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Lara Croft Tomb Raider
The Cradle of Life (PG-13)
Paramount Pictures, Mutual Film Company
Official Site
Director: Jan de Bont
Producers: Lawrence Gordon, Lloyd Levin
Written by: Dean Georgaris, Steven E. de Souza, James V. Hart
Cast: Angelina Jolie, Gerard Butler, Ciarán Hinds, Christopher Barrie, Noah Taylor, Djimon Hounsou, Til Schweiger Rush

Rating: out of 5

Here is what I think Lara Croft fans will be talking about after seeing this film: Lara Croft’s (Jolie) breasts just didn’t seem as big, did they? Weren’t they more noticeable in the first film? I’m going to wince every time I hear it, and I know I will receive and share some blame for even suggesting such nonsense. Anyway…

This is the much-awaited sequel to the first film, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. That film made lots of money and was a great deal better than you might have expected. The impressive art direction, the stylish action scenes, and, most importantly, those breasts, were the secret to that film’s success. So it wasn’t the “Citizen Kane of computer-game movies,” and nobody I know seems to remember much about the story, but we all liked it. Jolie nailed the role, representing a strong, confident, and securely feminine heroine with such an admirable intensity and a delicious hint of perversity that we had real fun. And it captured the spirit of the game better than anyone could have realistically expected. So, what do you do for an encore?

The producers of Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle Of Life try to take the series to the next level, paying more attention to theme and story. In the opening credits, a seemingly unrelated and coincidental Greek wedding sets unmistakable themes for the film—conflicts between tradition, technological innovation, and the often capricious and overwhelming power of nature. Then they dive into the action.

No need to see the film to make a good guess at the plot: Lara discovers hidden wealth and a really cool-looking key to a dangerous source of power. She is only interested in the power. She is threatened by evil competition and may or may not lose the key. She finds allies who may or may not help her and might even be enemies. One of the allies may or may not be a love interest and may or may not be faithful. I’d bet it doesn’t work out.

You’re smart; you won’t take that bet. Terry Sheridan (Butler), who betrayed MI6, British Secret Service, is that love interest. Moriarty du jour is Jonathan Reiss (Hinds), who is a really nasty and ruthless dealer in biological weapons, but oddly enough, not much of an archeologist. His vicious second, Sean (Schweiger), provides the evil muscle with the grudging admiration for Croft’s tactical prowess. The character acting of all these key players is rock solid. Note that the abilities of Djimon Hounsou and the entire ensemble of actors playing the primitive yet spiritually attuned tribe of natives in Africa save the film from what, for me, could have easily become a disaster of relying on hackneyed stereotype.

The director, Jan de Bont (cinematographer of note in his own right), and David Tattersall (cinematographer for this film and some other nicely visual films like Die Another Day and Star Wars, Episodes I, II, and now III) produce a visual feast that’s often stunning. The action scenes work well, eliciting some audible gasps from the audience. De Bont even snuck in the obligatory cross-marketing of Korn, a band that I think would be better off restricted to a radio station in Nebraska, without hurting the picture at all. In fact, most fans will probably love the music. Alan Silvestri is an exceptional composer who provides an effective and seamless score.

The script has its problems. For a tomb raider, Jolie sure doesn’t spend much time in tombs. There’s little archaeological mystery; it feels more like a modern James Bond film. The whole “Cradle of Life” angle is perfunctory. I guess you can go to the website for your spiritual and mythical archaeology fix. Jolie is a great actress, and I mean that. She succeeds in bringing a little more depth and dignity to Lara Croft, even with a script that doesn’t explore the character’s motivations any more meaningfully than before.

Those breasts? If you don’t understand how pivotal they are to the success of the films, as well as the games, I can’t help you. The best thing about Jolie’s breasts is that they are attached to an actress who can generate a complex and honorable female persona who neither flaunts nor apologizes for them. The appeal of Lara Croft, to both men and women, is the dignity and style with which she wields this enormous power. So why subdue it in a wet suit? The excess of the Lara Croft character may not be as dignified and realistic as one would like, but it’s part of the character’s attraction and charm. Fans may well resent this deviation from the formula, and I can’t argue with them.

If you like the outlandish fantasy of Lara Croft at all, you will still enjoy this film. If you thought that Lara was just a wee bit too much, the restraint of this film might make the difference for you.

I might have given …Cradle of Life more than three stars, if the writers had made this gamble with the character work a little better. But I will never punish a film for trying.

—Steven Harding


hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

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