Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (July 24/03)
It goes without saying that Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life is better than its predecessor. The original Tomb Raider was a disorienting jumble of stunts and special effects, without a single thought for character development or an easy-to-follow storyline. This film substitutes dullness for incompetence, which is (admittedly) preferable.
The biggest problem with this series is the character of Lara Croft (played by Angelina Jolie). She's not terribly interesting, and not much effort is made to turn her into something more than just another Indiana Jones clone. This time around, Lara is on the trail of the titular Cradle of Life - a mythical box that supposedly has the power to kill millions once it's opened. A James Bond-esque villain named Jonathan Reiss (Ciaran Hinds) wants the box for the sole purpose of destroying humanity, with the exception of a handful of survivors (those who didn't cut him off in traffic, I suppose). Along with her butler (Christopher Barrie) and computer geek (Noah Taylor), Lara calls upon an ex-lover, the dashing Terry Sheridan (Gerard Butler), to help stop Reiss.
At the helm of Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life is Jan De Bont, the cinematographer-turned-director responsible for flicks like Speed and Twister. He obviously knows a thing or two about pacing when it comes to action flicks, but really, there's only so much he can do with material like this. The plot is right out of Raiders of the Lost Ark, complete with a gruesome demise for a villainous character and a coveted box with metaphysical powers (not to mention Lara's obvious similarities to Indy). Besides De Bont's bizarre fascination with slow-motion, there's not much here to distinguish Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life from the various other action movies that have bombarded theaters over the last few months. The film's full of the requisite big explosions and outrageous stunts that have seemingly become an inextricable part of violent cinema. But the whole thing just feels routine. Yes, it's easy enough to marvel at the technical prowess of the special effects crew, but there has to be something more. With movies of this sort becoming as prevalent as they are, there has to be more than just expensive looking stunts on display.
As for Jolie, her performance is irrelevant. She essentially smirks her way through the film, but never actually manages to create a character worth caring about. Far more intriguing are her two sidekicks, played by Barrie and Taylor, but their screentime is more limited here than in the first. And Butler proves to be surprisingly charismatic - which is really saying something, considering how awful he was in Dracula 2000. But Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life isn't about the actors or the direction or anything like that; it's about how effectively the behind-the-scenes team can blow stuff up.
And on that level, the film works exceedingly well.