Should I Watch..? 'Lara Croft: Tomb Raider'
What's the big deal?
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider is an action adventure fantasy film released in 2001 and is based upon the Tomb Raider series of video games created by Core Design. The film stars Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft, an English aristocrat thrust into a globe-trotting adventure against villainous forces attempting to recreate a deadly ancient power. Jolie's casting was the result of a long and exhaustive search with many actresses rumoured for the part. The film also stars Iain Glen, Jon Voight, Daniel Craig, Noah Taylor and Chris Barrie and was directed by Simon West. Despite a largely negative reaction from critics, the film went on to earn more than $274 million worldwide and is still one of the most successful video-game adaptions produced by Hollywood. A sequel followed in 2003 - The Cradle Of Life - but the series was on hiatus until a reboot in 2018, simply called Tomb Raider.
What's it about?
With a planetary alignment beginning to occur for the first time in 5000 years, a shadowy organisation known as The Illuminati are searching for two halves of a legendary triangle. Split into two pieces by an ancient civilisation, the Triangle Of Light will grant god-like powers if it is restored at the culmination of the solar eclipse. The Illuminati have given the task of finding the two relics to one of their own, shady "lawyer" Manfred Powell who assures his peers that the two halves will be in their possession in time.
Meanwhile, English aristocrat and adventurer Lara Croft is mourning the anniversary of the disappearance of her father Lord Richard Croft. Recalling his tales of the Triangle Of Light, Lara discovers a mysterious clock hidden within her ancestral home which contains the key to discovering the location of one of the triangles. With the Illuminati prepared to stop at nothing to achieve their goals, Lara must forge some uneasy alliances in order to save the world.
Lord Richard Croft
Patrick Massett & John Zinman *
Release Date (UK)
6th July, 2001
Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Razzie Award Nomination
Worst Actress (Jolie)
What's to like?
Unquestionably, the biggest thing going for Lara Croft: Tomb Raider is the star in the title role. Jolie makes for a refreshing change as an action hero and not just because she's a woman - the action scenes are inventive and her English accent is impeccable, even if her dress code is far from practical. Despite the limitations of the character, Jolie gives the role her everything and I can't criticise anyone for doing that. And if nothing else, she proves that women can and should be the stars of action films although nobody in Hollywood appears to be listening.
The film also looks the business with exotic locations and sets that owe a debt of gratitude to the Indiana Jones franchise. The final showdown takes place in a Siberian cave that is filled by an ornate model of the solar system that spins and whirs in a fashion that it simply wouldn't do in real life. But then, the film exists in a hyper-stylised alternate dimension where Jolie's character can perform gymnastic feats and fire hundreds of rounds of ammo without reloading (or if she does, she has an unwieldy device that allows her to reload in the blink of an eye). Give her a trenchcoat and a soundtrack from Rage Against The Machine and she might as well be Neo from The Matrix.
- This was the first film to shoot in Cambodia since 1965's Lord Jim, an adventure movie starring Peter O'Toole.
- Despite the much-discussed appearance of estranged father-and-daughter Voight and Jolie, they only share one brief scene together. It wasn't even the first time they had done so - Jolie made her cinematic debut aged five opposite Voight in a film called Lookin' To Get Out in 1982.
- The gun used by Craig in the film is a Walther PPK, the signature firearm of James Bond. Craig would himself end up playing 007 just five years later in Casino Royale.
What's not to like?
Part of the reason why video games make such poor movies is because they exist in a different reality from each other. Take the adventures of the aforementioned Indiana Jones, a clear inspiration to the original Tomb Raider games. As a movie character, he is fallible and his daring-do is all the more exciting because of it. But a video game character, like Lara Croft, has to have an air of immortality about them - a game wouldn't work if your character stopped running through exhaustion or sank because they carried too much stuff to be able to swim safely. And this hyper-adaptation to the environment is part of what sinks this film - Lara never looks fazed or befuddled at any point and she seems so oblivious to any danger around her that she laughs at it. For all the expensive sets and explosive scenes, you just don't care about any of it.
The film isn't helped by either the cast or the script. Jolie does well as Croft but the role suffers from existing in the video-game dimension - how and where does she find time to build deadly robots and mock ruins to keep herself in shape in the surroundings of a genteel country manor? But the rest of the cast dwell firmly in Jolie's shadow, unfortunately. Craig's American accent is a shock to viewers more used to seeing him as James Bond while Glen is your standard non-descript English baddie - the rest of the cast are just plain bad. And the story is such utter gibberish that you feel it was written by a six-year-old with attention deficit disorder. With all the ramblings on about planetary alignments, mystical triangles, time travel and unresolved daddy issues, I didn't really have the foggiest idea what was happening or why.
Should I watch it?
Fans of the earlier games or admirers of Ms Jolie will probably get the most out of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider but I'm afraid I wanted more. The film is a well-produced jumble of ideas blended with a middling bunch of actors and topped with a decent performance from the lead to hopefully distract you from its faults. I prefer this to its idiotic sequel and respect it for trying to emulate the spirit of the games. But if you want a movie about someone raiding tombs (or lost arks, for that matter), you already know what film to be watching.
Great For: undemanding viewers, pubescent boys, fans of the earlier games, Cambodian orphans
Not So Great For: logic, casting directors, video-game adaptations
What else should I watch?
The definitive action-adventure series remains the one that inspired the Tomb Raider video games, the Indiana Jones series. The first three movies - Raiders Of The Lost Ark, The Temple Of Doom and The Last Crusade - are wonderfully old-fashioned adventures with Harrison Ford in imperious form as the cynical, wise-cracking and hopelessly charismatic Indiana Jones. The middle film is the weakest of the three but even that has the mind-blowing mine-cart rollercoaster chase, one of the most thrilling action sequences ever filmed in my opinion. Sadly, it couldn't last - the belated fourth film The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull is a real dog's dinner of a film and is about on a par with Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.
At the time of writing, the wait for a good movie based on a video game goes on. Among those that are currently held in higher regard are the goofy B-movie beat-'em-up Mortal Kombat and the big-budget fantasy adventure Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time although neither set the world alight if we're being blunt. However, maybe the wait may soon be over - the reboot Tomb Raider is garnering for positive words from critics although I'd still maintain a note of caution. It is due for release tomorrow, after all...
© 2018 Benjamin Cox