As a reviewer, I normally have plenty of opportunities to attend free screenings in my hometown of Columbus, Ohio. However, for the past few weeks, I’ve been out of town on business, attending the San Diego Comic-Con, a film festival in Albuquerque and spending some time in Los Angeles. So, as you can guess, I couldn’t exactly run home to attend screenings. Not only did I have to find time during my trip to see “Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life,” but I had to pay full admission for it as well.
In short, I had to travel three thousand miles and pay nine bucks to see “Lara Croft.” And it really wasn’t worth the trip. But even back in Ohio, I think a free screening three miles away wouldn’t be worth the trip, either.
The film starts with Lara Croft (Angelina Jolie) on a salvage mission with her crew. They’re in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea where a recent earthquake has uncovered the hiding place of Alexander the Great’s treasure. While raiding this particular tomb, some evil Chinese gangsters kill her crew and steal a glowing orb from Lara’s clutches. We learn that this treasure is actually the key to Pandora’s Box, which an international weapon’s dealer named Jonathan Reiss (Ciaran Hinds) wants for his own uses. Apparently, in addition to the evil Pandora released on the world, the box contains a plague that could be the most powerful biological weapon in the world.
MI-6 sweeps into Croft’s mansion and commissions her to retrieve Pandora’s Box before Reiss does. Along the way, she joins forces with former boyfriend and international scoundrel Terry Sheridan (Gerard Butler), who is the only person that can get her into the Chinese underground. This leads to an international race to the Cradle of Life, a dark corner of Africa where Pandora’s Box is hidden.
Back before game designers first built the buxom Lara Croft, the original concept was for a male hero. However, a busty heroine was decided on for several reasons, including not wanting to be too much like Indiana Jones (as well as the two big reasons she’s most famous for). However, all this preparation has gone down the tubes when the script for this film was written because this is such a shameless rip-off of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Let’s examine: archeology experts race across the globe to find an artifact of ancient mythology that can lay waste to civilization, all the time facing natural and supernatural dangers guarding the final tomb.
Now don’t misinterpret my criticisms of this film along with my less-than-stellar review of this summer’s other macho chick flick, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle. I like a good action flick with hot ladies kicking butt like any red blooded American male. But I prefer them in the tradition of James Cameron’s “Aliens” and “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.”
What makes any action flick work is not just the action, but also the humanity behind the characters. Take John McClane from “Die Hard,” for example. Part of the appeal of a true action flick is that the hero gets the holy tar beat out of him – and he just keeps going. Remember the end of “Die Hard”? McClane was so beat up that you could barely recognize Bruce Willis’s crooked mug.
This latest crop of girl power action films ignores this rule. Sure, the girls in Charlie’s Angels got mad, but they weren’t one step away from being crushed like Ripley in “Aliens” or Sarah Conner in “The Terminator” films. The same goes for Lara Croft in “The Cradle of Life.” Even in the final battle over life and death, the only injury she suffers is a slight scratch on the face. It’s too much like a video game.
I blame most of these problems on the director. If you thought that Simon West, the auteur of the first “Lara Croft,” was a vacuous storyteller, than wait until you see what cinematographer-turned-director Jan de Bont has done with this character.
For those who don’t know, Jan de Bont is the cinematic genius that gave us such intensely bad films as “Speed 2” and “The Haunting.” If you thought there wasn’t enough silly excess in “Speed 2” or if you thought the massacre of a classic story like The Haunting couldn’t be any better, then pack your bags and head to the theatre to see “Lara Croft: The Cradle of Life.” Otherwise, stay at home and watch the first one again. While the original Tomb Raider wasn’t great, it was better than this.
A movie like this can kill a franchise before it gets off the ground, and that may be part of the problem. The entertainment press has been calling “Lara Croft” a franchise before the first movie even came out two years ago. Here’s a bit of a reality check. A movie isn’t a franchise until there have been at least two successful ones. James Bond is a franchise. “Star Wars” is a franchise. Heck, even “Girls Gone Wild” is a franchise. To call “Lara Croft” a franchise is like saying that “Creepshow” or “Ghoulies” was a franchise.