When Tomb Raider first hit the shops in 1996, it seemed scarcely credible that Lara Croft would still be turning heads two decades later. But the grand dame of video games is 21 this year and her popularity shows no sign of waning. Hollywood is rebooting the movie franchise with filming on Tomb Raider wrapping in June 2017, cashing in on the rise of the female superhero.
Alicia Vikander, star of Ex Machina, Man From U.N.C.L.E., and Jason Bourne, reprises the lead role made famous by Angelina Jolie in the 2001 original. Vikander has big shoes to fill; for once, Hollywood nailed the character when they cast Jolie. Physically and mentally, she encapsulated every expectation of Croft.
The video game franchise rebooted in 2010. Crystal Dynamics redeveloped Croft’s appearance, giving her a more realistic figure – destroying a generation’s teenage dreams along the way – but reflecting the path other games were treading, they gave her a darker soul.
Television and film dramas were becoming grittier and Croft followed suit. Except following is never good enough for a successful franchise; it has to be better, more original. The culmination of the work came in 2015 with the release of Rise of the Tomb Raider, acclaimed as the best game in the Lara Croft story yet.
Sales backed it up. In the lead up to Christmas 2015, the Xbox versions of the game registered over one million copies sold, catapulting it to the top of the charts. A similar level of success was achieved with the PlayStation 4 sales when it was released almost a year later.
The appetite for Lara Croft was undiminished, with many critics praising the updating of her character and making the game appear more realistic. Therein is the core reason for the continued popularity of England’s finest adventurer. Underneath it all, there’s a strong storyboard; just as the arts in whichever format rely on a great character having a good narrative surrounding them, so do video games.
Stand and Deliver
It can be the most outlandish situation going but as long as the reactions to events – the story – is riveting and ultimately testing the hand-eye co-ordination of the players as well as the mental dexterity required to win.
This is no small part of the success. Developing any game is a tremendous achievement; creating a commercially viable franchise is another level. Croft appeals across genders for similar reasons. She is a strong female; not a superhero but most definitely the woman that the female players aspire to be in the sense that she is the cream of her crop.
And her crop-top is another feature. The maxim of ‘sex sells’ has never been truer for an outrageously proportioned character. New Lara entices because she is a more realistic design. Males fall for that in the oldest story in the book. She could be the girl next door. That’s if next door is a mansion a couple of miles away.
But being an adventurer, her licenses appeal in a broad range of commercial sphere. A quick Google for ‘Lara Croft merchandise’ brings a staggering array of garments, gadgets and god knows what else, to your screen. These physical trinkets are the tip of the iceberg. From food and drink through holidays and into the virtual world as the totem of an online slot game. The sky’s the limit for a modern day success story.
Croft’s wheel has turned. Rhianna Pratchet, lead writer of Rise of the Tomb Raider, claimed that past marketing campaigns no longer bore relevance to the new, improved Lara. “It’s still beautiful, it’s still strong, it’s still characterful”, she declared. “But it’s not sexualized in the way it was done before” is the kind of pay-off line you’d expect the lady herself to deliver.
Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves
Lara Croft is very much a woman of her time. Back in the 1990s, we were still recovering from the bombast and shoulder pads of the previous decade and coming to terms with a Pamela Anderson world. Plastic surgery meant that women could be Barbies, Laras or whoever they wanted, although the rich and famous proved it wasn’t necessarily a good idea.
Now she has adaped to the new world. Strong and in control, she is the 21st Century Girl to Marc Bolan’s 20th Century Boy.
And you know, we wouldn’t have it any other way. The studios keep taking care of her story, of her development. There’s no sense of rushing with her games, a realisation that the commercial success requires time. Croft has stalled once but reinvented has potential to carry one for many years. Another stall and she may become a thing of gaming lore.