By David Mumpower
July 23, 2003
Lara Croft is back on the silver screen and once more delivering double-barreled action in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life. If you hated the first film, don't boo and hiss just yet. There is some good news here; I expect near-universal agreement that this sequel is superior to the first. But that's faint praise damnation to the majority of people reading this.
What matters is how the film stands on its own, and that answer is less obvious. It is my speculation that those who enjoyed the original will once more be satisfied with a few formerly dissenting folks even converted by the new offering. The rest will bemoan all things Angelina Jolie and dismiss the film as further proof that videogames should never be adapted into movies. As for me, I came away from the experience frustrated by how uneven Cradle of Life is, but also largely satisfied.
Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life begins with a very clever introduction as we see a landslide hit the ocean, interrupting a boisterous wedding party. The changing current combined with the rockslide has opened up some underwater chambers that had previously been inaccessible for countless centuries, so a hottie on a jet-ski is now required to make an elaborate entrance.
Any excuse to get Angelina Jolie in a bikini works for me (I am so hot for her my lust might cause a solar flair), and sure enough, here she is to save the day. The new structure she is able to enter is Alexander’s long lost Lunar Temple. It is here that the ruler stored his most important treasures, and it is here that our heroine finds herself in the presence of a globe which maps the location of Pandora’s Box.
Before Croft may claim her treasure, felonious thugs overwhelm the rest of her crew and steal the object from her. Faced with the task of survival, pursuit is not an option less she be trapped in a collapsing underwater tomb. With her 3-D imaging map in enemy hands, specifically those of a Chinese criminal syndicate run by Chen Lo (Simon Yam), Croft is forced to make other plans in order to re-acquire the device.
For once, the loner is forced to take on a partner who has the appropriate gangster ties. The man happens to be one Terry Sheridan (Gerard Butler, Dracula in Dracula 2000), who is currently incarcerated in one of those hellish prisons in Kazakhstan. Conveniently, a couple of MI6 agents are at Croft Manor looking to make a deal, so she liberates her ex-boyfriend, and the chase is on.
What happens next is the usual popcorn film combination of elaborate stunts and lush background scenes. While the skeleton is generic, I can honestly say that in a summer where most films feel exactly the same, many of the exotic locales here feel special. As a huge fan of the treasure hunter genre, I’m always a sucker for ambitious set designs, and Cradle of Life has those in spades. Also, while there are plenty of random shoot 'em up gunfights, some of the actual stunts involving the videogame character herself are quite impressive, even cerebral. We’re not talking rocket science here, but the extra forethought placed into what the binary entity is supposed to be about is appreciated.
While the latest Angelina Jolie/Lara Croft outing does feel at times like an extended commercial for Jeep (with a local dealership in your area!), the more legitimate complaint I have is the ending. I should preface the comment by saying that making the viewer care about the outcome is generally a good sign, so at least director Jan de Bont had me thinking along with the potential results. That said, there was an inescapable feeling of not just simple disappointment but also randomness to many of the events in the cliffhanger action sequences of the third act.
At first, I got the impression that more thought was given to how pretty some of the shots would look on camera than to how the action would play out. From there, the situation depreciated as the theoretically shocking twists felt awkward and more than a little bit forced for no legitimate purpose other than to surprise the viewer. It failed completely for me, and since the ending of a film is the most important determinant in how a person feels about the movie as they exit the theater, it’s hard to give Cradle of Life a whole-hearted recommendation. This isn’t a minor beef about a couple of events at the end, mind you, but rather a sense of incompletion for an entire story arc. An attempt is made afterward to give the viewer warm fuzzies on the way out the door, but by then, I was too alienated.
When judging specifics of Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, there is certainly a lot of potential nit-picking to be done. When looking at the meta picture though, the movie offers a fun ride that never bores. It’s clearly not for everyone, particularly those pre-disposed to hate all things Jolie. For those looking for a nice 105 minute distraction of action scenes starring an impossibly beautiful woman, this one should satisfy.
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