Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

Directed by Simon West
Starring: Angelina Jolie, Iain Glenn, Daniel Craig, Noah Taylor, Jon Voight.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for action violence and some sensuality.

Review by Matt Heffernan <matt@filmhead.com>
June 26, 2001

This is just getting ridiculous. It takes me over a week now to start writing a review after dutifully seeing a film on its opening night. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider has already had its huge debut and its subsequent (and somewhat expected) second-week nosedive. But I still must talk about this film.

For those of you unfamiliar with the pervasive video game series Tomb Raider, stop right here. You have no need and probably no desire to see this film, so reading the rest of this review is pointless, unless you want to see how a potentially good film can go bad. Thanks to the academics for sticking around; now, on with the show.

Lara Croft is the digital heroine of the Tomb Raider games. Her basic persona is a female Indiana Jones, which went a long way to define the nature of her feature film debut, starring Angelina Jolie. Croft's other significant features include cargo hotpants and incredibly large breasts under a tight T-shirt. Jolie manages to fill all these traits quite nicely.

If you've ever watched someone playing Tomb Raider, this film will be a familiar experience. We see Lara raid tombs -- as she is prone to doing -- and retrieve relics, all the while using her wits (yes, I said "wits") to solve puzzles and her guns (the actual steel kind that fire bullets) to ward off enemies.

For plot and additional characters, the filmmakers turned to an obvious source for plagiarism: Raiders of the Lost Ark. Not the whole Indiana Jones trilogy, mind you, just the first film. My guess is that they're saving the other two for the inevitable sequels. Instead of the headpiece to the staff of Ra, Lara has the All-Seeing Eye -- a clockwork amulet that was hidden under the stairs in her English mansion. Apparently, her late father (Jolie's real-life father and fellow Oscar-winner Jon Voight) had found it on one of his expeditions, and counted on Lara finding it at the right time. You see, all the planets in the solar system are about to align, so the Eye started ticking to make itself known.

But just when you think they've switched over to 2001, we're back to Raiders. The Eye is actually a key that releases the halves of the Triangle of Light from each of their burial places on opposite sides of the world: Cambodia and Siberia (OK, not exactly opposite, but really far away from each other). The Illuminati (those crafty old bastards) want the Triangle so that they can control time. They hire rogue archeologist Manfred Powell (Iain Glen) to get it for them before the planets fall out of alignment and the Eye ceases to work for another 5000 years.

Whew, that's complicated. But at least we still have those allegories to rely on: the Illuminati are the Nazis and Powell is Belloq, and they're trying to get the Triangle, a.k.a. the Ark of the Covenant. There's even a feisty love interest in Alex Cross (Daniel Craig), except that he's more feisty and less lovely than Karen Allen. So, we have a familiar plot, action sequences based on a video game, and state-of-the-art special effects. I like to call it Raiders of the Lost Matrix.

I can even forgive the plagiarism up to a point, but the film really suffers from implausibility. Now, of course, Indy was hardly a plausible fellow, but his insanely good luck and supernatural foes were sold properly so that disbelief could be suspended. Tomb Raider just throws in statues coming to life because it was a cool effect, not because it was integral to the story or adhered to any accepted mythology. We need to believe in the Force before we can accept Yoda. Tomb Raider simply has randomitis -- a common ailment among films today. Conventions and lifted storylines are depended upon and used without form or reason because the filmmakers don't know how to tell a proper story themselves.

All this being said, Tomb Raider is still enjoyable on some levels, particularly on a technical one. It's probably the best film ever made about a video game, but with competition like Street Fighter and Super Mario Bros., that's not saying much. Personally, I'm looking forward to Final Fantasy, which is based on a series of games with a deep enough plot for a whole series of feature films. And the animation looks cool. Lara, enjoy your dubious crown while it's yours.


For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
Tomb Raider (2001)

Here's some merchandise for sale at Amazon.com
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) -- VHS
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) -- DVD
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, a screenplay novelization by Dave Stern -- Paperback
Tomb Raider: Soundtrack -- Compact Disc
Tomb Raider: Soundtrack (explicit lyrics) -- Compact Disc
Tomb Raider: Score -- Compact Disc
Tomb Raider: Chronicles -- Game for Windows 95/98/Me
Tomb Raider: Chronicles -- Game for Macintosh
Tomb Raider: Chronicles -- Game for Sega Dreamcast
Tomb Raider: Chronicles -- Game for Sony Playstation


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Review © 2001 Matt Heffernan