Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

 

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. Mutual Films Company 2001.

Before watching the movie:

The video game was very popular, possibly even for reasons beyond the audacious character model, so of course Tomb Raider got a movie fairly quickly. I’m not sure why the title of the successful franchise with five years of brand recognition was prefaced with the character’s name for the movie, but I assume if I look it up, I’ll see something about “Lara Croft” being the name known more by the mainstream audience, again because of the character model.

I was surprised to see Daniel Craig’s name in the credits for this 2001 movie, and then I looked up when Casino Royale came out (2006) and shriveled to a skeleton and turned to dust like the villain in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. I also found that my impression that Angelina Jolie hasn’t done much lately is very much not true.

It’s also surprising to me that the rebooted Tomb Raider series got a reboot movie before the Uncharted franchise, which I suspect the Tomb Raider reboot owes some of its success to, was able to get its movie out of development hell.

After watching the movie:

Lara Croft, a fantastically wealthy heiress archaeologist who works out by fighting robots her tech guy programmed to kill her, can’t get excited about any new projects because it’s almost the anniversary of her father’s disappearance. It’s also almost the first alignment of all nine planets in five thousand years, and the Illuminati are seeking the key that will lead them to the two halves of The Triangle, which if rejoined at the moment of total alignment, will give them godlike power. At the moment of the first phase of the Alignment, a clock starts ticking in the secret room of Lara’s house, known only to Lara and her father. Inside the clock is a mystical device that looks like it’s supposed to fit into some kind of ancient mechanism. Lara’s search for clues about this device in the clock makes Powell, the Illuminati member tasked with finding the Key, aware of what Lara has, getting her involved with the Illuminati’s quest for control of time itself, and her father’s nursery riddles are essential to saving the universe.

Several of the action sequences seem to have started from “that would be cool” ideas, and justified later. Not just in terms of how they fit into the plot, but also in terms of when they’re explained to the audience. I couldn’t say if there are killer robot sparring matches in the Tomb Raider video games, but I never got the impression there were. So I spent the first several minutes pretty confused, and it was ultimately just an action sequence for the sake of starting with an action sequence. Which later required them to spend a little time explaining why the killer robots Lara owns couldn’t come curb stomp the bad guys breaking into her home. Once everything is set in motion and the story starts hopping around the world, magical artifacts come into play with a high degree of “anything goes” consistency, and nothing really makes sense from one moment to the next.

Of course, there’s a strong attempt to bring sexiness in at any possible moment, but aside from a couple of shower scenes it didn’t seem completely gratuitous. There’s at least two scenes where the movie tries to use showing off Angelina Jolie as a character beat for Lara, and while the more overt one is just gratuitous, I was able to appreciate the idea that they seem to be saying that Lara is just so cool or whatever that she can leave her parka open in Siberia and not seem at all uncomfortable exposing her low-cut tank top, even though while that’s probably what they’re going for, they’re also using it as an excuse to not cover up their sexy star.

As much as I can usually look at action movies with low artistic ambition and say that they met the goal of being a fun and exciting popcorn movie, I’m not sure the mission was accomplished here. I’m used to paint by numbers plots in blockbusters, but there wasn’t even much attempt to make the dialogue all that interesting (“Macguffin” is a more interesting name for a Macguffin than “The Triangle”). The wanton destruction and disrespect of historical artifacts inherent in being “Tomb Raiders” rather than the Indiana Jones style “belongs in a museum!” reverence doesn’t seem to pay off in spectacle outside of when the artifacts are already trying to kill them. There’s only three modes to this movie: boring, cool but nonsensical, and sexy but not too sexy for PG-13. It’s not even good at being the roller coaster. It’s just wacky yet pointless.

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