by Hanna Nicholls
The 2018 Tomb Raider reboot that starred Alicia Vikander as Lara Croft brought an updated version of both the video game character and Angelina Jolie’s portrayal to old and new fans of the franchise. Although Vikander generally received praise for her portrayal, she was criticised for one notable difference: her chest size, which fans of the series were quick to condemn as if it plays a critical role in determining who and what Lara Croft is.
Vikander’s portrayal of the video game character reflect the changes that we see happening in Hollywood in terms of how we represent women, particularly women in action-adventure and superhero films that once required its female characters fit into an idealized representation of both femininity and sexuality. This year’s Black Panther and Superwoman movies are prime examples of this change, and the Tomb Raider reboot is not far behind. In both the video game series and in Jolie’s version, Croft is seen as fitting the role of the ideal women as created by heterosexual men, as she perfectly balances the ideals of womanhood, sexuality and strength. Vikander’s Croft strays away from the original franchise in the sense that the reboot focuses more on her abilities than on her sex appeal.
Although Vikander admitted to wearing a padded bra for filming, her bust size is only a fraction of what viewers were used to seeing and expecting. Shortly after the film’s release, people (men) took to Twitter to dispel their unhappiness with this change. One viewer asked if he “has to be the asshole who says her tits are too small for me to see her as Lara Croft?” And suddenly, Vikander’s portrayal became less about the ability and strength she brought to the role, and instead shifted to being about her chest size that dictated whether or not she could and should play the role of Croft.
This dismissal of Vikander based solely on the size of her breasts is important because it reveals a discourse that has more weight to it than what it carries at face-value. The sheer number of people who agreed with @theamazingathiest reflect a broader narrative within our culture in which men feel it’s acceptable and legitimate to base their opinions of women solely on their physical appearance and their ability (or inability) to fit into a patriarchal construction of what the ideal woman looks like.
But that’s not new. And it’s not surprising. The misogynistic undertones that are present in tweets that support @theamazingathiest represent a trend where men who are threatened by feminism work actively to reassert a sense of dominance by attempting to validate sexist values. This happens by framing them as something that is part of a natural order, or something that is rooted in history, i.e., the integrity of the original game and film franchise.
The Tomb Raider Twitter thread isn’t the only medium where this is present, but it is an accessible one, and it offers a glimpse into a mindset that is still relevant, problematic and important to pay attention to.
The conversation about Vikander’s chest size is easy to dismiss, but it reflects a culture that attempts to keep ideals of femininity and sexuality framed by stereotypically hypersexualized constructions of such. Vikander’s portrayal resists that, and she ushers Croft into a modern era in which a woman’s physical appearance – at least concerning her sexuality – is less important than her strength and resiliency. Vikander’s croft is vulnerable and flawed, yet strong and determined. The Tomb Raider reboot brought Lara Croft to the screen in a more complex way than it had been done before, and that’s a step in the right direction. Missing still, however, are female characters other than Croft.