As any self-respecting geek would agree, Tomb Raider hopefully wouldn’t suck as badly as its video game-to-movie predecessors.
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider has all the things you’d come to expect from a video game movie, plus more. For any fan of the game, myself included, there’s certain aspects that simply must be transferred to the film to make it acceptable. Our beloved heroine, Lady Lara Croft (the dazzling Angelina Jolie) must have the long dark hair, the twin blazing guns, the tight array of uniforms — wintry trench coat, leather vest and pants, and various sport tanks. And of course as trademark as her double pistols is her ample 36D bosoms.
Hence, the game’s development company, Eidos, has garnered quite a religious following for Tomb Raider over the years. It’s only natural that the game would morph into a big-budget blockbuster, as so many other titles have done in the past — Mario Brothers, Street Fighter, Wing Commander. As any self-respecting geek would agree, Tomb Raider hopefully wouldn’t suck as badly as its predecessors.
Well I’m relieved to say that it doesn’t.
For the uninitiated, Lara Croft is sort of the female version of Indiana Jones. She’s an archeologist, a world traveler, a treasure seeker with a heart of gold. Between booty jaunts across the globe, Lara resides in the gigantic Croft Mansion, inherited from her father Lord Richard Croft (the ever august Jon Voight) after his sudden disappearance in the 1980s. With her are trusty butler Hilary (Chris Barrie from Red Dwarf fame) and computer gizmo expert Bryce (Noah Taylor, the young David Helfgott in Shine).
Meanwhile, her fellow tomb raider and former lover, Alex Marrs (Daniel Craig), has teamed up with the evil Manfred Powell (Iain Glen who played Hamlet in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead). Powell is a psychopathic sycophant for the Illuminati, an ancient secret society of underground political leaders. As always, they’re up to no good as a prophetic astronomical alignment is about to occur and they need an archeological artifact, the All-Seeing Eye, to usher in a new era of God-like control.
There’s where Lara comes in, since her father had hidden the Eye in the mansion before his vanishing. Indy had the Ark of the Covenant, Lara has the Clock of Ages to be unlocked with the Eye, and with it the power to turn back time. The implications are obvious, for with the Clock she could see her father again, resurrect lost loved ones, etc. But at what cost?
The movie doesn’t explore this territory any further, nor does it examine the interesting consequences of such time travel. Sure, Tomb Raider has its problems. There are characters that don’t do much and plot devices that only service the next action scene, but that’s what this is: a popcorn movie. The trick of making these genre-specific films, in the studio’s eyes anyway, is to make them as appealing as possible to as wide an audience as possible. Hence, covering all the bases in under two hours can make for a rushed end product.
Director Simon West does a very good job at mixing equal parts action movie with live-action video game to appease both crowds. For the hardcore gaming fans, there’s homage to all of Lara’s best moves — the spinning flips, both forwards and sideways, and leg holstered gunplay. Jolie really is the best woman for the job of a real-life Lara. She’s beefed up and has the English dialect down pat. And there’s enough foreign mystery and evil intrigue to pace the inevitable action against backdrops of fantastic set design. The movie’s major acts even play out like levels in one of the many Tomb Raider games:
Act / Level 1
Live round training in the Croft Mansion pits Lara against a lethal robot, programmed by loyal computer nerd Bryce (lucky bastard).
Act / Level 2
Quasi-yoga bungee acrobatics in the Croft Mansion turns into aerial sparring match with henchmen sent by evil tomb raider Powell.
Act / Level 3
Jungle Hindu-esque temple houses the puzzle of the All-Seeing Eye, as well as its reanimated stone guardians (the bosses, if you will).
Act / Level 4
The arctic ruins of the abandoned City of Light hosts the final showdown in the mystic planetarium between the Illuminati and Lara, et al, for the control of the Clock of Ages.
The bottom line? Sure, movies based on video games are not going to play like Shakespeare. These are popcorn movies that attract a certain crowd — mostly 14 year old boys and social misfit gamers (I belong to the latter group). They’re reminiscent of the old 1940s Saturday serials (think 7th Voyage of Sinbad). It’s refreshing to see that Lara Croft: Tomb Raider did the genre justice.