Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

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“Tomb with a view.”

tomb12.jpgAfter a tortuous journey (about which, see elsewhere), Lady Croft finally made it. The end result is wholly satisfactory in some ways, yet severely deficient in others. First up, the good news: Angelina Jolie is Lara, so much so that you can’t imagine anyone else in the part. [Other suggestions included Elizabeth Hurley, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Peta Wilson and even – ick! – Anna-Nicole Smith. Paragraph break for shuddering, here.]

Helped by Jolie’s reported willingness to do pretty much any stunt, this is crucial, and allows the film to hit the ground running – as well as jumping, climbing, and swinging around, with a gun in each hand. The first half an hour is everything you could hope for, beginning with a sequence where Lara fights a robotic monster, looking more than slightly like ED-209 from Robocop. It turns out to be just a training device, but there’s an edge to it, and even an almost sexual element as the beast drives between Lara’s open legs. PG-13? Hmmm… Her sidekicks are only slightly less satisfying; tech wiz Bryce (surely a nod to the nerd of the same name in Max Headroom), and stuffy butler Hilary are exactly the sort of people you’d expect Lara to have around.

Unfortunately, the further you go from Croft, the lamer things get, with her chief opponent for much of the movie being mid-level henchmen Manfred Powell (Glen), rather than the Illuminati who are apparently running things. To draw a parallel, it’s as if Austin Powers was taking on Mini Me, rather than Dr. Evil, and Powell falls well short of being an adequate villain. Describing the overall plot as weak would be charitable. It’s the quest for various pieces which, when put together, will create a device allowing the holder to control time, rule the world, and presumably, get pizza delivered before they actually order it. There’s also a deadline, due to an imminent planetary alignment which only happens once every 5,000 years.

 This is more an excuse than anything coherent, almost as if the many writers operated on alternate pages, without being able to communicate with each other. It also suffers from an overdose of meaningless exotic locations, leaping from Venice to SE Asia to Siberia, without any real purpose or sense of location ever being present. The theme, according to director West, is time, but you need this pointed out to you, as it never goes beyond the painfully obvious, for example, time lost between Lara and her father. Ah, yes: Lara’s father. The stunt casting of Jolie’s real father, Jon Voight, deserves points for gall, but doesn’t come off as it should. You’re too busy trying to work out whether anyone in the film is actually using their real accent, what that hairy thing on Voight’s lip is, and whether you have enough time to hit the bathroom before the next action sequence.

tomb1.jpgOnly in motion do you sense what might have been. It’s highlighted by the ‘bungee ballet’, when Croft’s mansion is attacked by minions seeking an artefact in Lara’s hands. She starts, swinging from the ceiling on elastic ropes – contrived, yes, but such fun to watch that we easily forgive it – before moving to the garage and back to the main hall. Croft uses everything to hand, and it’s the closest the movie comes to the game’s inventiveness. Jolie even did the bungee-work herself, allowing West (and action director Simon Crane, who deserves his own movie some day) largely to avoid obvious stunt-doubles. [Red Dwarf fans will also appreciate Rimmer stalking around with a shotgun!]

The previously mentioned opening, and the sequence involving a massive rotating orrery replicating the solar system, also work very nicely. But if the final battle with Powell feels like a tacked-on late addition, that’ll be because it was a tacked-on late addition, according to West’s commentary on the DVD. One wonders if much else was changed on the fly, as this would go some way towards explaining the inadequacies in the film’s storyline and villains. Overall, it still ranks well-above average as a video-game adaptation – albeit largely because there have been so many inept ones. Standing alone, it succeeds to a smaller extent, with some truly great sequences, and an excellent lead performance. But there’s way too much padding in a very weak script, and it’s this which prevents it achieving Indiana Jones-like greatness.

Dir: Simon West
Stars: Angelina Jolie, Ian Glen, Noah Taylor, Daniel Craig

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