Rise of the Tomb Raider - get set for another satisfying empowerment fantasy

We knew it was in development, but on Monday at E3, the first trailer for the next-gen Tomb Raider (2013) sequel was unveiled.

Presenting Rise of the Tomb Raider, which is due for release - for now - around the Christmas holidays 2015.

"I think we’re making progress in these sessions. You say the flashbacks have stopped. This is excellent improvement, but I’m concerned that you’re still shutting yourself away at home. It’s important to gradually take steps into the outside world. Take some walks, maybe pick up a nice hobby. A girl your age should be exploring knew horizons. I’d like to know you’re taking care of yourself. For many people these traumas become a mental trap. They get stuck like a ship frozen in ice. There’s another type of person. Do you know what happens to them, Miss Croft?"

"We become who we’re meant to be."

Almost immediately after watching the trailer, some online commentators complained that showing aristocratic daredevil archaeologist Lara Croft in therapy "weakened" the iconic character, and by extension implied that video game heroines are inherently "weaker" in all aspects when compared to their male counterparts.

I completely disagree, like this author. I think the announcement trailer is fantastic - the perfect bridge between the first game, with its fiercely independent "I'm not going home" final declaration, and its follow-up - and I'm not even going to touch on the assumption that mental illness (in this case, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) equals inferiority.

You see, I firmly believe that the rebooted Tomb Raider franchise is taking shape as - and is strongest when viewed as - an empowerment fantasy for women. Not that Tomb Raider is a game solely for female gamers; not at all. But when you note the way Tomb Raider 2013 resonated with so many women, you have to question why exactly that was - particularly when so many of these players admitted to previously dismissing Lara Croft as simply a sexist fantasy for guys; nothing more than pixellated tits-and-ass designed to sell video games.

I've given this quite a bit of thought, and I think ultimately the situation is similar to the relationship between the Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig versions of James Bond. Classic Lara Croft and the Brosnan Bond, were creations of the 1990s - practically superheroes, basically invulnerable and just too cool to be taken seriously. They were fun wish-fulfillment figures, having adventures, continually saving the world, dishing out one-liners and living the high life with no consequences. Craig Bond and the Reboot Lara are, by contrast, far more vulnerable, and relatable. They may be capable of amazing physical feats too but they suffer real lasting pain, have tragic back-stories and yet they endure. Audiences and players are able to latch onto these characters at a deeper emotional level rather than simply appreciate their competence and style.

Certainly we can appreciate the fact that the trailer for Rise of Tomb Raider makes the hero human. The events of the first game haven't just slipped off Lara Croft like water off a duck's back. Uncharacteristically realistic for a video game, trauma is shown as having no quick fix here. It leaves deep emotional scars for characters to come to terms with.

The Rise announcement trailer is also rich in evidence for anyone who wants to make the case for the new series as a female empowerment fantasy.

After a whole game which could be summed up as "bookish, unsure-of-herself girl takes on an island of bigger, stronger, better-equipped men who underestimate and dismiss her", here we meet Lara sitting rigid, sullen and clearly very uncomfortable in the office of a therapist. Yet again - just as in the first game, and Dark Horse comics since then - she's facing an older white male who has no grasp of what she is really like, or capable of. Yet there he sits telling her what she should be doing, as "a girl [her] age." He rambles off a list of expectations for Lara to meet, culminating with the insulting, heavily paternalistic statement, "I’d like to know you’re taking care of yourself."

However genuinely well-intentioned the therapist may be, at the end of the day Lara is expected to report to him. That is his solution. He is literally ticking off boxes in regards to her. If she stays leashed and obedient, he'll look after her and help set her right. He doesn't even give her room to speak until the very end.

However, Lara has been lying to him. Those cut up hands she keeps flexing and clenching reveal this truth even if her therapist is too wrapped up in himself and his trite textbook recommendations to notice. Lara isn't holed up at home with agoraphobia. She's carrying on with her personal quest for answers despite the painful flashbacks and twitchy anxiety she obviously still suffers from... yet verbally insists that she's overcome.

It's a mystery why exactly Lara is in a psychiatrist/psychologist's office if she doesn't want to be there. Evidently it will be explained in the second story arc of the new comic.

The point is, there is a massive disconnect between what Lara is doing and what she is telling her therapist. The Lara that we meet in the Rise trailer has fully embraced her rebellious side. Although she knows how to "obediently" play the system to her advantage, she's evidently lost respect for the world of male authority figures.

In fact, she seems wholly dissociated from society - very Lisbeth Salander-ish. The icy setting for the trailer seems appropriate on multiple levels. The new, evidently somewhat older, Lara is alone and aloof. Her fresh-faced innocence is gone. She doesn't give a shit. The inexperienced young girl's fear and anger from the 2013 game are completely erased. The woman onscreen here is cold and calculating, confident in her abilities and killing without any trace of remorse. Although I doubt that her best friend Sam will die in the comics, I'm willing to bet that Lara has deliberately isolated herself by the time that Rise of the Tomb Raider starts, so as not to risk once again hurting anyone left even remotely close to her.

Incredibly determined, Lara is pushing through her pain all on her own, for better or worse. She's defying solutions forced on her by older, more powerful men, to find her own way, and that's damn inspiring for anyone who has ever felt caged by expectation and casually accepted social "norms." And believe me, as a woman in certain field and situations, you can feel that fist-clenching frustration. Even today.

Living with her own fears and guilt every day, Lara Croft in Rise of the Tomb Raider is still giving the finger to the rule-makers who dictate our norms. She is admirably carving out her own path instead, and flourishing. And to get to accompany her on that journey; to share her skin as she accomplishes so much, God, it's immensely gratifying.

For the record, the official press release for Rise of the Tomb Raider is as follows:

REDWOOD CITY, CA (June, 9 2014) – Crystal Dynamics, a Square Enix studio, today announced its latest title in the critically acclaimed and award-winning Tomb Raider® series, Rise of the Tomb Raider ® . The game will redefine survival action in Holiday 2015.

In her first adventure, Lara Croft® was forged into a true survivor, but she glimpsed a deeper, secret world. In the next chapter of her journey, Lara must use her survival skills and wits, learn to trust new friends, and ultimately accept her destiny as the Tomb Raider.

“With the power of the new generation, and our proprietary Foundation engine, our high octane action moments will be even more epic. Multiple locations around the world will be filled with exploration spaces that are some of the most beautifully hostile places on earth and over three times larger than we could achieve before,” said Darrell Gallagher, Head of Product Development and Western Studios at Square Enix. “Our digital actors will rival CG quality, and after hearing the cry from our fans loud and clear, we will put the tombs back into Tomb Raider, all in our gritty Survival-Action style.”

Rise of the Tomb Raider builds upon the formula that made Tomb Raider a success, and features the return of Camilla Luddington as Lara Croft. Camilla will take character performance to new heights as Lara pushes herself beyond human limits and is confronted with what it means to become a hero. Once again, Crystal Dynamics is proud to have the award-winning author Rhianna Pratchett as a key member of the writing team, helping craft a story that delves into Lara’s inner turmoil and motivations in this critical second act of her journey.
There's also another newer synopsis here, with mention of "lost cities" and "pursuit by sinister shadow organisations."

You can enjoy the below official concept art for the sequel, as well.

It's still a very long wait for Rise of the Tomb Raider but I'm holding thumbs that it will be worth it.


Fruitbat44 said…
I'm glad I am not the only one to notice the Lisabeth Salander vibe going on. 2015 is a, relatively, long way off and things can change, but the preview looks very interesting. I wonder if we'll see more of the Lara/Sam relationship.
Anonymous said…
The "Salander vibe" is entirely superficial. Lara has more financial autarchy and parental support than Lisbeth ever had. But more importantly: Lara visits the therapist voluntarily. Hence, I don't buy your impression of an awfully "paternalistic" psychologist. He is paid to give advice and is in no position to dominate her.

Moreover, this is certainly not a regular therapy visit. Why else would Lara sit there hooded and in full street clothing? Perhaps she just wanted to make a short visit, telling the psychologist that his job is done, thereby ending the therapy. Her body language speaks heavily for it.

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