The Girl With Some of the Gifts

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

There was a time where Lara Croft was a mascot character at the level of Sonic or Mario. First appearing in 1996 with her original game, Tomb Raider, she went on to have a series of highly successful games, year after year, until the franchise trod itself into irrelevance with its seventh mainline game (and tenth overall), Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness in 2003. That’s ten games in eight years, a run that was sure to burnout the fanbase (and the kind of run that only Capcom could match back in the NES days). Lara was big business… right up until she wasn’t.

The blame isn’t with the character as there have been great games for her that fans have really enjoyed. Hell, the more recent trilogy, starting with 2013’s Tomb Raider, were praised by critics and fans. The issue was overload. So many games, and comics, and novels, all started in the wake of the smashing success of that first game. Over time it became way too much. Fans lost interest because it felt like the series could only do so much, especially with iterative updates that barely added anything new to the games, story, or lore. And this wasn’t aided by a couple of movies that, themselves, didn’t exactly make the franchise look great.

Released in 2001 (in between Tomb Raider: Chronicles, where Lara Croft was thought to have died, and the reviled Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness), Lara Croft: Tomb Raider presented a silly (but safely sanitized) version of the titular adventuring archeologist. Played by Angelina Jolie (who you can assume gained the role because of her, well, more than passing resemblance to the main character), Lara travels across the globe, in search of treasures inside ancient ruins. She is, as depicted in the movie (and frankly in the games, too) a laughably terrible archaeologist, doing far more damage to the ancient ruins than she should. But it’s all in the name of fun action, right?

In the film, a secret organization run by English aristocracy wants to find the key that will lead to two halves of a mysterious treasure. They need that treasure for the alignment, a moment in the night’s sky when all nine planets (yes, this film came out when we acknowledged nine of them) would align together at the same time as a solar eclipse. Manfred Powell (Iain Glen) is the archaeologist put in charge of finding these treasures and, if he fails, the cabal would have to wait another five thousand years for the alignment to happen again.

Meanwhile, Lara Croft (Jolie) finds a mysterious clock within her manor, something hidden there many years earlier before her father, Lord Richard Croft (Jon Voight), disappeared while on expedition. Taking the clock apart she finds within the All Seeing Eye, the key to the treasure (not that she knows this yet). She takes it to an associate, and they then put Croft in touch with Powell. He pretends not to know what the device is for, but then sends armed commandos to the Croft estate that evening to steal the All Seeing Eye. Apparently the device can be used to find the Triangle of Light, the treasure Powell needs, and one that, during the alignment, can control time itself. Now on the case, Lara has to chase Powell around the world to prevent him from finding the treasure or, barring them controlling time itself.

There’s a lot that I could complain about in this movie, but the first thing I want to comment on is having Angelina Jolie, an American playing British character Lara Croft while Daniel Craig, a Brit, plays one of her rivals, Alex West, an American. I don’t think Jolie’s accent is particularly bad, per se (although it does waver at times), but Craig’s accent is absolutely abysmal. I don’t know the series well enough to say whether Alex is someone from the series and if he was American to stay true to that or just because the film was written that way, but, really, couldn’t they have just let Craig act with his normal accent? Forcing these accents on the actors doesn’t really work in the film.

The bigger issue beyond this, though, is that the movie is just patently stupid. The whole plot of the film is about an ancient Egyptian device that connects, magically, to the alignment of the nine planets. As we know, if Pluto was going to be considered a planet (which it is in this film) then a ton of other dwarf planets (Ceres, Eris, Vetsa, just to name a few) would have to be included as well. Hell, these objects were, at various times in past centuries, actually considered planets, so if we’re including some then we have to include all (which, of course, is physically impossible for an “alignment”). And this doesn’t even take into account that Uranus wasn’t definitively discovered, and considered a planet, until 1690 AD, Neptune wasn’t tracked until 1612 AD (by Galileo), and Pluto wasn’t observed until the 1840s, all of these dates long after Ancient Egypt disappeared into the sands. I hate to be pedantic about these things (and we could be even more pedantic about the physical possibility of all these “planets” aligning), but this is a massive plot issue for the film, one that is hard to get past.

If you can somehow get past the entire plot not making sense, what you have left is a linear “chase the items” storyline with little in the way of actual surprises. Lara is supposed to be an archaeologist here (although apparently her “cover”, for some reason, is that she’s a photojournalist) and yet she does very little to prove she is, somehow, good at her job. Not only does she carelessly traipse through crypts and tombs not worrying about any damage that she could do, but she’s also really bad at studying clues and figuring out mysteries. At least, not in any way that makes logical sense within the bounds of the film.

The first half of the movie sees everyone around her give Lara all the information she needs. The clock magically starts on its own. Her father sends her a letter from beyond the grave telling her where to find the first half of the triangle. The bad guys know the location of the second. And the few moments where she does happen to figure out a clue to a mystery, she lucks into it. She is not on the same level as even Indiana Jones (who at least figured out his own mysteries before he desecrated tombs), she’s just always in the right place at the right time.

Meanwhile, in a movie that absolutely requires you to shut off your brain and not bother thinking about any of the details, the action of the film is also incredibly bad. The fault here isn’t with Jolie (although she’s woefully ill-equipped as a fighter to be able to stand toe-to-toe with other stunt people and actually make her fights believable), but with the direction. Like so many action filmmakers of the era, the director, Simon West (who’s “best” movie is, hands down, Con Air) over-relies on quick cuts and CGI to cover for bad action performances. Nothing is choreographed well, or with any flair, and the film uses editing to give a frenetic sense of movement without, in fact, providing any movement worth looking at. This is a bland and ugly action film that barely has any thrills to it at all.

The one thing I will say in the films favor is that while the movie isn’t all that great, the soundtrack is pretty solid. It features a mix of electronic music and rock, with the likes of Nine Inch Nails, Delirium, Basement Jaxx, BT, Leftfield, and more. Honestly, it felt like a soundtrack for Hackers (another Jolie movie) which had four excellent CDs released for it, all of them packed with good music. Heck, this was the only official release for the Nine Nails Track “Deep”, which has never appeared on any other album from the band (nor seen any other kind of release elsewhere). Wall-to-wall, this is great music if you’re a fan of this era (and genres) to listen to.

This film was successful enough at the Box Office, managing to pull in $274.7 Mil against a budget of $155 Mil (likely with DVD sales helping to bring the movie into profitability), and that’s likely due to the combination of Tomb Raider still being a hot property at the time and Angelina Jolie being an A-list actor. Going back and watching it now, though, it’s also easy to see why the film series quickly ran out of steam and died. The only thing this film has going for it is Jolie, and even she struggles to make this bad film watchable. Without her, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider likely would have flopped completely upon release. It certainly deserved to.