Who makes the best action hero, Lara Croft (Angelina Jolie) in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) or Alice (Mila Jovovich) in Resident Evil (2002)? Made a year apart and both based on female protagonists in popular video games, this week we watched both for some vicarious bad-ass women thrills.
I have fond memories of watching Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, the first of two films based on the video game, way back in 2001. Angelina Jolie was an edgy fledgling celebrity and there was a certain pleasure in watching her beat all the baddies with cool insouciance. Fast track to 16 years later with Jolie’s private life a distraction that is hard to ignore and Tomb Raider has lost much of its appeal. The insouciance now seems like smugness as Croft achieves illogical feats of action prowess without disturbing her immaculate hair or figure-hugging outfit.
There are two major impediments to Tomb Raider being a satisfying experience; its complete lack of logic and its shameful failing of the Bechdel Test. Wealthy adventurer Lara Croft searches for part of an ancient relic, following clues left by her dead father (real father Jon Voigt). The Illuminati are searching for the same relic so that they can rule the world in a really evil way. They have employed heartless Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) and sexy but ambitious James Bond (Daniel Craig) who compete with Croft to be the most like Indiana Jones.
The relic was ‘broken in two with each part hidden on opposite sides of the world’ so that it could never be used. Rather than destroying it. And when Croft finds one half, she also completely fails to destroy it, an action that would ensure the Illuminati fail. Instead she searches for the other half, even showing Mormont and 007 where they are making mistakes so she can smugly prove how much more Indi she is.
They all end up in Mongolia in winter where she has a short conversation with a young girl (and that’s their quota of female characters ticked off) but is too hardcore to need to keep a coat on. There is a preposterous unfrozen lake and elaborate machine and a bit of time bending and then she’s back at her mansion looking winsome, surrounded happily by her minions, Rimmer (Chris Barrie) and Charlie Bucket’s Dad (Noah Taylor). Oh yes, sorry, there might have been some spoilers there. Hopefully I’ve put you off watching it and saved you a few precious hours.
I had never seen Resident Evil before and it differs from Tomb Raider in a few key ways. It makes some sort of sense. It has two key bad-ass female characters and they interact quite a lot and don’t just talk about boys. They’re women you’d want to be friends with (and not just when you’re being attacked by the undead). It’s gritty, a bit scary and it has a driving, tension-building musical score by Marilyn Manson and Marco Beltrami.
Alice (Jovovich) regains consciousness on the shower floor of a mansion just before it is invaded by masked soldiers. She has no memory of who she is and is hustled onto an underground train that is travelling to a secret underground facility called The Hive. The Hive is where the evil Umbrella corporation that rules the world conducts its evil genetic experiments and an outbreak of a virus has caused its controlling computer, the Red Queen, to seal it off. Alice and her unlooked for band of mercenaries get in just in time and, rather than wondering why the safety mechanism has felt it necessary to seal off the facility, seek to reboot and override the Queen.
Alice is somewhat of an anti-hero initially. She remembers nothing and goes along for the ride but as her memories return, so do her skills as a fighter. Sporting a short red dress, her character is obviously supposed to be sexy but the knee-high combat boots, grubby appearance and lack of smugness make her more relatable and her courage more real. There is a gratuitous semi-naked scene where she has a white hanky strategically attached to her torso that isn’t fooling anyone (in Tomb Raider we got to watch Lara Croft in the shower with a glimpse of side-boob) but, other than that, the objectification is kept to a minimum.
As good, if not better than Alice is fellow mercenary Rain (Michelle Rodriguez). She makes no apologies for being bad-ass and seems unconcerned about her hair or what others might think of her. They make a formidable duo and seem to be the only characters with integrity, intelligence and gumption. The men flail around, make terrible decisions or are shown to not be who they seem.
Not being a gamer, the adherence of either movie to the original game is lost on me but a cursory glance at reviews shows they bear only a passing resemblance. Maybe a good thing as a video game is not a two-hour film and wouldn’t necessarily drive a good narrative arc. Resident Evil now has five sequels and I’m tempted to watch them all. I’m sure each will be worse than the first but it sparked enough interest in the fate of Alice in Raccoon City to make me want to see more.
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider
Watched on DVD