Tomb Raider 2

Kam and I went to see Tomb Raider 2: The Cradle of Life last night. Short version of review: much fun.

It would be easy to leave it at that; the movie is fluff, with lots of over-the-top action sequences, lots of witty dialogue, and a great sense of fun. It certainly shouldn't be taken too seriously.

And yet, I think there are some interesting things below the surface here, particularly with regard to class, sexuality, and power, particularly when comparing this movie to, say, the Bond movies.

I don't have time (or, really, a clear enough idea of what I want to say) to go into a lot of detail about this. But I think it's interesting that both Bond and Croft come from the British aristocracy, bred to power and money and authority, and they have roughly similar jack-of-all-trades physical skills, but certain things about them are very different—and I think that's partly because one's male and one's female (and thus American audiences have different ideas about what's acceptable for each of them), but partly because of differences in the characters and perhaps in the actors. I should note that I'm talking about the Brosnan Bond here, because he's my ideal of what the Bond character should be; those who prefer Connery, in particular, may violently disagree with my assessments of the differences.

WARNING: spoilers for TR2 ahoy!

The most obvious difference, I think, has to do with sexuality. Both Bond and Croft are sexy, but Bond is sexy in a cool stylish stereotypically upper-class way, while Croft is sexy in a show-a-lot-of-skin stereotypically working-class way. (The following sentence contains the biggish TR spoiler I mentioned above. This is your last warning.) Bond sleeps with every woman who crosses his path, which causes them to fall in love with him and him to gain power over them; Croft manages to be both tempting and entirely unattainable, using her sex appeal to cause a man to be interested in her and therefore to let her have power over him, without actually having sex with him. (Which looks a little like a couple of annoying cliches/stereotypes about women using sex to gain power, but somehow it seems more intriguing than annoying to me in this movie.)

Beyond that, Bond has plenty of loyal servants (well, okay, and colleagues) everywhere he goes, people who've been hired to work for him or who are nominally on the same side; Croft has (and makes) friends everywhere she goes, people who appear to honestly like and respect her, and she actively dislikes MI6.

And Bond has a sense of sport, of challenge; but Croft has a sense of fun. One of my favorite moments in the movie involves (very minor spoiler) her using a piece of chewed bubblegum for something, and then licking her fingers as she moves on to her next task—not emphasized, just an unremarkable character action. Bond shows off to impress people; I get the impression that Croft shows off just because it's fun.

(They've both got a strong amoral streak overlaid on what I think is a deep loyalty to Good in general and England in particular. But Bond's amorality is more elegant and sleek, while Croft's feels more rough-and-tumble to me, more streetwise maybe. Here's the biggest difference between, say, Connery and Brosnan, I think: Connery's Bond doesn't (didn't) have the same polished sleekness. Which is what I think a lot of people like about him.)

Anyway, I can't help feeling that a lot of this comes back to social class. In some hard-to-define way, it seems to me that Bond acts like an aristocrat, and Croft acts like someone who'd be at home in prisons and back alleys. Am I projecting too much of what I've heard of Joline's reputation? Perhaps.

I should note that I don't intend value judgments here. I like both styles a great deal; both are fun, and sexy, and I've liked all the recent Bond movies and both the Tomb Raider movies. I'm a little chagrined at how much the target audience I am for these things; my intellectual snobbery thinks I should like Merchant/Ivory productions more than action/adventure movies. But tastes are tastes, and there's no accounting for 'em.

Btw, I'm very pleased that there are getting to be more female action heros, and that the American public seems to like the movies that feature them, which I imagine means there'll probably be more to come.

8 Responses to “Tomb Raider 2”

  1. Karen Meisner

    I liked Tomb Raider 2 a lot. But was strangely disoriented the whole time because it felt like I was watching a Modesty Blaise story with different characters superimposed over the place where Modesty & Co. should be.

    I realise not everybody is a Modesty Blaise fanatic like me, but I’m certain that at least somebody involved in making this movie had her in mind. And Lara Croft is no substitute for Modesty. But this movie does satisfy in a few of the same ways, and since I don’t believe they’ll ever make a movie that does justice to MB, I’m happy to see this one get made instead.

  2. Jenn Reese

    I enjoyed both Tomb Raider flicks too (as well as the video games), but I think they still have a long way to go to be undeniably good. I think Lara still needs more of a background, and maybe an actual flaw. (Which is one of the reasons Bond pisses me off recently — Dalton is the only Bond I’ve ever really enjoyed.)

    Having said that, I loved tons of things about the movie: how Lara always drives, even if she’s just dropped into the car from parachute. How most of the strong, burly men don’t appear threatened by her, but just treat her like a highly respected colleague. I love all the little video game touches. I love some of the gratuitously sexy poses, and I’ve always loved her outfits.

    I think of Bond as mostly a cold-blooded assassin. I think Lara still has a lot of her humanity left.

    And speaking of kick-ass women, did you know that Harlequin is releasing a line of new books featuring action/adventure heroines? It’s called “Bombshell,” and it actually sounds like you might enjoy them. None of the old romance rules apply to these books — which is why I’m currently trying to write one. Just strong women, action, and a subplot of romance.

  3. Jed

    Huh—for some reason I always thought Modesty Blaise was a soap-opera comic strip; I think I must’ve confused it with some other strip. Karen, do you prefer the comics or the novels? Or both?

    Jenn: no, I didn’t know about the Bombshell line! Sounds cool. I’m glad to see the romance genre and publishers branching out into so many new directions; I hope some of ’em do well.

  4. Karen

    Modesty Blaise began as a comic-strip character in 1963 (I’m naming all dates from memory, so they might be off by a year or so). The first novel came out a couple years later. There have been a bunch of books, the most recent a collection of short stories published in the mid-90’s, and the comic strip has run continuously in British newspapers all that time. Peter O’Donnell, the author (and the sole person to write all MB stories, though a few artists have drawn the comics), died this past year so I don’t know what’s become of the comic strip; presumably it’s in reruns or they’re discontinuing it. Various publishers have collected the strips and put them out in magazine or trade paperback forms over the years. My favorites of those are the “First American Edition” series, most of which are out of print.

    So yes, it is a comic strip, although I wouldn’t call it a soap opera. I prefer the novels, but much of my love of the novels began from having come to them by way of the wonderful early comic strips (the best are those drawn by the original artist, Jim Holdaway, before his death in 1970). I enjoy the later comic strips in the way that heroin addicts enjoy methadone.

  5. Jed

    Oh, sorry—I did know it was a comic strip, I just thought specifically that it was a particular comic strip I saw a few episodes of once, that seemed to mostly involve this young woman finding herself in various states of undress. A sort of Mary Worth plot style, only with a nubile 20-year-old and situations more appropriate to same. So either I didn’t see enough of the strip to see the actual plot, or I just have it confused with an entirely different strip.

    The link in my above comment provides all sorts of info about the series and the author, btw, in case anyone’s interested.

    I’ll keep an eye out for the early strips; sounds worth a try. Hey, did you ever watch The Avengers? I gather Emma Peel was another early female action hero, but I think I’ve only seen one episode of that series (though I rather liked it, and would like to see more).

  6. Karen

    You thought it was like Mary Worth? Christ, what a travesty! Although there do tend to be nubile women in various states of undress.

    As for The Avengers, I think Diana Rigg is fantastic and the whole show had ton[ne]s of flair and campy style, but not enough to keep me watching. I haven’t seen it in years, though, so it’s possible I’d appreciate it more now.

  7. JeremyT

    I was deeply, deeply disturbed by the scene where the commandos mow down the Maasai tribesmen. Seeing the men with _machineguns_, the Maasai charge into battle, only to be killed en masse.

    I spent 4 months in Kenya, and I spent a lot of time with Maasi while I was there. Kenyans have no less familiarity with machineguns than any U.S. citizen would. AK-47s are everywhere there. This movie perpetuated a gross stereotype, that Africans are naive and backwards. I’d go so far as to call it overtly racist.

    I almost walked out of the theatre, that scene made me so angry. I’m surprised that there hasn’t been a big outcry. I guess if they had been African Americans, people would have been upset. But it amazes me how such retarded and racist stereotypes are accepted in the U.S..

    Anyway, that’s my two cents on TR2.

  8. Jenn Reese

    I guess I was pretty naive about this, but I thought the Maasai were being brave and were willing to die to protect the secret. Also, they really didn’t have much time to take cover. I certainly wasn’t left with a “the Maasai are all naive” impression. I’m sorry that you were – I can see how upsetting that would be. : (


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