Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

Mikey loves Lara!
Guest Review by Mike Flores

The tremendous opening weekend for Lara Croft Tomb Raider not only represents a triumph for actress Angelina Jolie, but also has great significance for women now working in Hollywood. From the 1920s to the 1950s, when women were considered “oppressed” by a “vicious male chauvinist system” before our more liberated times, female stars made as much or more money than most of their male counterparts. Women like Joan Crawford or Bette Davis made big bucks because their names sold tickets. Even as they aged, people kept paying to watch them work. Ah, but we live in more liberated times now. Gone are our horrible sexist ideas. And now the women make less, fail to sell tickets and are lucky to have a few hits a decade! Since Hollywood is now overwhelmingly liberal, politically correct and nonsexist, one has to ask — what happened? And why is it that strong women can pull big ratings on television for the last decade, but in Hollywood they are still arm candy for action stars or the love interest for men twice their age?

Sadly, the fault lies partly with women filmgoers. That’s right. Put a so-so movie actor in a rock band that can barely put a tune together, and the show is sold out and the audience is overwhelmingly female. Put Sharon Stone, Madonna, or even Courtney Love in a movie and you might as well have placed an unknown in the role. There is no guarantee you will sell enough tickets to have a hit. Even when Hollywood tries to throw a handful of actresses together to strengthen the box office, that rarely works. But get a fine male actor like Nicolas Cage, ask him to cut his talent down by half for a Con Air, let’s say, and the money cannot be counted fast enough. Remember, women are half the date. All women would have to do is one weekend pick out a strong woman’s film and tell their date they want to go. What’s the guy going to say? No? They could easily let it be known they’d like to see a movie with a strong female lead for a change, but they’d rather see Tom Cruise. Russell Crowe. The flavor of the month. But we are liberated now. Or are we?

The other part of this problem is that Hollywood has not kept up with the changing roles of women. I guess they were too busy being progressive. Look at television with Gillian Anderson in The X-Files, or Jessica Alba in Dark Angel. From the success of Xena, Warrior Princess (where this new role of goddess-warrior first emerged) and Buffy The Vampire Slayer, television programmers discovered that women will watch shows that have women kicking butt. Lesbians were some of the first fans of Xena, organizing parties at lesbian bars to watch the show. The best recent roles for women, until Tomb Raider, have been in action shows on TV. Thanks to Lucy Lawless. I wonder if she realizes how she expanded the possibilities for women’s roles in television?

ANGELINA JOLIE. I write her name large because ever since I saw her in the OK-but-not-great Hackers, swimming underwater as the end titles rolled over her, there has been no question in my mind that she has the charisma, beauty and talent to be a STAR. Spoken of in the same sentence as Gene Tierney in Laura, Marlene Dietrich, Garbo. I am not kidding about this. Lara Croft Tomb Raider is carried on the screen presence of Angelina Jolie alone. Yes, the special effects are fun, but it is her electrifying presence that makes this movie work. What woman working on the big screen today could go from glamour and drama to an action role? Gwyneth? Liv? Are you kidding? The camera loves Angelina, who seems to love projecting the kind of macho energy reserved for males in most American films while at the same time single-handedly reviving the term sex bomb.

The plot. Well, to be kind I’ll call it thin. That hardly matters; it was based on a computer game. Hey, Con Air wasn’t exactly the most complicated plot I’d ever sat through either. The critics, however, were far more lenient with it than they have been with the cotton-candy plot of Tomb Raider. I mean, they are angry about this film. What are they so threatened by?

Interestingly enough, Roger Ebert gave the film one of its best reviews and highest ratings (3 1/2 stars). A promoter of the work of Russ Meyer (you can read an introduction he did for an interview with Meyer) Ebert seems to be comfortable with strong women battling dumb guys, and has been for decades.

Lara Croft Tomb Raider is big and loud. It is fun to look at (the sets are fantastic) but I couldn’t really explain the plot. It has something to do with Lara recovering two halves of an ancient relic, and having to fight the Illuminati (who will probably sue for copyright infringement, or worse). Directed by Simon West, it does not always work where it should, but who cares — we get to see one of the great actresses of this century kick ass, conquer the audience and still we want more of her. With two sequels already in the works, I for one can’t wait.

And to the women reading this review, maybe it’s time to tell your husbands or boyfriends to take you to see Tomb Raider. Let’s send a loud and clear message to Hollywood and their idea of roles for women. Charlie’s Angels may have fired the first shot, but I believe that Tomb Raider just won the war. I am going to see this one again. One suggestion. Next time, let’s see her fight a female villain.

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