a critiQal film review Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)

Plot: A member of a rich British aristocratic family, Lara Croft (Jolie) enjoys collecting ancient artifacts from ruins worldwide. With an upcoming rare planetary alignment, a secret society called the Illuminati is seeking an ancient talisman that gives its possessor the ability to control time. When Lara finds a note from her deceased father (Voight) that gives her clues to the talisman's whereabouts, it's up to Lara to find it before the Illuminati do.

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  • ...while Angelina Jolie is perfectly cast, the movie around her falls far short of most anyone's expectations.

Perusing through some of my earlier reviews, I realized that Lara Croft Tomb Raider was one of those rarities I don’t like. I had reviewed the sequel, Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle Of Life (2003) (and even the remake, Tomb Raider (2018)) but I had never actually gotten around to reviewing the original. It’s high time I remedied that.

As I mentioned in my review of Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle Of Life (2003), I remember not even liking Lara Croft Tomb Raider the first time I watched it, but it grew on me with a second viewing. But that was many years ago. So, would this go around have me thinking kinder thoughts? Or was this movie still not all it could have been?

Angelina Jolie is perfectly cast as the titular character in Lara Croft Tomb Raider. She has just the right mix of beauty and action know-how to get the job done. While she’s not a perfect duplicate of the video game character, she’s about as close as they could have gotten in a live action flick. And she handles it well. She has a panache for playing tough women (see Wanted (2008)), and she seems to really enjoy it when she does.

Jon Voight is also a nice addition to Lara Croft Tomb Raider. In real life, he’s actually her dad, so his work here – portraying the title character’s dad – gets an extra boost when the viewer knows the film is, at least slightly, mirroring real life. The bond between the two is palpable, and their scenes together (however few) are one of the biggest highlights of the film.

The rest of the cast is pretty forgettable. Honestly, when Daniel Craig was announced as the new Bond after Pierce Brosnan stepped away, this was one of the movies that came to mind as a reason he wouldn’t work out. He looks pretty awful here, from an apparent lack of sleep (although those bags under his eyes are never explained). The villain is a cliche, and Iain Glen could have been swapped out with numerous other actors without anyone noticing a difference. The rest of the characters aren’t explained enough to matter, and are even more quickly forgotten.

As was mentioned in the review for Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle Of Life (2003), there is a bit more continuity to Lara Croft Tomb Raider than there is in the sequel. Unfortunately, it’s more of a paint-by-numbers continuity then something that compels the viewer to follow along. Step 1 leads to Step 2, which leads to Step 3 – and then the finale. While films like National Treasure (2004) have made hunts like this engaging for the viewer, this film just doesn’t. It’s a huge missed opportunity.

And there are several reasons for that. As mentioned previously, the forgettable villain plays a part. But honestly, there is no world creation to speak of in Lara Croft Tomb Raider, so everyone is pretty forgettable. The only exceptions are Lara herself (thanks to a solid performance by Jolie) and her dad (for the reason mentioned above). With Lara looking nigh indestructible, and the viewer not knowing enough about the other characters to care, there isn’t really any reason to keep watching – no matter what’s happening.

And then there’s the action sequences. True to any summer blockbuster, there are gigantic set pieces and lots of big action. But, even these are reduced by some bad cuts and blaring techno. Sometimes techno works in a film (see Blade (1998)), but in this case, the cuts are jarringly out of whack with the music. Rather than feeling fast-paced and exciting (emulating the music), the sequences stop for pauses all the time – or morph into slow-mo shots of Jolie running. Either way, they aren’t in tune with the music, and it all just comes off feeling a bit thrown together. There’s no art in this action, and even the impressive choreography (especially the bungee cords inside a two-story hall sequence) aren’t readily apparent and feel a bit too silly for comfort.

With a perfectly cast Angelina Jolie in the title role, viewers may expect more from Lara Croft Tomb Raider. Rather than a new take on Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) – complete with a strong female action heroine – they are subjected to a messy, loud, special effects blowout that seems unfinished. Unable to capture the world she occupies, even Lara Croft comes off as barely more than an entitled rich kid with too much time on her hands. And that is a big disappointment.

Oh, in case you were wondering: Yes, this is me liking it more than I did the first time I watched it.

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