Mark Batalla of PixelDrip Gallery is kicking all kinds of ass, both on this site and at PixelDrip. Here, he reaches into his 15 years of experience with all that is Lara Croft in order to assess both the past and the future of the franchise.

There’s no better time than now to look back at Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. The newest Tomb Raider game set to be released next year is a planned reboot of the Lara Croft character. There are also talks of another Tomb Raider film aimed at a 2013 release date that will reboot the current Angelina Jolie movie continuity.

The Tomb Raider series began straightforwardly enough as a 1996 PlayStation title. Its concept was as simple as combining an Indiana Jones-type adventure with a female protagonist. What nobody counted on was how Lara Croft’s design would take off and become the quintessential image of a videogame vixen. The appearance of Lara Croft with her tight tank top, short shorts, dual pistols, British accent, and kick ass attitude certainly completely blew me away as a teenager.

By the time Lara Croft: Tomb Raider came along, the franchise was five games deep and in need of a revitalization. You can almost see how this movie was put together in a Hollywood boardroom. Successful videogame franchise + proven action director + sexiest woman alive = profit. Simon West had previously directed Con Air, one of my personal favorite action films. Angelina Jolie was well on her way to reaching critical mass with her sex appeal and star power after some stunning performances in Gia, The Bone Collector, and Gone in Sixty Seconds. Even with that great starting point, there’s much more to making a successful movie.

While the film does a great job of efficiently establishing Lara Croft’s history and personality, the same can’t be said of the other characters. Manfred Powell (Iain Glen) is the villain that wants to possess the mystical MacGuffin. But what does he want it for? Is he out for revenge? Does he want to make the world in his image? The writers don’t even explain why he killed Lara’s father! Surely that’s an important plot point! The rest of the supporting cast leaves much to be desired. Alex West (Daniel Craig) is hinted as having slight romantic tension with Lara but nothing ever comes of that. Lara’s butler, Hillary, and her tech assistant, Bryce, are given just enough screen time to establish that they’re the closest thing to family that Lara has.

To be fair, this movie was actually a very faithful adaptation of the source material. The characters in the film have corresponding analogues within the Tomb Raider game series. The film also nails the feel of the games’ environments with exotic locales, gigantic architectural puzzles, and mystical enemies. Every Tomb Raider game has the mansion level, a jungle level, a snow level, and often times a city level. The film goes from Croft Manor to Cambodia, to Venice and then to Siberia. What’s interesting is that the design for Lara’s mansion in the three most recent games (Tomb Raider: Legend, Tomb Raider: Anniversary, Tomb Raider: Underworld) was changed from previous versions to look more like the movie version.

Is It Better Or Worse Than I Remember?

It’s better because when I watched Lara Croft: Tomb Raider ten years ago, it was as a fanboy. All I could really do was compare it to the games and not judge the film on its own merit. One of the criticism among the fan community was the surprise casting of Angelina Jolie. Like the rest of the games’ fans, I wanted them to cast someone like Elizabeth Hurley or even any of the various Lara Croft spokesmodels. Watching it now, Jolie was simply the best option available at the time. The next best choice should have been Kate Beckinsale, but nobody would realize this until Underworld several years later. Given the limited character development allotted by the screenplay, Jolie is at least able to make it work. Say what you will about her attempt at an accent, but she is able to convey Lara Croft as a sensual, vulnerable, confident, and slightly unhinged individual. This film would also cement Jolie’s status among the great female action stars of the 90s and 2000s. She’d joind the ranks of Sarah Michelle Gellar, Lucy Lawless, Eliza Dushku, Jennifer Garner, and Milla Jovovich.

So that brings us to the present day. What happened to the female action hero in film and television? This archetype still exists, but only as part of a supporting cast. Take a look at Michelle Rodriguez. Why not as a protagonist? This decade is off to a bad start with the only notable examples being David E. Kelly’s Wonder Woman pilot, which failed to be picked up, and the planned Charlie’s Angels reboot, which has still yet to air.

Videogames are in just as bad a shape. Lara Croft as a character helped usher in an age of kick ass female protagonists in that industry but none of them had the same longevity. The newest batch with Bayonetta (Bayonetta), Faith (Mirror’s Edge), and Lightning (Final Fantasy XIII) don’t even come close to Lara Croft’s status in pop culture. Unless the people behind Lara Croft have figured out how to make a successful female action protagonist, no amount of rebooting will make a difference. The treasure that Lara Croft needs to find is the secret recipe that brought us that golden era of Kill Bill, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Xena: Warrior Princess, No One Lives Forever, and Perfect Dark.

Free Floating Thoughts

Want to play the Angelina Jolie drinking game? Drink whenever you spot one of her signature moves. There’s the tilting of her head to the side before she says or does something kick ass. There’s the eyebrow raise followed by a “mmm” and/or a smile. There’s the pout. And there’s the psychotic stare that demonstrates that she’s not against fucking a person and afterwards wearing a vial of their blood.

It’s a little over five minutes into the movie and we’ve got the sexy shower scene. I had to beat Tomb Raider 2 to get to the shower scene in that game. Lest you think this movie is completely pandering to a single demographic, Daniel Craig gets his own shower scene later on in the film.

Interesting how Jon Voight, Angelina Jolie’s father, was cast as Lara Croft’s father. This was before their very public fall out.

Every time I see Iain Glen, all I can think about is his current role as Ser Jorah Mormont on Game of Thrones.

Oh hey, it’s Daniel Craig doing his best Harrison Ford impression. Craig doing an American accent with Jolie doing a British accent is like the blonde haired Kirsten Dunst playing the red haired Mary Jane and the red haired Bryce Dallas Howard playing the blonde haired Gwen Stacy in Spider-Man 3.

I wonder if the production of this film is what caused Angelina Jolie to become so invested in helping out the Third World.

The various slow motion sequences are done through post production instead of shooting at high speeds, making it look tremendously worse.

It’s been a while since I listened to the soundtrack but it does have plenty of songs that got stuck in my head as result of this film. There’s “Elevation” by U2, “Get Ur Freak On” by Missy Elliott, “Where’s Your Head At” by Basement Jaxx, and “Deep,” which is my favorite Nine Inch Nails song and video of the 2000s.

Did the film just end on a freeze frame? Wow.

If the next planned Tomb Raider film is going to focus on a younger Lara Croft, I’d wager they will cast someone like Megan Fox, Sienna Miller, or Rose Byrne.