomb Raider video game series, which found early success through its marketing of Lara Croft, with her comically over-sized bust and tiny shorts, as a sex symbol to adolescent male gamers. In addition to the two films starring Angelina Jolie, there were official swimsuit editions of PlayStation Magazine and countless unofficial pornographic materials. Uthaug’s film certainly portrays Lara as attractive, but remains non-exploitative. Furthermore, early on she makes a male friend – also attractive – who carries similar parental baggage, and the pair’s friendship grows while remaining strictly platonic. Lara doesn’t need a man to be fulfilled, but neither does she scorn men, and she willingly accepts help when she needs it.

The last surprising aspect of Tomb Raider, especially given the movie’s origins, is its approach to the sanctity of life in the face of violence. Lara is hesitant to kill or even harm anyone. When she does take her first life – while she is completely justified – it marks her. She cries. She didn’t want to do it and abstains from further violence whenever she can, even at great personal cost. This is rare enough in an action film, but in one based on a video game? Wow.

In modern cinema, art and entertainment value are often prioritized before morality, which is backwards. Only when a film is moral, can its artistic merit be efficacious for human development. Otherwise, it really is “sound and fury signifying nothing.” Tomb Raider is an action film that respects human dignity, the feminine genius, and the bonds of family, while being a thoroughly fun archaeological adventure.


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About Nick Olszyk 125 Articles
Nick Olszyk teaches theology at Marist Catholic High School in Eugene, Oregon. He was raised on bad science fiction movies, jelly beans, and TV shows that make fun of bad science fiction movies. Visit him online at his website, Catholic Cinema Crusade.

1 Comment

  1. “Vikander is the perfect 2018 antidote to both the over-sexualization and the masculinization of women so prevalent in action films. She is brave, fierce, and skilled while also compassionate, gentle, and – best of all – vulnerable. ”

    So is she able to kick the butts of men who are bigger and stronger than her? If so, then the franchise is still garbage, simply, and should be left to loser male gamers who refuse to grow up and deal with their calling to be men.

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