Based on the games, Tomb Raider follows Lara Croft as she raids tombs? Not really. She finds a device hidden inside a clock that apparently is some big deal and some ancient cult have been trying to track down forever. What follows are a bunch of action set pieces before she kind of joins forces with them to find out what will happen when they get the fancy triangle all assembled and then some more action set pieces.
I love action films and I particularly love action films that don’t have the only female character being a damsel in distress. I also was a massive fan of the Tomb Raider games growing up (though I was not great at playing them because half the time I couldn’t figure out the difference between walls I could climb, rocks I could pull, or holes in the ground that I was about to fall down – the graphics, while awesome for the time, left much to be desired). So when this film came out in 2001 I really wanted it to be amazing.
What I got was a reasonably decent if generic action movie, a product of its time, and while there were enough stylistic nods to the character designs of the game, the actual plot left a little bit to be desired. I did enjoy watching Tomb Raider but part of me always laments the ‘what could have been’ part of this film.
The list of concerns starts with Angelina Jolie as the titular Lara Croft. I was so excited when I saw she was going to take on this role. After seeing her performance in Girl Interrupted I was sold on the idea that Angelina could breathe life into a video game character who might be memorable but not so much for her personality (though she does deliver some good one-liners). Unfortunately, that isn’t what happened. Instead we see Angelina working very hard at looking tough or pouty and that is more or less the extent of Lara’s emotional range in this film. I get she’s meant to be a strong female character who is capable of taking on the guys but some more nuanced expressions might be nice. The closest we got was Lara laughing during a fight sequence in a way that I guess was supposed to show us just how tough she was because she could laugh while bullets flew everywhere.
Even if we accept that Angelina actually played Lara pretty much the way Lara is presented in most of the games we have the script itself. While some lines hit their mark such as Lara’s, “I’ve always found your ignorance quite amusing” others just land flat on the floor and then sit there while the characters kind of wait for the next thing to happen. “It’s a clock. It ticks. It’s wrong.” Thanks for pointing that out.
Then we have the action itself. Sometime in the late 1990’s, somehow people got it into their head that an action movie is made by coming up with a number of action scenarios with major set pieces and cool choreography, throw in some quick cuts and quirky camera angles, and then you can just kind of run them all together with some generic dialogue and call it a plot.
I’d point back to Terminator and Die Hard. These films got action right. They had an excellent core to their stories that was simple and yet drove every event that followed. Terminator, was simply “kill Sara Connor”. Right from the start, that’s what we were aiming for. Every action sequence had something to do with either achieving that goal or preventing it. Die Hard had terrorists in a building. “Stop the terrorists from killing the hostages.” It’s simple and yet gives meaning to every action scene in the film.
Tomb Raider starts with a massively over the top action sequence against a robotic adversary that is revealed at the end of the sequence to be just part of Lara’s training regime. It is a cool sequence, don’t get me wrong. But what do we learn? Do we know what the story is? Is Lara’s ability to hang upside down going to be useful later? Hey, I would even accept that somehow this film is going to be about the robot running amok. But, no. That isn’t the case.
Instead, we go from this action sequence to some exposition about a planetary alignment (ooh) and then Lara has weird dreams which somehow lead her to find the ticking clock in her mansion (through some property destruction that seems to only exist to show how little regard Lara has for her own wealth). Follow this with a motorbike sequence (she’s awesome, she motorbikes) and so on. Admittedly, she does ride the motorbike in her mansion later for some reason. Blast out a massively overblown soundtrack and presto action movie of the early 2000’s here we are.
Again, this doesn’t take away from any one of the action set pieces. There are some incredibly interesting enemies (if slightly unbelievable) and the setting changes so regularly you can’t possibly complain about the variety. It just makes it difficult to care about the outcome of any particular sequence when as an audience we’ve really been given no reason to care.
Before I wrap up, I do want to touch on the ‘villain’ of the piece. While he has the right amount of slime going on with his dialogue delivery and his lines are about as good as you could expect given the rest of the dialogue, I just don’t think he ever presents enough of a threat to actually make this seem like anything more than Lara goes on a fetch quest while things get shot.
That said, I did enjoy this film. It is great like so many generic action movies for sitting back with some snacks and switching off. You’ll get a few laughs and the fight sequences are worth watching. Will you get anything more than that? Probably not.
If you watched Tomb Raider what did you think?
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