You’d have to look pretty hard to find a video game that more perfectly encapsulated the attitude of the industry and its (presumed) die-hard audience than the Tomb Raider series. The design of main character Lara Croft showed exactly what the designers thought would be the only acceptable way the male players would accept a game featuring a female protagonist.
While the leads in Doom and countless other games were massive, muscle-bound ‘roid rage cases sporting heavy armor and weaponry, Croft was a svelte but muscular woman with a disproportionately large chest hidden (barely) by only a tank top. That look is what made it to film in the first two movies based on the games and starring Angelina Jolie. Even then, people complained she didn’t have the right “figure” for the character.
Now Croft is back but looking much more like a real human woman. That’s in part because this week’s reboot of Tomb Raider is based on the 2013 version of the game that gave her a more realistic appearance, one that’s adopted here by Alicia Vikander. In the story Croft is a young woman still scarred by the mysterious disappearance of her adventuring father (Dominic West) when she was barely a teenager. When she finds a message from her father she decides to set out on a mission to find him or find out what happened to him. That puts her in the crosshairs of a bunch of bad guys lead by Mathias Vogel (Walter Goggins). Much running, jumping and evading danger ensues.
Vikander’s look as Croft was the focal point of the first poster, which showed her from behind (of course…you can’t have a female action hero and now put her in the Brokeback Pose so we can see her ass) as she stands along the rocky edge of the sea, a climbing tool in her hand. She looks plenty dirty and cut up so it’s clear she’s a woman of action. What most people focused on, though, was how the photo here seems to add at least a few inches to her neck. That’s just…that’s just bad. She looks like a resident of Pandora.
The second poster didn’t do as much neck-stretching, featuring simply a close-up of Vikander as Croft, scratched, bruised and dirty from her adventures while sporting a bow and arrow.
Two more posters came later. Both showed Croft looking banged up and dirty from her adventures so far. In one she’s running through the jungle. In the other she’s standing still while holding a mountain-climbing tool of some sort, looking determined while doing so. An IMAX-specific version used that same image but put “HER LEGEND BEGINS’ in big bold letters that completely covered up the actress’ face, which…what?
The first trailer opens with the prodigal Lara returning to her family’s company upon the death of her father. She soon discovers a puzzle that, once unlocked, reveals a message from her father warning that it’s up to her to stop an evil group from destroying the world. So she’s off on an adventure that involves lots of running, jumping and swimming as various traps and people try to kill her.
It’s all good fun and certainly conveys a more realistic tone, if that word can be used, than the early Angelina Jolie movies. Croft looks battered and bruised by her adventures like she’s worried about whether or not she’ll make it. I’m all for anything that feels like a decent female iteration on the Indiana Jones archetype and, at least based on this trailer, that’s what’s going on here.
Lara talks as the second trailer, which debuted on Vanity Fair, opens about how she thinks she’s going crazy constantly seeing visions of her father. So she sets out on a dangerous journey to find where he might be but encounters a man who was exiled to the island she has discovered by her father and still holds a grudge. A message from her father tells her there’s danger afoot and that it’s up to her to stop an organization that could damage the whole world. Lots of running, jumping, falling and fighting ensue but Lara manages it all.
Online and Social
You get a nicely cropped version of the key art featuring Vikander staring at the camera when you load the official site for the film. Down toward the bottom of the splash page are buttons to buy tickets or add the release date to your calendar along with links to the Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles.
Using the content menu at the top, the first section there is “Story,” which takes you to a synopsis of the plot along with details about the cast and crew. Note that right off the bat the site is describing Croft as “fiercely independent” just to make sure that message is hammered home for the audience and press. After that, “Videos” has both trailers along with a video interview with Vikander about training for the role.
The “Gallery” just has a few still, all of which show Vikander as Croft looking like she’s been through hell on her island adventure. “Partners” has links to the couple of brands that got involved with promoting the movie to their own customers.
There was of course a VR experience that was available that allowed you to play as Lara Croft as she escaped her captors and evaded various dangers. A Facebook Messenger game let you help Lara on her adventures.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
TV advertising kicked off with a pair of spots including this one that aired during the NFL playoffs that summarized the story pretty well, showing Lara reluctantly setting off an adventure to find her father but willing and able to do anything once she’s underway. The story is minimal, though, with the focus being on the action and visuals.
The various TV spots and trailers were used for paid social media ads as well to drive interest and awareness. The movie was also used in a test by streaming service Hulu of interactive ads that allowed viewers the ability to purchase tickets with just a couple clicks of the remote. Those ads, it’s hoped, will collapse the awareness/interest/conversion timeline, encouraging people to take instant action.
Media and Publicity
While there had been plenty of conversation and speculation about the movie up to that point, the first real marketing kickoff came with the release of first-look photos, which were accompanied by comments from Vikander about taking on the role and more.
Entertainment Weekly’s big San Diego Comic-Con preview issue provided one of the first good looks at the movie, specifically a still of Vikander in character hanging from the side of a cliff. She also talked about taking the character of Croft back to her origins, before she had accumulated all the awesome skills she’s usually equipped with.
Even though the movie features a female lead, Vikander was aware enough to admit that the film doesn’t feature very many women in the cast or crew overall, something that needs to be addressed going forward.
Taking a look at the social channels it’s obvious the studio was eager to promote the movie to the massive fanbase – especially the female fanbase – for the franchise. There were a number of events and screenings that seem to have been arranged specifically for cosplayers and others to get together and their enthusiasm.
How Vikander prepared physically for the role was a major focus of the press and publicity. Interviews like this one show how she was asked repeatedly about getting into shape, handling stunts and doing that much grunt work. It even included a whole feature on her workout regime. Of course the fact that Vikander has almost exclusively been in high-end art-house films to date came up pretty often as well.
There was also the consistent invocation of the #MeToo era and how Lara Croft was just what we needed right now, especially given that the overt sexualization of her appearance, which was very much the product of the male gaze design perspective has been toned down significantly. That’s all great and accurate, but it doesn’t change the fact that much of the press coverage was still focused on her physique in a way that seemed slightly “OMG, a girl can do something more than just hot yoga?” in tone and which included a healthy amount of focus on her fashion and other wardrobe.
The movie’s premiere allowed screenwriter Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Vikander, along with other members of the cast, to talk about how they wanted to do something different with the character and make it their own. The stars also appeared on the morning and late-night talk shows as well.
OK, so how to judge this one? It’s a solid campaign and I love the brand consistency that runs across all the elements with the repeated use of the big red typeface and other elements. Vikander is also charming as all get-out, obviously having a bit of fun playing an action-adventure role as opposed to once more squeeze into a corset and portray someone struggling with 18th-century cultural morals and gender roles. So that’s all great. And yes, the more we can normalize the idea that women can be action stars the better for everyone.
Still, I feel like there’s something missing but I don’t know what it might be. Maybe I want another trailer or a bit more focus in the publicity on the story and not just on Vikander’s training. It just kind of seems there’s one thing that could have provided more of a capstone to the campaign, maybe something that went beyond the outreach to cosplayer/fan communities and was more about getting younger girls involved in themed scavenger hunts or some such. I can’t really deduct points from the push for an element I can’t put my finger on, so I’ll say it’s a pretty good push that keeps the Wonder Woman ball rolling in theaters.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs