And You Thought It Was Safe(?)

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)

Lara keeps a look out for falling plot contrivances.

As Tomb Raider opens, we find Lara Croft (Angelina Jolie, of course) hanging suspended from a rope. Not even her intricately woven braid stirs. Then of course, she runs-jumps-flips-climbs her way through an ancient looking caver of faux-ruins and blows the holy hell out of her ultra advanced robot assassin/“sparing partner.” All in a flash-bang opening action sequence designed to drive home a singular point: that Lara Croft is a Badass Chick. Needless to say, it accomplishes its goal…so, I asked myself, what the hell is the rest of the movie supposed to do?

Spiral ever downward, apparently. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Angelina Jolie is Lara Croft, the Tomb Raider, only child to “legendary” archeologist Lord Croft (Jon—AnacondaVoight). When she’s not destroying her own robots or lounging about the eighty-plus rooms of her ancestral home, Lara likes to gallivant around the globe and engage in a spot of grave robbing, stealing priceless artifacts and…doing…something…with them. If you don’t live under a rock, you already knew this.

Tonight’s particular adventure begins when all the planets of the solar system aligning, as they were supposed to on March 5, 2000. This happens every 5000 years or so and this time the Illuminati (you know, that Secret Evil Society that’s been either plotting to rule the world or actively ruling it since the dawn of civilization? Yeah, those guys) plan to be ready. For what, you ask? The answer lies in a secret room in the Croft mansion. Just as the planets begin to align, an ancient artifact hidden there by Daddy Croft comes alive and begins to count its way down. This, and a posthumous letter from Lord Croft, sends Lara on a trans-global quest to uncover the artifact’s origins, discover the Truth About Her Father’s Death and stop the Illuminati from controlling Time Itself.

After eighty million dollars, two screenwriters, three people who get a “story” credit, and Simon (Con Air) West (who gets an “adaptation” credit…whatever that means), what do we have here? A one hundred minute video game made flesh. And, by golly, who doesn’t want to pay twenty bucks to see that on DVD?

I don’t know. Maybe I’m just in a bad mood. Or maybe it really is impossible to make a well-crafted action movie these days. To be fair, don’t believe the hype. This movie is not nearly as bad as it’s made out to be. Simon West is a more than capable director, in that his lack of style never distracts from Miss Jolie’s…ahem…talents. The action scenes are well shot and well choreographed, but, more importantly, the editing won’t give you epilepsy. Mr. West isn’t Michael Bay, and I can live with any action movie director as long as they are Not Michael Bay.

Once again, the devil’s in the script, in the ideas behind all of this flash-bang-boom action. If you listen to West’s Director’s Commentary you’ll get more than an ear full. West explains his thought process behind Tomb Raider’s story in detail. Depending on how cynical you’re feeling, you can either look at this as a good idea gone wrong (thanks to the idiotic conventions of modern action movies) or as a bad idea made worse.

This isn’t a character movie. Did anyone think it would be? I don’t know. I like to hold out some hope that some one in Hollywood likes to make movies about human beings. Still, this is a video game made flesh, so it’s ironic that all the characters here are two-dimensional. First off, the movie focuses exclusively on Lara’s most obvious traits. (No, I’m not talking about those—though, if you pause things just right…) We see her fighting, her athleticism, and it’s nice and all, but what’s going on in her head? What drives her to raid tombs? And where did she learn to be Supergirl? Am I to assume she’s Xena’s great-great-great-great-(fast-forward)-grand daughter and leave it at that? Or am I thinking too much about this? Should I just ignore it all and concentrate on Angelina’s breasts? They are quite nice. She is quite nice, I should say, both as a sex object, and as an actress. She nails that British accent, and (despite everything) manages to make her character interesting, giving just the littlest hint that there is actually something going on in Lara’s head. I actually liked her. The rest of the cast, though…fuck ’em. These people annoyed me all to hell.

Take Mr. Powell. He’s the main villain of the piece, played by Iain Glen. More than anything else, Lara Croft needs a foil; a villain who kicks just as much ass as she does. Iain Glen tries his hand but, as with everything else in this movie, he falls far, far, far short of his potential. Powell is an underwritten character, and Glen just doesn’t have the force of personality to flesh Powell out enough. Forget the Last Action Hero, what ever happened to all the good Action Villains?

Yeah,  I'd like to raid her tomb. (Hey, you'll make that joke, too.  See if you  don't.Then there’s Lara’s entourage, in the form of Hilary the Butler (Chris Barrie) and Bryce the Techie Sidekick (Noah Taylor), neither of whom serve any real purpose. Both could be eliminated without harming the plot (such as it is). That’s two actor’s salaries down. That would’ve trimmed the budget, eh Simon? More money = more explosions.

And what’s with the mystical undertones that pop up along the way? Did we just throw those in there for giggles?

Still, the set design is beautiful. Production designer Kirk Petruccelli disserves some major recognition for his craftsmanship, not to mention all the words of praise Simon West gives him. Something about all this, though, just makes me sigh. This movie never could’ve been great. No. But maybe with some fine-tuning, or a few re-writes, it could’ve at least been smart enough to justify its own existence. It could’ve been more than the sum of its parts. It could’ve been the start of a beautiful franchise, instead of another piece of high gloss eye candy.

But what the hell do I know? Maybe all you want is eye candy. Something empty to stare at for a while. If that’s your bag, then here you go. If you’re looking for an intelligent action-adventure movie that’s worth more than one viewing, then you’re raiding the wrong tomb, bub.

One more thought before we go our separate ways. What if, say, Lara Croft came up against a situation she wasn’t prepared for? Or stumbled into something she found she couldn’t handle through cool looking acrobatics and gunfire? Something bigger than anything she’s ever encountered that completely knocked her out of her athletic bra? Something she had to think her way out of a predicament using the crafty cunning you and I both know is circling inside Angelina Jolie’s eyes? Wouldn’t that make for an interesting movie?

Hell, I think so.


3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Everyone are so relaxed in this movie. Statues come alive and Angelina Jolie is like “well wow”. The sequel is the same in which Demons comes out of nowhere and kill people, and yet one of the bad guys is more concerned with taking down Jolie.

Comment by Filip Önell

All things considered, I’d have to go with the bad guys on that one. But, then again, I never saw the sequel, and the point is well taken. Call it Henry Jones Jr.’s Disease: the action movie protagonist’s inexplicable equanimity in the face of sheer awesomeness. Or mind-fucking weirdness, as is so often the case with ol’ Lara.

Comment by David DeMoss

Oh well, look at it this way. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider at least got the concept right, although the execution may be a bit too much MTV for my taste. Considering this is a video game adaptation, it is a remarkably solid movie – if not a vapid one. If you compare LC:TR to the likes of Double Dragon, Street Fighter, Hitman, Max Payne, Postal, Super Mario Brothers, Ballistic: Ecks vs Sever and the like – it remains surprisingly true to its source and doesn’t insult its core audience too much. Along with Tekken and the first Mortal Kombat movie, it is the rare video game adaptation that is actually worth seeing. Of course, Jolie’s augmented chest and tight-fitting clothing help too.

Comment by Choronzon

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: