Tomb Raider (2001) Movie Review

To say that movies based on videogames have not had any luck is an understatement. Popular videogames made into feature-length movies have been box office disasters because gamers and the general populace seem to hate them equally. Take the failures of Street Fighter, Double Dragon, and just recently, Final Fantasy. All 3 games were immense successes in their videogame format and spawned sequel after sequel, and yet their movies did miserable box office numbers. This string of failure, both artistically as well as commercially, has boggled Hollywood. After all, videogames have a built-in core audience of teens and 20-somethings, the very audience that all Hollywood suits strive for. So why has every single movie adaptation of a videogame been so unpredictably disastrous?

Now we can add Simon West’s Lara Croft: Tomb Raider to the long list of popular videogames turned movies. Like the others, “Tomb Raider” the videogame has been so successful that it spawned multiple sequels.

The movie version of Tomb Raider stars Angelina Jolie as the titular character, Lara Croft, a young rich English woman living in a lavish mansion with her manservant (Richard Johnson) and Bryce (Noah Taylor), an electronics whiz who programs robots for Lara to test her mettle against. It seems Lady Croft, as she’s known, is somewhat of a robber of old tombs — or as the movies like to call them, “adventurers.” Lara takes after her dad, Lord Croft (Angelina’s real-life father, Jon Voight), also an “adventurer” of some renown, but is now long dead.

Trouble arises when the planets start to align, something that happens once every 5,000 years, and Lara discovers a strange, ancient clock hidden in her stairwell cupboard — apparently hidden there by her father before his death. The clock leads Lara to Powell (Iain Glen), a shadowy figure who works for a shadowy secret cult called the Illuminati, who needs the clock to unlock certain tombs that will yield two pieces of an ancient relic that, once united, allows its owner to control time and space. Needless to say, Lara has to stop them and save the universe.

Tomb Raider is not Shakespeare. This should be readily obvious when one takes in the movie’s genesis. To be honest, Tomb Raider is almost as dumb as Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes remake and has a similarly ineffective (and anti-climactic) ending sequence. What does allow the movie to rise (just slightly) out of the pool of bad videogames-turned-movies is its leading lady. Angelina Jolie is quite effective as the smirking Lara Croft, a woman with an endless well of confidence and charm, not to mention good looks and athletic ability. Not to mention just plain guts. This woman is fearless.

The movie also sports three highly-enjoyable action sequences, including the opening sequence where Lara battles a robot, a later sequence where she fights off a squad of the Illuminati’s commandos, and a third sequence at an ancient tomb where warrior statues come to life. As previously mentioned, the last action sequence is curiously devoid of action, tension, and much enthusiasm.

Simon West directs the movie with an awkward hand. West handles the inspired action sequences very well, but seems to have a lot of trouble with continuity. On more than one occasion, background characters such as soldiers, mercenaries, and the aforementioned Illuminati commandos, seem to appear out of thin air only to be batted down by Lara or by some other object. I also believe Simon West must have very bad eyesight, because on a number of occasions West has commandos in combat gear and wearing night vision goggles storming and shooting it out with various factions in brightly lit rooms. This includes the nighttime raid on Lara’s mansion. Why would the commandos need night vision goggles in a brightly lit mansion? I suppose seeing those red goggles shine in the scene does look cool, even if they don’t make a lick of sense.

As mentioned, Angelina Jolie’s presence is what makes the movie worth watching. Even in the boring segments she brings a lot of innate charm to the preceding. It doesn’t hurt that Miss Jolie is a very attractive woman. Although I question the addition of obviously artificial breast “augmentations” to the Lara Croft character. It’s quite apparent that the filmmakers have turned Jolie’s breasts into something that resembles ballistic missiles rather than female breasts. They stick out and are so far apart that you can’t help but notice and snicker at their apparent artificiality. The fake breasts look like two watermelons being held to Jolie’s chest with loose tape, and this is most apparent in the last sequence when Jolie is dodging a cave-in. Her “breasts” literally bounces down to her waist and up over her shoulders.

The supporting characters don’t fare quite as well as Jolie. Lara’s supposed chemistry with Alex West (Daniel Craig) is almost nonexistent. Not only is the West character unlikable, but the actor exudes very little charisma. As a result, Jolie seems to be doing most of the insinuated romance between the two. As the lead villain, Iain Glen scowls his way through his scenes, but is otherwise not very menacing. Noah Taylor makes a good electronics geek and acquits himself well, as does Richard Johnson as the manservant who turns into a shotgun-toting protector in slippers and Kevlar vest.

Tomb Raider is a fun movie that gets very boring when its lead actress isn’t leaping or hopping or hanging upside down from a rope or vine. West tries to spice up the boring exposition scenes with expensive backgrounds for us to look at, with mixed results. Tomb Raider is a good film if you don’t question how two magical fragments that could control time and space appear on Earth 5,000 years ago in the first place. It’s questions like that that gets glossed over in movies like Tomb Raider. Actually, if you check your brain at the door, you’ll enjoy Tomb Raider even more.

To do otherwise would be asking for trouble.

Simon West (director)
CAST: Angelina Jolie …. Lara Croft
Jon Voight …. Lord Croft
Iain Glen …. Manfred Powell
Noah Taylor …. Bryce
Daniel Craig …. Alex West


Buy Tomb Raider on DVD