CROFT: TOMB RAIDER (2001)
Director: Simon West
In the land of action-oriented video games, most of the protagonists tend to be male. Women in these games tend to be relegated to the role of either sneaky femme fatale or whimpering damsel in distress. But on an occasion or two, you'll find an exception to that. One such exception has become one of the most popular and recognizable video game characters of the '90s. A rare alpha female in a land primarily dominated by men, Lara Croft first grabbed the attention of gamers everywhere (along with the fantasies of teenage boys everywhere) in 1996 when Eidos Interactive released Tomb Raider onto the PlayStation, Sega Saturn, and PC. The game was a smashing success, and the popularity of Tomb Raider and its heroine led to a number of sequels, comic books, original novels, and eventually, a major motion picture. With an Academy Award-winning actress as the titular heroine, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider was released in the summer of 2001 and was a box office success despite a mixed reaction from critics. But is it just another crappy video game movie, or does it take after its heroine and serve as the exception to the norm?
As you can more than likely surmise, our story centers around the one and only Lara Croft (Angelina Jolie), an unconventional British aristocrat whose skill and success at tracking down ancient relics has earned her a reputation as one of the predominant "tomb raiders" amongst her peers in the archaeological community. After discovering an bizarre clock inside a hidden chamber within her mansion, Lara discovers that it is the key to finding a mystical icon known as "the Triangle of Light." If the separated halves of the Triangle are reassembled during the extremely rare period when the nine planets in our galaxy are aligned, whomever possesses it will be able to control the flow of time. And wouldn't you know it, the planets are only seven days away from aligning for the first and only time in five thousand years. Following clues left for her by her dearly departed father (Jon Voight), Lara must cross paths with rival tomb raider Alex West (Daniel Craig) and locate the Triangle of Light's missing halves before the sleazy Manfred Powell (Iain Glen) can acquire them on behalf of everyone's favorite amoral secret society, the Illuminati.
Since the beginning of the "video game adaptation" genre, the first Mortal Kombat movie has been considered the best the genre has to offer. But it seems as if this movie has unfortunately been forgotten about. Unlike a lot of other video game movies, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider manages to properly capture the feel and atmosphere of its source material. It isn't a cinematic masterpiece by any means, but by golly, it's entertaining. And isn't that the most satisfying thing we could hope for?
Let's go to the direction first. Simon West is at the helm here, and his work is sound. He does what he can to go the extra mile and do things the viewer won't expect. The bungee cord fight scene is almost enough for the movie to earn its price of admission. The movie plays out like a video game would with moments of story and character advancement interspersed with plentiful action sequences. There's even a boss battle or two. West handles it all with flair, never falling into the standard action movie clichés. You know the ones; super-fast editing, shaky camerawork, overbearing music. That sort of thing. West and cinematographer Peter Menzies Jr. just let the action play out and document things as they happen. And to tell you the truth, the movie is better for it. The musical score composed by Graeme Revell is also pretty good, if not a little unremarkable. That's probably because it's often pushed aside by the lame hip-hop and techno music that comprises the soundtrack. I'm sorry, but the movie's soundtrack doesn't really do it for me.
Next is the script. Penned by Patrick Massett and John Zinman from a story by four other writers, the movie's plot is a bit too complex for its own good. But the truth of the matter is that the story is only secondary to the movie's action. The story is only really there at all in order to fill the gaps between the action sequences, and I think that if they could have done a movie with no story at all, they wouldn't have bothered with writers. And as over-complex as the story may be, there's a few little bits that just don't click together, mainly when it comes to the character of Alex West. I couldn't really find any purpose for the character to ultimately serve. Is he supposed to be some kind of romantic foil for Lara? Is he supposed to be an evil tomb raider that sees the error of his ways by the end of the movie? I say this because I couldn't really figure out whether the character was supposed to be important, or just a random henchman for the main villain. Seems like the writers just couldn't figure out what they wanted to do with him.
Last but not least is the cast. Though they aren't as significant to the movie as its star, the supporting cast all do some fine work. Jon Voight is good despite only having a few scenes, while Christopher Barrie and Noah Taylor are likeable in their small roles as Lara's butler and personal computer whiz. I also liked Daniel Craig in spite of his character's glaring flaws, and I thought Iain Glen turned in a fine performance, giving our villain the slimy disposition he needed. But of course, the whole movie is carried by our star, Angelina Jolie. Jolie is enjoying herself and it shows, as she plays Lara Croft with a cocky, swaggering confidence that makes her more than charming. She's very convincing in the role, which is helped by Jolie's nearly flawless British accent. It seems like a lot of actors can't really pull off a believable accent, but Jolie is talented enough to do it. That aside, I think this movie should at least be noted for the brilliant casting of its lead, because Jolie is the absolute perfect in the role. The aforementioned confidence she brings to the role, along with her innate ability to exude sex appeal without really trying, makes it hard to imagine anybody else in the role.
As I said earlier, it's a shame that the Tomb Raider movie is not as exalted as Mortal Kombat among fans of the "video game movie" genre. It's not the greatest movie ever, but it's definitely a lot of fun to watch. A wild, energetic combination of James Bond and Indiana Jones movies, it's a flick that values entertainment above all else. It's nice to see a movie like that once in a while. So I'll go out on a limb and give Lara Croft: Tomb Raider three and a half stars and a thumbs up. Though I will have to say that it still doesn't let Simon West off the hook for making that awful remake of When A Stranger Calls.
Final Rating: ***½