Why Angelina Jolie's Hardbody in 'Lara Croft: Tomb Raider' Appeals to the Female Spectator

While the camera is objectifying her body to invoke a sexual response in male viewers, Lara Croft still defies the expectations of women in action films.

Semoy Booker
Semoy Booker
October 2, 2021

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) is one of my favorite Angelina Jolie films and female action heroine films. However, the movie has received some negative reception regarding the frequent male gazes of Jolie's body. While the camera is objectifying her body to invoke a sexual response in male viewers, Lara Croft still defies the expectations of women in action films. First, I would like to compare what I’ve read in Jeffery A. Brown's: Gender and the Action Hero to the film. Brown mentioned that the female hardbody doesn’t always have to be a sexual appeal to the male spectator, which I agree with. In the opening scene, we see shots of Lara’s thighs strapped with her USP guns. While some may assume her thigh close-ups are meant to be sexually appealing--and I’m not saying they’re not--these close-ups are not just of her thighs but also her guns. There are a lot of close-ups of Lara accompanied by her guns. These shots serve as a reminder that Lara is not a passive tomb raider--she’s an active one. The opening scene also emphasizes that Lara’s body is athletic. There’s even a scene of Lara walking down with her guns strapped on her thighs in a manly way. I don’t think she walks manly because the guns strapped on her are too heavy for a woman--for me, it’s realistic that having guns strapped on your legs will carry weight, and she’s not bothered by that because it’s all-natural for her.

close-up of lara's thighs with guns strapped on them

Close-up of Lara's guns strapped on her


In Yvonne Tasker's Spectacular Bodies: Gender, Genre and the Action Cinema, Tasker talks about the vulnerable states that some female action heroes face. For example, I noticed that whenever Lara wears white, it shows not only her passive side but also her vulnerability. She wears white when she visits her father’s gravestone, an emotional moment for her. She wears white after having her dream of her father, and she wears white during her bungee-ballet ambush. My point being is the audience sees two sides of Lara: her active side whenever she’s fighting the bad guys and her passive side when she meets her father or there is any mention of her father.

Lara in her white pajamas

Lara's bungee ballet scene

One of the reasons I love Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft is because she’s gun-savvy and she’s funny. Her humor adds to her bold personality, like when she takes off her towel in front of her butler and his reaction is that she should be modest of her body because she’s a lady. She simply responds, “yes, a lady should be modest”. This line interested me because it’s not saying Lara isn’t a woman, but rather asking the question: who came up with the rule that ladies should be modest? As for her gun-savviness, Lara usually gears herself with two USP guns. The reason why I emphasize the type of guns she uses is because I noticed she never has to reload her guns because--her guns self-load. We are also seeing a change of female action heroes using guns that are more handled for men, like semi-automatic guns. Notice that most of her male opponents use one gun to fire and Lara uses two. She doesn’t use two guns because it would give her an advantage as a woman--rather, it would make sense to use two guns because two guns are better than one.

Lara Croft holding two guns, in a dark background

Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft

Another aspect I’ve noticed about Lara is her symbolic chastity. I’ve mentioned Lara often wears white, mostly when she’s at her mansion or is in an emotional state regarding her father, but her white outfits can also symbolize Lara as a virtuous heroine. Lara Croft is portrayed as a virtuous heroine because, unlike her male opponents, she is not tempted by lust, power, or greed. For example, we know Lara and Alex have a history, but rather than engaging with Alex sexually she instead gives him playful banter. We also know that Lara wants the pieces of the triangle/all-seeing-eye so it doesn’t go into the wrong hands and with the hopes that it would lead to her father, unlike Powell who wants the pieces for ultimate power. At last, we see Lara finally wearing her white dress because in some ways, giving up her chance to save her father for the ultimate good was like passing a test for her morality. However, the ending clearly shows us that even though the writers made Lara have a feminine, side she’s still the badass tomb raider we know from the beginning.

lara in a white dress, holding two guns

Lara Croft in her white dress