Lara Croft Tomb
The Cradle of Life
review by Cynthia
Fuchs, 25 June 2003
don't want to be crossing Lara Croft (Angelina Jolie). Not only does
she maintain an advanced arsenal in her Buckinghamshire mansion,
train rigorously in martial arts, leap from tall buildings, shoot
with deadly aim, and look like a Bond girl in a bikini, she also has
no problem punching out sharks.
particular moment in the clumsily titled Lara Croft Tomb Raider:
The Cradle of Life is giddy and preposterous, and as such, one
of the film's most delightful. The entire digitized stunt takes only
a few seconds: trapped deep underwater in Luna's Tomb, where she's
been raiding an orb of some significance, Lara escapes collapsing
columns and brutal assault by Chinese bandits, only to realize that
she needs speedy transport to the surface (as the bandits have
destroyed her vehicle). Floating in her silver wetsuit, her face
contorted like a scary mermaid's, Lady Croft entices a shark with a
whiff of her own blood, cold cocks it, and then, as it whooshes away
in a huff, she hitches a ride on its fin. Girl power, yeah!
de Bont's sequel to Simon West's famously incoherent original (2001)
includes many such demonstrations of Lara's resourcefulness, but
this is the zaniest and, no small thing, the speediest. For the most
part, the movie belabors its heroine's prowess, under Alan
Silvestri's unimaginative technobeat. It stutters into stop-motiony
slo-mo for major exploits (crashing through neon signs, two-fisted
shooting, sexual liaising) and prolongs other scenes showing stunt
people in full-on action mode, as when Lara and her partner leap
from a high-rise with Rocky-the-Squirrelish webby-wings, floating
among shiny office buildings and billboards until they find their
appointed landing spot.
computer-enhanced physical feats -- rather painfully uneven in
execution and representation -- are here made secondary to Lara's
personal evolution. No longer hung up on reuniting with her father
or even finding a worthy mate, Lara this time is mostly mad (this
more or less corresponds with Jolie’s current,
all-honesty-all-the-time self-promotional tour, chatting with
Barbara Walters, Leno, or the women of The View, making clear
that her adopted son Maddox has changed her perspective, that her
thirteen tattoos are variously meaningful, that she's come to terms
with herself: "I think we're on this planet to learn about
ourselves and each other").
with more firepower at her disposal, takes a more righteously
belligerent approach to her self-healing. And so, her practice
fighting session with trainer Hillary (Christopher Barrie) takes the
form of a peculiarly brutalizing conversation: they whomp away with
sticks in between questions and answers, frowning like they really
don't like each other. Quite different from her balletic bungee
routine in the first film, the session is stunning in its own right,
with focus on her irate face revealing Lara's resolve, fury, and
urgency. She's not playing.
her business this time out is considerably less interesting than she
is. Former Nobel Prize winner and "modern day Dr. Mengele"
Jonathan Reiss (Ciarán Hinds) designs and sells biological weapons.
His present project involves locating that orb Lara briefly held, as
it is a map to Pandora's Box, a literal container of
population-decimating plague. The Chinese bandits (called Shay-Ling)
who stole the orb from Lara at film's beginning, are now in the
process of delivering it to Reiss.
order to locate the Shay-Ling, Lara cuts a deal with a former lover,
Terry Sheridan (Gerard Butler), now incarcerated in Kazakhstan,
where he performs daily calisthenics off his cage ceiling. Described
as a former officer in the Royal Navy turned mercenary and traitor
to the Empire, Terry is proud of his lack of scruples, disparaging
Lara's notorious softness in this area. Their "relationship
issues" color the adventure slightly, primarily as metaphor:
his treacheries cast Lara, rather weirdly, as equated to
"England," as the abandoned object; and Lady Croft's
stubborn and often violent autonomy (enabled, of course, by her
wealth, station, and loyal servants) makes her a lively feminist.
she needs Terry's expertise on this point, and so they take off for
China and Hong Kong, and elsewheres "East." Here, they
predictably find trouble of the exotic variety -- shoot-outs amid
neon-signed rooftops and terra cotta warriors, swiftly edited
martial arts face-offs, and strangely sparse urban populations.
Their perfunctory efforts to reconcile don't so much add drama or
depth as they make you think of all the betrayals Jolie's been
talking around in interviews. Lara's means of coping -- kicking,
glaring, handcuffing -- seems appropriate.
the same time, Lara is of course dealing with other stuff like, oh,
plague. On its surface, Cradle of Life's explicit anxiety
about a biological weapon of mass destruction sounds timely. But the
specific practical and ethical issues remain undiscovered; the plot
is Raiders of the Lost Ark revisited, complete with ancient
legend (the plague wiped out Alexander the Great's army, after which
he hid it and the map), light peeping out of the box, and all
variety of creatures and trials en route to its current location, in
"Africa," namely, Kenya.
so, once again, white folks head to the "dark continent"
to confront their deepest fears and find their untapped strengths
(The story is so old and yet, so new: witness G.W. Bush's use of
"Africa" as one of his sixteen scary words.) The village
elders predictably warn Lara not to seek out the box, a secret best
left unfound. She has an answer, something to do with saving the
world. Besides, the admonition runs more or less counter to her
raider's credo that "Everything lost is meant to be
other words, even Lara Croft might learn a thing or two from the
wise Masai. And this means that the world-traveling, linguistically
diversified, superrich gorgeously outfitted Lady embodies the
planet's best future, open to someone else's thinking, as long as
it's generally compatible with hers. The fact that the bad guys tag
along for the showdown (on a set that a friend of mine likened to
the excessively corny Harry Potter forest) only makes her
look more like the deferential, culturally sensitive savior.
Lara's empathy and insight are conveyed by her reunion with college
classmate Kosa (Djimon Hounsou). They have certainly followed
different career paths: while she's been gallivanting about the
planet in search of tombs to raid, he's gone back home, where he
works to "improve the life of the Masai" (this according
to Hounsou in the press kit). But they maintain mutual respect for
one another. When she drops into his jeep by parachute, Kosa asks,
so playfully, "Why can't you do anything the easy way?"
(Ah yes, why indeed?) Her pert answer: "Because I wouldn't want
to disappoint you." Living up to expectations and her own
record, Lara, at least, appears to know who she is. Now, if only her
movies did her justice.
Jan de Bont
Steven E. de Souza
James V. Hart
PG-13 - Parents
Some material may
be inappropriate for
children under 13.