Holding out for a hero

At E3 last week, the new Tomb Raider reboot was showcased. I must say I was a little disappointed. Not with the graphics, which look wonderful, nor the gameplay, which looks engaging, but just with Lara Croft. See, Lara represents something, and I’m not just talking about tits.

I’ve never played a Tomb Raider game through, but she’s practically as iconic as Sonic the Hedgehog – a cross between Indiana Jones and James Bond. She’s intelligent, beautiful, filthy rich and almost invulnerable, which is why little girls want to be her. Women who don’t ordinarily play video games play Tomb Raider because it’s pure escapist fantasy.

This new version follows the modern trend of “realism”. She now knows fear and pain. Her dangerous treks are brutal struggles for survival, and when grabbed by some bad man she whimpers “get off me!” before only just getting away. She’s one nasty splinter away from bursting into tears, and that’s just wrong, because Lara wouldn’t do that.

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It’s like Bond. Once the all-male ultimate ego fantasy, his reboot saw him tied up, tortured and humiliated. The film was a muddled mess, and totally at odds with the Bond brand. If you’ve run out of stories to tell within those confines, tell another story. Hercules didn’t find his strength through degradation and subjugation – he was just a hard nut to start with. I didn’t bother with Sucker Punch after reading the premise: the girls get to kick ass, but only after enduring sexual exploitation and more brutal humiliation. Why would I want to see that in a hero vs dragon fantasy?

We can trace this back to Batman, and his very necessary reboot. In the Burton films, he was weird and conflicted, but the films got sillier until the only alternative direction was to address the question of why a grown man would want to dress as a bat. It was skilfully done, but now every heroic journey seems to require that the protagonist is sadistically tortured before they can save the world.

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It’s not always like this, though. The main appeal of the ultra-stylised video game WET was Rubi’s efficient, unfussy approach to killing. She had no noble motives and was resolutely not the type of girl to whimper “get off me” if someone made a grab for her. I recall one scene of her casually flicking a lit cigarette at a man trapped in a car wreck, wandering away with her back to the resultant fireball like all the best (and most thoroughly unrealistic) movies. He’d crossed her, this was payback. No fuss, plenty of mess.

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That’s not to say that only anti-heroes make the grade: there’s more than enough room for noble intentions, and most heroic fantasies are built on them. I just want to see the type of heroes that get the job done without messing up their costumes. I want to be spared having to suffer with them in the beginning while they endure prurient sadism (and especially sexual torture). More Christopher Reeve-style Supermen, fewer Sucker Punch Babydolls. Hercules and Xena without the cardboard FX and hammy acting, if you please. I mean, they always got the job done and their hair always looked nice, and you need that in a hero.

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One comment on “Holding out for a hero

  1. Bravo.

    I took a screenwriting course in college and the teacher talked about James Bond being a zero-dimensional character and how that’s actually his appeal. If you want to see something with depth or complexity you don’t go to see a Bond film, and vice versa. I think you’re entirely correct about Laura, people want to play the Tomb Raider games to have fun, there are other titles if you want to follow a more “human” character with flaws, distractions, and other multi-dimensional elements.

    I’m all for games that are gritty and more realistic but why do all games (and all movies) suddenly need this? No one wants to watch a The Shawshank Redemption reboot where Dufresne and Red bust out weilding dual Tommy guns and I don’t want to play a Tomb Raider where Laura spends her time dealing with life’s issues rather than raiding tombs.

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