Director: Simon West
Cast: Angelina Jolie, Noah Taylor, Iain Glen, Daniel Craig, Chris Barrie and Jon Voight
Plot: Lara Croft (Jolie) finds herself hunting an artefact her father was after – the same artefact the Illuminati are after.
It is widely accepted that, for all of this movie’s faults, one of them is not the casting of its lead hero. Angelina Jolie is Lara Croft. It’s a tough thing to step up to a beloved franchise and play one of the most treasured heroes in gaming culture, especially when you are an American playing a British icon. However, Angelina, from the moment you see her promo poster or hear her clipped English accent, just works. She gets everything right. From the slim physique to the pursing of the lips, Jolie strolls right out of the video game and into the cinema screen. West directs her remarkably well, making sure that every gaming trait is played upon. The dual pistols aren’t just a case of a female action hero picking up two guns and shrugging “this’ll do” to herself; this is a character embodying Lara’s mannerisms and fighting style. Jolie nails the slow, methodical walk the game character would do when firing upon an enemy in the game. Even for those not familiar with the gaming character, Lara Croft works as a badass female action hero. With the minor quibbles of a few scenes where she is over-sexualised (not even the titular gaming hero could escape that fate, after all), Angelina Jolie is the female answer to James Bond, or perhaps more aptly, Indiana Jones. She fires one-liners and bullets with the same precision. She always has an answer to the problem at hand. She is, without the shadow of a doubt, the essence of cool. She will always be my favourite thing about the two Lara Croft movies.
So when the lead hero is captured as wonderfully as she is here, it makes it all the more baffling while the rest of the movie is so far from the ideal product. It always threatens to be decent. In fact, this could be half the problem that it is so insulting to fans of the original game, because the movie we dreamed of is just there, inches out of reach. The action is great, meaning that, ironically, those just here for an average ‘female badass killing legions of enemies’ will have their ideal Friday night action right here. It is just not what we wanted from Tomb Raider. The build up is slow and cumbersome, with Lara wandering around London, researching ancient history rather than tomb raiding. Since when have we ever wanted actual archaeology from our archaeology films? The action is strong, yes, but fleeting. For every ten minutes of pulse-pounding fighting, there is thrice as long spent with Angelina Jolie spending time, delving into her past. The locations are exotic, yes, and it makes the second half of the film feel that little bit more Tomb Raider-esque, but it really dampens the exciting mood Simon West is always struggling to obtain. Even the villain and love interest feel out of place. If Iain Glen was in any other movie, I would have lapped up his melodramatic super-villain. However, he never escapes the sense of being trapped in the wrong movie, providing a very real and human threat to a hero character that never really needed one. This movie flaunts the suggestion that Lara Croft just isn’t for the cinema screens, a reality none of us wanted to consider.
It’s not a total disappointment. As I said, it is very enjoyable, if a little under-achieving. The stand-out scene is a mid-movie battle in a temple. It captures everything I wanted from a Tomb Raider movie. Lara is outnumbered by armed men in a battle of wits with the villains. The stony Cambodian tomb is the perfect backdrop for the action. Just when things are getting hairy, they get even hairier, when all manner of booby traps come for the intruders. The statues that come to life suffer from 2001 CGI that has not aged well and the most inconsistent toughness level since Stormtroopers (if you are a named character, they will die instantly; if you are an extra, they are invulnerable to bullets), but at least Simon West finally accesses that Tomb Raider spark in using them. The scene climaxes with the reveal of a giant boss fight pulled right from the game itself. The ensuing battle even feels like the game with Lara pumping the monstrosity full of bullets, as it relentlessly comes for her. It is a breath-taking moment and a small glimmer of awe in a movie held down by near misses. Again, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider is always threatening to be decent. A shame this is more a dusty relic than a hidden gem of a movie.
Final Verdict: Even Lara can’t conquer the elusiveness of becoming a good video game movie, although Angelina Jolie makes for a fine action hero.