The Best 'Tomb Raider' Scene Isn't From the Games

Tomb Raider Still 6 - Publicity - H 2018
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
Alicia Vikander truly makes Lara Croft her own early in the film.

[This story contains spoilers for Tomb Raider]

When most movies based on video games are released to the public, how true the film is to the game is placed under the highest scrutiny.

So it's interesting that with the new Tomb Raider, the best scene in the film doesn't actually come from the game. In the Warner Bros. release, Alicia Vikander plays Lara Croft as an everywoman heroine who is not the superspy of the past film franchise starring Angelina Jolie. She's someone whose action heroism comes from relatable abilities and qualities (including the ability to fail).

Some of this is readily apparent from her look, which is matched to the young and muscular protagonist of the 2013 game rather than the male-gazey design from the original games (which led some internet trolls to criticize Vikander’s casting), but the new Lara's wherewithal is confirmed during a scene early in the movie.

It centers on an illegal bike race, conjured up by screenwriters Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons and based on real races of their type in New York and London. Lara enters as the “fox” and is chased on a “hunt” by a horde of (seemingly all-male) pursuers who paid an entry fee. If they snag the foxtail attached to the back of her bicycle, she loses and the catcher takes a share of the prize. If she gets away, she takes the whole pot.

The scene is expertly directed by Roar Uthaug, who manages to incorporate plenty of story beats and character moments into the action while still giving the chase adrenaline-pumping logic and tempo. This is a scene that assures us that this Croft is savvy, tough and nothing like the expectations of male internet trolls.

She enters because she’s a broke bike courier who’s rejected her inheritance (she doesn’t believe her father, played by Dominic West, is dead). She's sure that she can outrace and outsmart a gaggle of cyclist bros. That confidence is not misplaced. Here, Uthaug takes the opportunity to show the character’s clever turn away from overt badassery (like Lara shooting someone with two big guns and a smirk) to a more humanizing, put-upon kind of badassery (Lara overcomes incredible odds through inner strength). That’s the kind of fallible, Indiana Jones coolness that forms when a protagonist's toughness is shown through superhuman perseverance rather than superhuman feats.

Croft takes off and away from the hunters — in a men-chasing-woman dynamic that becomes increasingly important as the film goes on — at first outmaneuvering them through speed and finesse. This becomes a tutorial-like exposition of skills that we’ll see put to use later in the adventure, as she quickly finds herself feeling the pressure and turning to stealth. She hops on the back of a car, gaining both distance and cover from the bike-bourne hounds.

She leaps back off, ready to win, when she’s again in danger of being caught and must flee. This relentless action refuses to let Vikander catch her breath, always asking her to exude a hustle reminiscent of Daniel Craig’s exhausting-looking parkour in Casino Royale or Charlize Theron’s ass-whooping in Atomic Blonde. The tongue-in-cheek endlessness of the peril makes the audience tired right alongside our heroine, so that her victories feel even more earned once they finally arrive. Croft doesn’t quite get away with the “fox hunt” thanks to a few careless motorists, but the scene completely gets away with its divergence from the game’s plot.

The bike race isn’t just the first taste of action outside of an opening-moments sparring match. It uses this constant motion to characterize this onscreen Lara as someone who is always pushing forward, always the underdog, and always fighting back. This is a Lara who will always be running, biking or climbing while always thinking of the next move. These are simple statements that build a complex character — one that rewrites cinema’s understanding of Croft and creates a faithful representation of the rebooted game’s heroine — all without saying a word. Sometimes the best way to adapt a video game is to do just that: adapt.