I had never been much of a fan of Angelina Jolie. Maybe it was how every aspect of her personal life made public seemed to be front page tabloid material. Or maybe it was how her performance in Girl, Interrupted turned into overrated media hype. But Tomb Raider officially makes me a convert into the camp of Jon Voight's daughter. Based on the popular video game series that follows the exploits of fictional adventurer Lara Croft, this movie uses big guns and bigger breasts as the cornerstone for a surprisingly enjoyable summer blockbuster.
Above all, this movie is completely carried by its star, Angelina Jolie, who was perfectly cast in the role of Lara Croft. This resilient actress proves she can take a licking and keep on ticking, subjecting herself to stunts that virtually all other Hollywood stars (female or male) would refuse to do. Not only did she suffer an amazing amount of injuries during shooting, but she frequently went home bleeding as well. Talk about suffering for your art. Apparently, Jolie did all of this without a single complaint. I've never said this before, but here's an actress who is completely justified in asking for a pay raise for the sequel.
Jolie's toughness fits the title character perfectly, who is supposed to be a D-cup adventuress described as a cross between James Bond and Indiana Jones. Jolie seriously gives the impression that she could actually kick your ass in real life, unlike, for example, the girls from Charlie's Angels. Sure, they were fine for a fluffy action comedy, but would anyone truly be concerned about Cameron Diaz clocking them upside the head? Jolie also imbues Lara Croft with sarcastic flair and coy, sexual mystery (I'm talking sexual mystery of the teasing temptress variety, not the Crying Game variety). She has this awesome attitude, like she is toying with everyone and everything from lethal monsters to lustful men.
Director Simon West uses two signature John Woo gimmicks to great effect: the wielding of two guns simultaneously, and slow motion. (Though West's choice of slo-mo scenes is a lot better than Woo's. When West does it in Tomb Raider, we are treated to a gratuitous Baywatch-like shot of Jolie's heaving chest. When Woo does it, we just see the hero walking through the doorway with white doves flying at his back for the millionth time.)
Tomb Raider's story isn't that bad as blockbuster actions go. A cult-like group called the Illuminati has plans to gain possession of an ancient artifact that would allow them to control time, and it's up to Lara Croft to stop them. Meanwhile, she must contend with the disappearance of her father (played by Jolie's real life dad, Jon Voight), who vanished when she was a little girl. The character story fits well with the action story, as they both focus on concepts of time and time lost. Lara laments that fate robbed them of being together, trying to justify her own plans to cheat history--and it's all a little more touching than you would expect from this type of movie. Humanizing Lara, at least for a moment, was a nice touch.
The story's setup immediately lets us know that Lara has been born into great wealth. So like Batman, she is afforded the opportunity to live her secret life of adventure, while being loaded up with slick cars and cool gizmos like the Ericsson Bluetooth Headset HBH-10. She also has a live-in tech guy (think a grungy version of James Bond's Q) and a butler, who both add some comic relief to the film. The attack on the Croft mansion is one of the best moments, and contains Jolie's impressive fight scene of aerial acrobatics and chaotic demolitions.
The biggest gripe I had about this movie was the Illuminati. They're a gang of prissy fanatics with all the menace of a chihuahua. And the lead villain takes the prize for weakest bad guy of the year--did they just pull him from a tea commercial? While on an expedition to uncover the artifact everyone is looking for, he has the local villagers slaving away at the ruins while he lounges in luxury, observing. The only way they could have wussified him more would be by putting him in a diaper.
I'll also concede to the Tomb Raider skeptics that the movie's progression often makes no sense whatsoever. In fact, many scenes play out like puzzles from the video game, and no explanations are offered. For example, when Lara activates the time-controlling artifact, she knows she must take a laser scope, fire the beam into a time distortion, throw a clock into the mix and wait for it to shatter, then extract a grain of sand from the remnants. The grain of sand is briefly explained, but everything else comes from nowhere. In another scene, swords must be positioned into slots in the floor in order to start a chain reaction. All you can wonder is, "How did they know to do that?"
Also, the last twenty minutes or so of the movie become a jumbled mess, sliding more and more into the realm of scientific unreality and feeling more like a video game than ever. But despite the severe lapses in the story and the idiotic bad guys, Tomb Raider remains an enjoyable action adventure, perfectly suited to the summer blockbuster season. While leaving the theater, I overheard someone complain, "Thank God we still have European cinema." But here's a newsflash, Pip: you don't see a movie like this for thought-provoking drama, or to see a monkey juxtaposed with a severed head, thereby representing existential angst. You see Tomb Raider to see a buxom adventuress kicking butt, and Angelina Jolie delivers that.
There's just something to be said for an athletic vixen with a tight tank top, short shorts, and two giant guns, don't you think?
Rating: 8 out of 10 (0=Abysmal, 5=Average, 10=Excellent)