Lara Croft might just be the most iconic video game character in the world. While Tomb Raider’s stock is below Nintendo powerhouses like Pokemon, Super Mario, and Zelda, Lara herself is just as recognisable as Pikachu, Mario, or Link. It hasn’t even been that long since Lara had a great game (Rise, in 2015), but news cycles move quickly in gaming so it’s tempting to think of Lara as a hero of a bygone era. Make no mistake though, Lara Croft remains a far bigger legend in pop culture than Kratos, Nathan Drake, Master Chief, or Ellie. Playing the character is a huge responsibility, and as Netflix casts its lead, Hayley Atwell is the perfect woman for the role.
Younger players might have just started Tomb Raider with the 2013 reboot, and may only know her as a decent video game heroine. Skilled with pistols, a bow, and skull-smashing pickaxes, Lara is a fearsome fighter, but is also defined by her kindness, open heart, and optimism. Lara is excellent in those games, with Camilla Luddington capturing a younger, more naive Lara than we’ve seen before, but the trilogy itself was ultimately less impactful than other TR games.
If that’s your only taste of Lara, you might scoff at the idea that she is a character on Pikachu’s level – but Lara’s legacy extends far beyond whether her most recent game was any good. Lara has been a cover star for Time, Newsweek, Financial Times, and The Face. It’s not that these non-gaming outlets covered gaming once and a promo picture of Lara was on the cover; they literally depicted her the way they would Kendall Jenner, Kate Upton, or Kate Moss. She was the star. Lara has also advertised Seat cars, VISA credit cards, Lucozade, and is an ambassador for the Skin Cancer Awareness Foundation. Lara Croft is a bona fide celebrity.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that her actor needs to be. Keeley Hawes, the ‘Second Series’ Lara, plus her two Hollywood stars Angelina Jolie and Alicia Vikander, are all famous, but Luddington is a supporting cast member in Grey’s Anatomy. That’s not Angelina Jolie levels of fame. Meanwhile, Shelley Blond and Jonell Elliot, the first and third Lara, are both successful theatre actors but not Hollywood superstars. Judith Gibbons, the second Lara, only auditioned because her brother worked at the studio.
Netflix’s anime is slightly different, however. While Lara’s popularity in the games has gone up and down over the years, her popularity as an icon has remained steady. Many will watch the show having not played a game since Legend, or maybe even earlier. A newcomer would be interesting, but a safe pair of hands is… well, a safe pair of hands.
It’s not just that Atwell is famous. I wouldn’t be writing this article with the same positive tone if Samuel L. Jackson, Danny DeVito, or Sarah Silverman had been cast instead. She clearly has the cut-glass voice needed to play Lara authentically and with authority, and is a fantastic actor with a lot of credibility.
The obvious comparison is to Agent Carter. Atwell’s MCU character felt like her potential had been diminished somewhat; her character was in the only 1940s flick, and so it’s pretty difficult to keep her around after that. Thankfully, the bigwigs at Marvel spotted his, and that’s why an aged-up Atwell returned for the Captain America sequel, why she ended up having a significant role in Endgame’s time-travel adventures, why she got her Agent Carter spin-off, and why Captain Carter is the leading face of What If…? – were it not for the issues with the timeline, Atwell might well have been leading this new phase of the MCU with Brie Larson, Elizabeth Olsen, Tom Holland, and Benedict Cumberbatch.
Captain Carter is particularly worth paying attention to – while the episode rushed Peggy and Steve’s relationship, leaning on what we already knew from The First Avenger, Atwell proved how perfectly she could translate her performance to a voice-only part. Though she would be a great choice for a more experienced 40 year-old live-action Lara, she has the experience to bring Lara to life from the vocal booth too.
She brings experience from Restless, Life of Crime, and I, Alice as well, and feels in every way like the perfect casting. Only time will tell how good the show actually is – a Tomb Raider anime still feels like the sort of thing to go either way – but Atwell offers more assurances that the show will be worthy of Lara’s name. Atwell herself certainly is.
Next: A Next-Gen Upgrade Won’t Save Shadow Of The Tomb Raider From Mediocrity
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