Tomb Raider (United States/United Kingdom, 2001)
It's not Casablanca, or even Die Hard, for that matter. But then no one expected it to be. What Tomb Raider can claim is that it's the best computer game-turned-motion picture to date. A backhanded compliment? To be sure, but at least the experience of sitting in a theater watching this movie doesn't create a longing for the interactivity of actually playing the game. Unlike nearly every other Hollywood product based on a computer/video game, Tomb Raider seems more like the summer blockbuster that it strives to be than a 90-minute big-screen commercial. (Then again, when it comes to product placement, you can't get any more obvious.)
To date, this small genre has met with disappointing box office returns and an even less enthusiastic critical response. Only Mortal Kombat has been well enough received to rate a sequel. Other entries, such as Super Mario Brothers and Wing Commander, have earned the ire of fans and non-aficionados alike for their laughable scripts, plastic characters, and dull action sequences. The intent with Tomb Raider is to change all of that - and, if not to make the computer game-turned-motion picture respectable, at least to make it profitable. It seems likely to achieve a little of both.
For what it is, Tomb Raider does a good job. It's like Indiana Jones meets James Bond with a female protagonist and most of the plot siphoned off. When you consider that Bond movies are not exactly known for their writing, this puts Lara Croft's first cinematic endeavor in perspective. Don't think too hard about the story - it simply won't stand up. Focus instead upon the action pieces, which are all expertly produced. (Although a slightly less hyperactive camera would have been appreciated - are all of those lightning-fast cuts really necessary?) Tomb Raider moves at a fast clip, and represents top notch eye candy. Of all this summer's mindless blockbusters, this is arguably the most fun - it's certainly a cut above The Mummy Returns.
It doesn't take a film critic to ascertain why Tomb Raider works. Her name is Angelina Jolie, and she imbues her character with a third dimension that didn't exist on the written page, where Lara Croft is all height and width with no depth. Jolie does a lot with her stares and her body language. And it's an impressive body, to be sure - hard and soft, in all the right places. Sometimes as light as a panther, sometimes as violent as a force of nature, Jolie's Lara jumps, whirls, leaps, dodges, and shoots. She's action and sex appeal blended and personified. We even feel for Lara at times - a sure sign that the character has managed to attain a semblance of life. She certainly has as much vitality as Batman or any of the X-Men. Lara Croft may hail from a video game, but her first movie is all comic book in style and approach.
The story sounds like re-cycled "Dr. Who" ("The Key to Time", for anyone who cares). A fabled artifact called the Triangle of Light has been broken into two pieces. Now, as the nine planets are about to align for the first time in 5000 years, a secret society of Illuminati are trying to find these two hidden pieces and bring them together. If they succeed, they will have control over time. In their employ is Manfred Powell (Iain Glen), who oozes the kind of charm that only a villain can. In their way is Lara Croft, who is acting on written instructions from her dead, beloved father, Lord Croft (Jon Voight, Jolie's real-life dad), to stop them. This results in a showdown for the ages, with all sorts of special effects and Matrix-inspired action. It's involving, although not quite exhausting.
Even though Tomb Raider owes a debt to Raiders of the Lost Ark, Lara is more like James Bond than Indiana Jones. She's cool and unflappable, has all sort of neat gadgets, faces danger head-on, and even owns an Aston Martin. There's never a thought that she might be killed; she's as invulnerable as Superman when there's no Kryptonite around. The fact that she's a woman makes her more intriguing, because female superheroes are in short supply. With the exception of Sigourney Weaver in the Alien movies and Linda Hamilton in the Terminator duo, the cinematic American action arena belongs to men. Lara Croft would like to change that.
The film's director is Simon West, who initially balked when offered the project because he was leery of the whole computer game concept. But the screenplay, coupled with his own vision, convinced him that Tomb Raider could break free of the confines of its humble beginnings. West's history behind the camera isn't sterling (previous credits include the made-for-Bruckheimer Con Air, followed by The General's Daughter), but he seems to be the right man for the job. Tomb Raider fans will be salivating over what he has accomplished here. They alone almost guarantee that the movie will be a success. If the film catches on with the general public - and it's loud, wild, and free-wheeling enough that it has the potential to do so - it could be a huge hit. Regardless of its performance at the box office, Tomb Raider is a great way to cure the summer blahs, provided, as always with this kind of film, you short-circuit the thinking parts of your brain.
Tomb Raider (United States/United Kingdom, 2001)
Cast: Angelina Jolie, Daniel Craig, Iain Glen, Chris Barrie, Noah Taylor, Jon Voight
Screenplay: Patrick Massett & John Zinman
Cinematography: Peter Menzies Jr.
Music: Graeme Revell
U.S. Distributor: Paramount Pictures