Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
As humans, it’s within our given right to be able to experience change throughout our lifetime. We mature, growing not only physically, but also within our own emotional capabilities. So it’s only natural that our beloved entertainment is also allowed to do so.
One such pivotal touchstone for many is the revered character of “Lara Croft” in Square Enix’s TOMB RAIDER videogame series. The wildly successful, widely acclaimed 2013 reboot – the biggest selling game in the entire franchise’s history – is where we see a much welcomed, modernized shift in her character’s ferocious spirit. In director Roar Uthaug’s empowering, kick-ass cinematic iteration, Alicia Vikander takes on the role, demonstrating she’s a heroine for a next generation.
In the action-packed extravaganza, stubborn 21-year-old Lara Croft (Vikander) is tasked with the possible rescue mission of her long-lost father off a cursed, mythical island in the South Seas. Her quest won’t be an easy one as she not only faces down treacherous ocean waves, but also a fleet of ne’er do wells, led by Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins), hoping to discover the island’s long entombed secrets.
At the film’s recent Los Angeles press conference, Vikander said she viewed this stage in her character’s origin as a “coming of age.”
That was our inspiration. We’ve seen it a lot in these superhero and action movies. If you have the origin story, that’s a way for us to get to know our character, to feel for them and to related to them on a more human level. I thought it was wonderful to play a woman who was still trying to find her footing in the world. It’s a story where she goes out of her world and where all the traits she has in her are forced out due to the adventure she goes on and the challenges she’s put through.
In order to finding a way into the character, Croft’s internal stakes had to be fleshed out. The best way to achieve that was exploring the estrangement she experiences with her loving, but obsessive, workaholic father. She elucidated,
We wanted to find an emotional way in to feel with her. One of them is the relationship with her father. We kind of know this character too – she has this love of history, mythology and artifacts. It’s not until she finds his secret chamber where she realizes he was not only a suit at a corporate company. There’s actually a reason for why she has the love for these things. That’s a discovery, but also an acceptance of who she is. That’s something any young person can relate to – and also the fact that she has a lot of people that tell her, or ask her, what’s she going to do with her life. I think that’s a pressure.
Goggins said that he enjoyed seeing Lara Croft’s metamorphosis take shape.
Part of her journey that I enjoyed so much is seeing the analogue nature of Lara Croft’s evolution. It’s not rooted in some superpower. This is a very strong young woman who uses her brain and her wit and physical prowess that allows her to transform into the person she is to become. It was a young woman overcoming extraordinary obstacles.
As for his own villainous role as the company man left stranded, attempting to make it back home to his own daughters, Goggins loved the fact that Vogel wasn’t two-dimensional.
I don’t like two-dimensional anything. I like to get in there and find out who this person is in the world and how they exist. For me, playing Vogel, when I read it for the first time and talked to Roar, I found him to be very sad, exhausted, at his wit’s end and had almost given up on his reality really ever changing. That first scene when Lara Croft winds up on the beach and is sitting in his tent, it winds up being the opposite of most people’s reaction. His badness really came from being baffled at his good fortune in this moment. The cards had always been stacked against him. It all changes in a moment. It was a very rewarding experience to interpret Vogel in that kind of way.
Part and parcel to the narrative are the big action-packed set pieces, that show Lara dangling from rusty airplane wings, scaling cliff sides, hurling herself across chasms, and fighting with villains. Vikander mentioned that getting in shape was the toughest part.
What I loved was though, when I met [Producer] Graham [King] and Roar, is that we wanted the sequences that are going to be such a big part of this film to be set in a reality. Would you buy that this young girl could beat this bigger, stronger man? We then, story-wise, integrated she’s a physical being, trains and is a bicycle courier. I wanted her to be a strong girl so it could be plausible that she could do what she does later on in the film.
Quite a few of these sequences involve the actors dealing with natural elements. Whether they were getting pounded by water, or squaring off in the dirt on un-level ground, and despite not rehearsing the choreography in said elements, somehow they found their footing. She explained,
You start normally in a room where you just have mats. And it’s very much choreography, even when it looks as gritty and dirty by the end – it is choreography. Then you take the next step where you go to a set that might not be completely done yet, and you start practicing in that. It feels different to be on a set. You do have rehearsal time there so you do feel comfortable by the time you start shooting. It’s nice.
It changed a little a couple of times – there were a couple of incarnations. Roar and Graham allowed us to improvise and kind of play jazz with it. How is this story a living organism and how does it change? When it got to that part of the story, both Alicia and I, it was at the end. We were tired – and emotionally it’s where these people are in context with the story. This isn’t TERMS OF ENDEARMENT, but it was a very real person to me. It was emotional. We were exhausted. We measured our success based on how tired we were at the end of the day. It took 6-7 days to film that sequence and you live with that anger every single day and end with a glass of wine.
Eagle-eyed gamers will instantly pick up on the film’s subtle nods to the videogame’s Easter eggs – like the scratches on Lara’s face placed precisely. It’s that attention to detail that drew Vikander, a gamer herself, in.
We had a lot of fun making sure we had those Easter eggs. It’s that thing of gathering all the information up to have all the traditional traits of Lara that made her become quite an iconic character. It’s the transition where she becomes your own. She’s such a bold, curious, bad-ass being. I had a lot of fun finding the core of her and her personality.
Being that this is a more character-driven version of Lara Croft, who uses her smarts and strengths to get out of jams, Vikander stated,
She doesn’t use a gun in this film. Instead, we go back to an integrated story in this adventure. I loved that with everything she uses – right down to the ice pick, she needs to be innovative. She has to use what’s around her. If she doesn’t have the strength, she needs to use her wit and intelligence instead.
It’s really empowering when you get to be there in the end, because when you have all these struggles and you feel for her as a real girl, then you root for her even more.
TOMB RAIDER opens on March 16.
Header photo: Alicia Vikander and Walton Goggins in TOMB RAIDER. Courtesy of Warner Brothers Pictures.