Anyone who saw Lara Croft: Tomb Raider will agree that it didn’t make a great deal of sense. That apparently didn’t matter to the people who flocked to the multi-plex to see Angelina Jolie run in slow motion and hang upside down while fighting bad guys. Enough people agreed that trifles like plot and believability were secondary to seeing Jolie battling a frantic robot that a sequel was commissioned.
I’m tickled to report that Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life not only has one of the longest titles of the summer, but also has a story that almost makes sense! Not that we demand much from these movies. The story is simply a peg to hang Ms Jolie’s bikini on while temples crash, motorcycles rev and people defy gravity, flying through the air as Lara Croft punches a shark. It’s a popcorn movie, not Dostoyevsky, although at times this movie feels as long as a Russian novel.
Here’s the story as I remember it… Somewhere between diving in a skintight silver wetsuit and riding side-saddle on her English country estate archeologist Croft learns that a shining golden globe – which she had in her possession, then lost – is actually a map to the mysterious Cradle of Life where the famous Pandora’s Box is said to be hidden. While wearing a natty kimono Croft learns that former Nobel Prize winner and “modern day Dr. Mengele” Jonathan Reiss (Ciaran Hinds), has the orb and is close to uncovering its secret. She must don a skin-tight motorcycle jacket and find him, before he discovers the deadly secret of Pandora’s Box and sells its poison to the highest bidder.
For support Lara entices an old flame named Gerrard (Terry Butler), currently doing time in a Siberian ultra-high security prison for crimes against the state. Looking fetching in a white fur trimmed winter coat she offers him freedom and a great deal of money to help her. Thus begins their whirlwind world tour of destruction as the dynamic duo travel to Mainland China, Hong Kong, and Africa in their attempt to recover the globe and unlock its secrets.
Dutch director Jan de Bont (Speed, Twister) makes good use of the scenery – both Ms Jolie and the international locales – showcasing the beauty and the danger of each. A nicely staged gun battle involves inventive use of a neon sign and a pole vault to a helicopter; another scene shows the couple “flying” over the skyline of Shanghai. In both cases de Bont actually shows us the action. If Charlie’s Angels director McG had shot those scenes we would have seen a glimpse of the helicopter blade, a quick cut of someone flying through the air and heard the whoosh of a bullet as it cut through the air. My major complaint with recent action sequences is that we don’t actually get to see anything. It’s all fast cuts and loud techno music. Jan de Bont avoids that trap, allowing the scenes to play out, and while sometimes they drag on a bit too long, at least we know what we are looking at.
Angelina Jolie plays Lara Croft like a Barbi doll come to life, batteries, but no heart included. She is powerful, sexy, agile, adventurous and no-nonsense (as Gerrard learns the hard way), but like the videogame character she is based on, doesn’t seem to have any emotional life under the pretty façade. Unlike that other famous cinematic archaeologist, the quirky Indiana Jones, there is no vulnerability to Croft at all.
Jolie’s beautiful face is a blank slate, expressionless for most of the film with only the occasional arching of an eyebrow to remind us that a real person lives beneath her perfect skin. Perhaps in the foreseeable Lara Croft Tomb Raider 3: The Saga Continues In More Exotic Lands she will transcend her computer generated origins, and we’ll get a glimpse of the real person behind that raised eyebrow.
Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life is like its name, a bit too long, and kind of silly, but a vast improvement on its predecessor.