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, in what will quickly become a matter of course for this film, she runs-jumps-flips-climbs her way through an ancient looking cave of faux ruins and blows the holy hell out of the ultra-advanced robot assassin that serves as her “sparing partner.” All in a flash-bang opening action sequence designed to drive home a singular point: that Lara Croft is a Badass. Needless to say, the sequence 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—Anaconda—Voight). So 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 probably already knew this, or could figure it out from the incredibly-obvious title.
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, them) are ready. For what? 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. Except, instead of playing it, one’s forced to sit back and watch. Because golly gee, this film says, who doesn’t want to watch Angelina run-jump-shoot-wire-fu her way through ninety minutes of generic action movie?
I don’t know. Maybe I’m just in a bad mood. Or maybe it really is impossible to make an action film that isn’t generic. 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. If you listen to West’s Director’s Commentary you’ll get more than an earfull as West explains his thought process behind Tomb Raider’s story in agonizing 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 by a director who’s only too willing to over-explain himself.
This isn’t a character movie. Did anyone think it would be? I don’t know. I like to hold out some hope that someone in Hollywood likes to make movies about human beings (West seems to believe he’s done just that). Still, this is a video game made flesh, an a video game that trumpeted its genuinelly 3D graphics to the highest heavens. Ironic the characters here are so 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 just over thinking this? (Yes.) Should I be hypnotized by Angelina’s breasts? They are quite nice. She is quite nice, I should say, both as a sex object and as an actress. Jarring British accent aside, she manages to convey just the littlest hint that there is actually something going on in Lara’s head, which is no mean feat in itself. On the one hand she’s the largely-silent protagonist of a third-person, over-the-shoulder video game whose wonky, cumbersome controls were only exceeded in Suckiness by the uncontrollable high-jinks of its ADD camera. On the other hand, Laura is one of Indiana Jones’ psychopathic children. Her idea of a fun weekend consists of nipping off to the nearest brown-people-rich nation and raping their cultural heritage. Yet Miss Jolie managed to make me give a shit about Laura, and up until now I’d vastly vastly underestimated her thespian skills.
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 and Glen just doesn’t have the force of personality to make up for it. Forget the Last Action Hero. What ever happened to all the good Action Villains?
Then there’s Lara’s entourage, 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 deserves recognition for his craftsmanship, not to mention all the words of praise Simon West gives him. Something about all this just makes me sigh. This movie never could’ve been great. But maybe with some fine-tuning, or a few re-writes, it could’ve at least been smart enough to justify itself. It could’ve been a memorable rip-off of the Indiana Jones trilogy. 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 while you’re waiting to die. If that’s your bag, go for it. 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.