Lara Croft - Tomb Raider: the Cradle of Life (2003) / Adventure-Action

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence and some sensuality
Running Time: 118 min.

Cast: Angelina Jolie, Gerard Butler, Ciaran Hinds, Christopher Barrie, Noah Taylor, Simon Yam
Director:  Jan de Bont
Screenplay: Dean Georgaris

Review published July 26, 2003

After raking in millions of dollars through video games and a big hit movie, one had the feeling that the Tomb Raider franchise wasn't going to die anytime soon.  With Indiana Jones absent for some time in theaters, there's a void in large-scale adventure films, so why not fill it with a game that lifts so much style and substance from it?  Two years after the original Tomb Raider, we have the second entry in the new franchise, and with a slightly larger budget, plus a chance to correct some of the weaknesses of the first film, all signs pointed to a sequel that had a very good chance of surpassing the original in terms of quality.  So, does it?  Yes and no, depending on your point of view.

This entry sees Angelina Jolie return as British adventurer Lara Croft, opening with a scene where she uncovers a mysterious orb in the ruins of an Ancient Greek temple that she believes will unlock the secret to the location of the legendary Pandora's Box.  She's not the only adventurer searching for it, and soon she is one-upped by Chen Lo, who ends up with the prized possession to sell to the highest bidder.  That bidder ends up being supreme bad-guy Jonathan Reiss, who intends to unleash the box, regardless of the potential dangers it may cause to humankind.  Lara enlists the aid of an old beau, the now-incarcerated Terry Sheridan, to travel to China and try to get the orb before Reiss can get his greedy hands on it. 

One of the bigger reasons to have higher expectations for this sequel is with a proven action director taking over the reins.  Jan de Bont created two very popular, fun, and lucrative action flicks in Speed and Twister, and would seem a natural fit for the special effects and cinematography smorgasbord that The Cradle of Life promised to be.  There was one caveat, however, as de Bont's last two films were major critical and commercial failures, Speed 2: Cruise Control and The Haunting, and one might get the feeling that he might not have the right stuff to take this to a higher level that it should be to be truly a great movie-going experience. 

As I said, Cradle of Life is both better and worse than the first Tomb Raider in a variety of ways, so how much you like this greatly depends on what expectations you have, and what you happen to like and dislike in the limited action-adventure genre.  There is some better emphasis on plotting and some modest character touches that were largely missing the first time out, so there's a little more interest in what happens in the film than you might have expected.  Also, the stuntwork and special effects are even more impressive, which says quite a bit, with a couple of scenes that are literally breathtaking in terms of their size and scope.  It's a true stunt lover's delight.

However, for all of its sound and fury, there still is little of significance to take Cradle of Life up another level, unlike the two franchises it most borrows from, Indiana Jones and James Bond.  Outside of having a female protagonist, you've seen almost everything here before, usually done much better.  Yet, unlike Indy and James, the humor and romance just isn't as impressive here as the action.  With a lack of interest in the main story, the long action sequences are not as thrilling as they should have been, and what could have been a roller-coaster thrill-ride becomes merely an exercise in admiration of stunts and CGI, rather than enlivening the story.

There are two qualities that a typical moviegoer needs to have in order to properly enjoy The Cradle of Life enough to gain a recommendation from me: the hots for Angelina Jolie and/or a high tolerance for a derivative story and plot for some escapist action and adventure.  With a couple of years to go for the next James Bond film, and Indiana Jones 4 not yet on the horizon, the Tomb Raider series benefits from being in the right place at the right time to fill the void.  Missing is the intelligence, majesty, and magic that is required to make it a thoroughly satisfying experience, leaving you with the metaphoric feeling of eating a snack to tide you over until the next meal.

Qwipster's rating:

2003 Vince Leo