Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life

Fancy watching someone else play a video game on a cinema screen? Here you go...

Released in 2003, certified USA-PG13. Reviewed on 03 Aug 2003 by Craig Eastman
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The problem with movies of videogames is that whoever chooses them seems to pick the most vapidly plotted specimens bereft of story or character. Street Fighter? Mortal Kombat? Double Dragon? Those which are fortunate enough to at least be based on something other than a fighting game, such as the original Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, inevitably fall foul of the illusion that they need to include as much action as a game, and therefore ultimately end up being about as involving plotwise as an episode of Countdown. Simon West made a right hash of the first instalment in what looks like being at least a trilogy of Croft films, so can Jan de Bont rectify things by working a little Speed magic this time round? Not bloody likely...

As with the first movie, Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (or TR2 as I shall now refer to it) has but one saving grace; Miss Jolie, if only for the fact that to look at her is to suspect the involvement of a higher power. She pretty much daydreams through this one, but fulfills the action and glamour quotient of her character admirably all the same. Having nailed down the posh English accent first time it's no surprise to find her purring away like a naughty little minx again, although her dialogue this time round seems oddly limited. Perhaps that's just me, or the fact that I was on the verge of nodding off at several points.

The plot this time around centres on Lara's search for Pandora's Box, secreted away by Al looking to stop the box falling into the power-obsessed hands of Jonathan Reiss (Ciar?n Hinds), the evil megalomaniac of some corporation or another who for reasons unclear fancies starting a plague. We know he's evil and likes plagues because on a Bond-villain business meeting aboard a plane he kills an MI6 informant with "an accelerated strain" of the Ebola virus. Fortunately he hands out antidotes which he for some reason insists on being taken at a very precise moment, not that sooner is better with these things or anything...

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Beginning in Greece with a mysterious off-shore earthquake, TR2 introduces us to Croft doing some silly and pointless stunts on a jet ski before boarding a local boat captained by old codger Gus Petraki and his two sons Nicholas and Jimmy (none of which sound particularly Greek to me). Lara and the two lads dive down to a hidden cavern which is revealed as Alexander the Great's Luna Temple. Filled with Greek-distracting treasure of immeasurable wealth, the temple keeps the boys occupied as Lara searches for a specific artefact, namely a map showing the location of Pandora's Box. No sooner has she discovered it than the temple is filled with the throng of harpoon-wielding Chinamen in the employ of the Shay Ling, members of a criminal group headed by the shady Chen Lo (our friend Simon Yam, last seen as Lee in Fulltime Killer). Stealing the map from Croft they kill her two friends and leave her to die in the now collapsing temple.

After an extremely improbable escape via shark (don't ask, it's that silly), Croft sets out to recover the map from the Shay Ling, who plan to sell it to Reiss for an extortionate fee. Stopping only to free old flame Terry Sherridan (Gerard Butler, frae Glasgow man) from some remote prison somewhere (Kazakhstan now that I think about it) to help her on her quest, Croft heads deep into China for a showdown with the Shay Ling. There's much love/hate verbal sparring between the two who finally arrive at the Shay Ling cave network and waste Chen Lo and his boys in spectacularly dull fashion. Failing to secure the map sphere which is now heading to Shanghai for the sale, Lara nonetheless retrieves the decoding key which is a somewhat cryptic necklace. Is any of this making sense?

They follow the crooks to Shanghai but again fail to intercept the orb which is now in the hands of Reiss. Croft does manage to install a large but apparently visible to crooks tracking device on the crate holding the orb, however, and discovers it has been transported to yet another photogenic location; Hong Kong. The sphere is being held in Reiss' laboratory inside a skyscraper, and after a tremendously boring shootout Lara and Terry recover it, heading to the roof to make their escape. Rather inexplicably waiting for them are two parachute monkey suits with which they escape down to the harbour and glide onto a waiting ship. All rather convenient I think you'll agree. A small spot of lovemaking later and Lara gets word from her cohorts Bryce (Noah Taylor) and butler Hillary (Chris Barrie) that they have decoded the map's mechanism. It's off to India then, to a region known as 'the cradle of life' where it is revealed Pandora's Box is hidden.

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Here our heroic couple meet Lara's man in Africa Kosa (Djimoun Hounsou, seemingly cursed to forever walk the earth playing Big Native African roles) who will guide them to their goal. Not to be outdone, Reiss turns up with a kidnapped Hillary and Bryce as well as a large squad of henchmen, demanding Lara take him to the Box's resting place. Lots of fighting ensues, Kosa turns out to be a traitor, half of Reiss' men get wasted by scary monsters that merge in and out of cave walls taking their victims with them and Lara inevitably saves the day, sending Reiss to an acidic death along the way. The end.

Only it's not the end, because TR2 leaves a nasty aftertaste that stays with you a good few hours afterwards. The plot is indeed straight out of one of the games, as is the Bond-like location hopping. Surely the point of moving something from one media to another is to differentiate it in some way from the source, playing to the new medium?s strengths. Instead, as was the case with the first movie, TR2 transplants all facets of it's pixellated incarnation verbatim into a movie that is resultantly brash, loud and curiously lifeless. It's remarkably like watching someone else playing a videogame, resulting in the kind of excitement levels that particular pastime might entail.

Again, as in the first movie, Lara's solution to any given situation is not to approach it in a particularly inventive manner but to whip out her guns and blast away until nothing is left. Remember the huge, animated Buddha from TR1? Same here only now her attentions are focussed on human enemies rather than silly creatures. It's an incredibly soulless exercise in filmmaking that you would have thought de Bont would have avoided given the criticism of the first movie, but then again we are talking about Mr. Twister.

Why Jolie committed to this trash in the first place I'll never know, as her contract bound her to at least one sequel, possibly more (I forget exactly). I pray she can escape a second sequel and find time for more serious acting endeavours, as her career must surely be teetering on the brink of a very steep drop, smashing figure or otherwise. Her performance here is more lifeless than last time around, the cold-hearted bitch routine firmly beginning to grate and the incessant wisecracking now seeming more of a turn-off than a cheeky bit of repartee.

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Butler is utterly lost in his role. He only sounds convincingly hard because of his Glasgow accent, though whether or not international viewers will interpret this the same way I have no idea. His role is very much extraneous to the goings on, and his eventual demise (sorry to spoil that) at unexpected hands seems less of a character-deepening shame for Lara and more of a blessing for the viewer. Ciar?n Hinds just about escapes any blame, but then the bad guys always do. My only complaint is that he never really seemed all that menacing, though a relatively placid maniac is perhaps the only pioneering thing the movie achieves.

Direction wise it's clear de Bont has completely lost the plot. Gone are the days, seldom though they may have been, where he managed to create at least a smidgeon of tension or spectacle. Here his efforts seem largely of a bystander mode, perhaps relinquishing the reins to the FX guys and nipping off for a quick nap more frequently than usual. The film is crammed with pointless stunts from Lara inexplicably feeling the need to deface the Great Wall of China by riding along it on her bike (Terry happily sticks to the road), to nonsensical shooting-while-dangling-upside-down descents from cliff faces. It must all have seemed like such a good idea on the storyboards where it would read like a very exciting comic strip, but on film it's a bloody mess.

It'd make an interesting experiment to randomly swap segments from both Tomb Raider films and see if it made any difference at all. Neither has any discernable directorial style, coherent plotting or character development, and both are essentially a rag-tag shambles of assembled action set pieces, so I'm convinced my experiment would work. I wait with baited breath to see if Paramount commissions another instalment or whether it pulls the plug instead. Surely it can't be that hard to find a decent action script and a vaguely competent director? No doubt the money men have their excuses, but as far as I'm concerned there are none. A poor show all around, and only escaping single-star treatment because ooooooo-eeeeee Jolie's still so damn good lookin'. Lips like pillows, I tells ye.

From my island of objectivity I award this movie 2 out of 5 Disko Units.

Jan de Bont
Cast list:
Angelina Jolie (Lara Croft)
Terry Sherridan (Gerard Butler)
Ciar?n Hinds (Jonathan Reiss)