Wednesday, April 8, 2015

On True Badasses

Last night, I was having an in-depth discussion with my wife about the Tomb Raider reboot. Neither of us were really all that into any Lara Croft games or related media before this game, so we had a relatively 'fresh' view of the intellectual property. Essentially, we both liked it a LOT. I'm looking forward to the next one.

But, anyway, we've come across a lot of strange criticism of the 'new' Lara. A lot of people seemed to be upset by the fact that she showed so much emotion. That she hesitated or was terrified by all the events that occurred to and around her in the game. They seem to think that this makes her a weaker character and a lot less badass than the original Lara.

That made me very confused, and it got me thinking.

What's more badass? The Arnold Schwarzenegger type who never hesitates, never falters, never lets a single shred of worry slow them down or a protagonist who is nervous, who doubts themselves, who fucks up every now and then?

The second one, obviously. It's bizarre how many people get this backwards. Don't get me wrong, there's definitely a place for the ultimate badass who smokes cigars, kicks everyone's ass without breaking a sweat and doesn't have time to bleed. I enjoy tons of those types of movies. But media that tells stories more similar to the new Tomb Raider are significantly more gripping and tend to get you a lot more emotionally invested.

For those characters that are ultimate badasses who never flinch or hesitate, you find yourself asking: is it even possible? Do they even feel those emotions? Don't they ever doubt themselves? Don't they ever wonder if maybe they've got it wrong, or what happens if they fuck it all up? Are they physically capable of fear? And the answer, more often than not, seems to be 'no'. If that's the case, then we're not watching human beings, we're essentially watching walking, catch-phrase spewing killing machines that are beyond error. There's no tension, there's no investment, because you already know the outcome: the badass soldier/loner/mercenary/etc. is going to kill all the bad guys, smoke a cigar and bang a supermodel. And he's not even going to break a sweat trying.

Take a look at John McClane in the original Die Hard for contrast. Throughout the movie, he makes mistakes. He misses shots. He overplays his hand. The bad guys get the better of him sometimes. And he's afraid. That scene where he has to tie a hose to himself and jump off the top of the building, or he'll fucking die in an explosion, he's pissing his pants with fear. He's talking to himself, hesitating...he clearly does not want to do this. But if it were a more 'traditional' badass, they'd just make the jump and nail it flawlessly. Because John is terrified and obvious about it, we're a lot more nervous, and thus a lot more invested, because he could fucking die doing this. More importantly, it makes us ask: What if that were me?

It makes him more human.

That's what made this 'new' Lara Croft so great. Sure, she's brave, she's tough, she's competent. But she doubts herself. She knows she could die at any moment doing these insane things she has to do to ensure her own continued survival.

A character who hesitates, who makes mistakes, who feels fear, is always more compelling because it isn't brave if there's never any question whether or not the character is going to succeed. That's essentially the same as saying the television was brave because it turned on. For characters like the 'traditional' badass, success is all they're capable of as characters. They aren't overcoming anything. But for true badasses, they make you feel, they make you concerned for their well-being. You sympathize with them, and ultimately feel more satisfied with them as characters because they swallow their fear, push aside their doubt and do that really awful, terrifying thing in spite of the overwhelming odds.

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