RECAP: Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001): Simon West

After five successful video games, Hollywood thought it was time for a Tomb Raider movie. Luckily, no better actor in the world could play Lara Croft than Angelina Jolie. And she’s available.

ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: Lara Croft, sad about her missing dad, finds a device that could bring him back, and the Illuminati is there, too.

Hero (4/10)

I’ve played Tomb Raider a few times. I can’t lie; Angelina Jolie fits the, uh, type for Lara Croft. The game and movie engage in serious objectifying, but at least they lucked into an Oscar-winning actress.

We first see Lara as she’s raiding a tomb (naturally) in Egypt. She wants a jewel prominently displayed on a plinth, and she’s about to get it, until a robot pops in to say hello.

Lara unloads two full pistol clips into the robot, then reloads and shoots it more. She shoots a stone obelisk to oblivion, making it fall on the robot. At one point Lara finds herself on her back beneath the robot, which is trying to saw her face off. Lara literally overpowers the robotic arms, cutting metal with the spinning blades.

Moments away from being overwhelmed and killed, Lara orders the robot to stop. She opens its processing system and pops in a memory card labeled “Lara’s Party Mix.” The opening was a ruse, all to show her skills and what she likes to do for fun.

Lara nearly died in a training exercise. A very expensive training exercise in her very expensive mansion. Dedicated and prepared to do anything, Lara Croft does not do half measures.

Lara lives in an English mansion with two other people, her butler and her tech guy, Bryce (Noah Taylor). They are the only people keeping Lara from destroying her mansion, and they keep it in tip top shape.

Obviously, Lara Croft is the hero of this movie with her name on it, but not obviously, because she, and the movie are obsessed with her father, Lord Croft (Jon Voight).

There’s a planetary alignment coming up that aligns with the date of her father’s disappearance, and even though Papa Croft has been missing more than a decade, he’ll be discussed again and again and again and again. That’s important, later, but it seems rude to sideline a badass like Lara Croft in this way.

This planetary alignment, the first in the last 5,000 years, is a big deal in the archeological community and the shadow power group community. On the anniversary of her father’s disappearance, Lara has a dream about him and a mysterious clock, which she discovers in a secret compartment beneath the stairs. This clock, you see, is ticking backwards, like a countdown.

Angelina Jolie can make looking into a telescope sexy.

Turns out the Illuminati–yeah, that Illuminati–are interested in the same clock. As the group gathers in Venice, its members discuss their need for it as a guide and key to reuniting two pieces of a triangle that can control time. They dispatch avowed clock fan and Illuminatus Manfred Powell (Iain Glen) to find it.

Lara and Powell face off several times throughout the movie: in London, in Cambodia, and in Russia. Powell has the money and men; Lara has the skills.

Here are some of her skills: she speaks Khmer, she’s a terrific shot, she battles stone monkey guards, she is an expert bungee cord fighter, she dresses like a Matrix cosplayer, she can throw a knife accurately at 20 yards, and she’s just like us. How? She eats microwave dinners.

Lara has the world’s best poker face, displayed many times, the best to Powell as he lies about not knowing what the mysterious clock is, even though it’s one item in the world he wants most.

Yes, I can rock this fur thing.

Let’s talk about the artifacts these people are chasing. Long ago, a meteor crashed to Earth. The ancient people living nearby forged a triangle from the alien metal, and this triangle controlled time. Obviously. One day the makers decided it was too powerful, so, obviously, they broke it in half and sent the two halves to opposite ends of the Earth, so that one day someone else could fuck with time. I put in that last part, but it’s the only conclusion to be drawn. If it’s so powerful, why not destroy it?

Lara’s dad (there he is again) believes the triangle must be destroyed. He’s got the right idea. Certainly we can’t let throne-hungry Powell get his manicured hands on it.

Lara agrees, and she’s gets the first half of the triangle, but loses the clock in the process. Needing both clock and triangle piece, she and Powell team up to find the final piece.

Villain (3/10)

Manfred Powell and his slick-backed hair opposes Lara in the search for the time triangle. Powell is a member of the Illuminati, the powerful conspiracy group seeking control of time. Calling themselves People of the Light, the group meets in a marble room in Venice.

Powell sits at “the right hand of God,” his description for the leader of the Illuminati. It’s exactly the place Lara’s father sat decades ago, a fact Lara learns later but disbelieves.

Powell’s job is to actually acquire the time triangle, and to do that he needs the clock key belonging to Lara. “Supremely confident” he will recover the pieces, he has a squad of highly trained, well-armed goons at his disposal, men who obey his every command to help him do so.

Claiming to be a lawyer, Powell is into Buddhism. I can’t say that he is a Buddhist, because for all his chanting Oms and meditation, he’s an extremely violent person desperate for higher status, far cries from the Buddha’s teachings.

The movie’s most well spoken character, Powell has some good lines. He tells Lara “My ignorance amuses me.” Later, Lara asks him how he’s doing, after she’s acquired the first half of the triangle. He answers, “Superlative.” Still later, he tells a goon, smirkingly, to “Make a mental note to kill Miss Croft.”

All good shit, but why does Powell really want the time triangle? Lara figures out why. Meeting in the Illuminati’s Venice headquarters, Lara notes asks who sits in the throne. It’s not Powell. Nope. He’s eager to move one seat over, and he’s got a plan for it.

Action/Effects (3/10)

Lara takes a trip to the jungles of Cambodia to do some temple raiding. Seeking the first half of the time triangle, she arrives in the underground expanse by a different route and moments before Powell and his team of troops.

Lara does not have the clock needed to unlock the piece, but she learns where it must be placed to reveal the piece’s location, using her ancient language reading skills. Fortunately, for the audience’s sake, she reads out loud.

Lara shows herself to Powell and is immediately shot at, yet still she convinces her opponents of her correctness. She’s rewarded by getting to ride a giant obelisk, which I swear made me think of a giant strap on. Lara uses the obelisk to pierce a small globe of liquid that ignites a light to shine upon a spot in the floor that ejects the piece of the time triangle. Lara is first to snatch it.

She escapes, but not for long, because some badly CGI floor goop has enlivened the fierce stone monkeys guarding the chamber. Any thought of who has the triangle piece is flying out the temple’s ceiling as NBA-sized statues are throwing swords at people.

Fortunately for the humans, the monkeys are slow and easily killed. Lara kills four with their own weapons wrenched from them. The gun-wielding mercenaries kill more, but are killed themselves. Powell, in the ultimate villainous move, uses one of his own men as a human shield.

These monkeys are prelude to the quad-faced Brahma god statue coming to life. At 20 feet tall and with four arms, this statue won’t fall so easily.

A living god?

The goons are fleeing. Lara is left alone to face the statue. First thing the statue does is recall the four human-sized swords plugged into the floor. They fly backward into its hands.

Lara, with a smirk, starts blasting away at its face. Chips fly off as she walks backward across a bamboo ladder above a chasm. She empties two clips and attaches two more from her clip dispenser attached to her back.

The statue gets the swords back and swipes the ladder to splinters moments after Lara leaps from it. She finishes killing the statue’s face, but this is a four-faced statue, and it switches to its next functioning face. Uh oh, time to bail. Lara dropkicks the obelisk that is still swinging, knocking it into the statue.

Got yer triangle piece, byotch!

Lara sprints toward the exit, jumping over a flying stone guard on the way. The guard pinches her backpack and flies toward the open air, but when it reaches the outside it bursts to pieces.

End scene.

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider is a short movie stuffed with set pieces. Countless bullets are expended, as if they are 500 a dollar. The designers seems to think that more bullets=more fun, but somehow the two don’t equate in this movie.

The effects likely were dated the moment they were made. The should have had Square Enix, the games’ publisher, do them.

Sidekicks (4/8)

Lara has Bryce, a standard tech nerd who helps from afar, looking through cameras and hacking and programming and stuff. She has a butler who is the epitome of English servitude, while also having shotgun skills, who’s not afraid to use them against guys carrying fully automatics. He’s as fearless as Lara, if far less skilled.

Lara’s best sidekick is her possibly-not-dead father, Lord Richard Croft. Lord Croft is always on Lara’s mind. He’s in her dreams, and he’s even sending letters.

Lara receives a letter from UPS from dad near the anniversary of his disappearance. It’s a Blake poem, clueing her into an old book. Finding this book, Lara has the sense to tear open the back cover, finding an old letter her dad left for her, telling her that the clock is the key to finding the time triangle. Duh. Thanks Dad.

Lara claims that her father never kept secrets from her. Powell, telling her about Lord Croft’s role in the Illuminati, claims otherwise. He also claims that he killed the man, proven by showing Lara the pocket watch he once carried.

Lord Croft begs Lara to assemble the time piece and then destroy it. She’s game, until Powell points out that she could bring him back to her. It’s the temptation that almost unravels the plan, until, in a vision, father tells daughter not to. Being of strong mind, she agrees.

Not since Rebecca has a dead character so dominated a movie. That’s a problem. Hamfisting the dead Croft into the script reeks of a script first draft that wants to be about the character it’s not about. This is a Lara Croft movie, dammit; make it one!

Henchmen (3/8)

Powell runs a team of gunned-up goons who do anything he asks. They kill the leader of the Illuminati with one flick of Powell’s finger. Does he have the money to pay them, or does the Illuminati? It must be the latter, but still they obey Powell. Big surprise there.

Hey girl, I got this gun and an empty shower I just came out of.

The only speaking role to back up Powell is Daniel Craig playing Alex West, a swashbuckling American archeologist with as little charm as fashion sense. Big into Hawaiian shirts, West dashes into trouble when he should sit back. He and Lara had a thing in the past, evidenced by her desire to catch him naked in his hotel room. West cares only about money, and it nearly costs him his life.

Stunts (4/6)

The big stunt set piece occurs inside Lara’s immaculate, tastefully decorated mansion.

It’s night time in the work week, and what else would one do if not attached to bungee cords for some late-night gymnastics training in one’s sitting room? Lara’s got the right idea, flipping and bouncing in white silk pajamas.

Meanwhile, dozens of black-clad frogmen are surrounding the mansion. These guys have all the tech: night vision, laser sights, silenced machine guns, rappelling gear, flak jackets, and more that we’ll see later.

What they don’t have is the sense to disable Lara’s security system. That or they don’t care. Probably the latter. Anyway, they trip the security, alerting Lara as she’s mid-bounce. She perches atop a chandelier and listens.

Not long later, guys burst through the glass ceiling on rappelling gear. One stops at Lara’s eye level, long enough to get his face smashed. Immediately Lara bounds to the second floor landing, where she finds more guys to attack. She straps a carabiner to one and throws him into another guy dangling from the ceiling.

More guys drop from the ceiling, peppering the stonework with bullets. They all miss. Lara, still attached to a bungee cord, bounds around the large open space, using a knife to cut the ropes of her enemies. One trick has her run around the wall, parallel to the floor, dodging bullets, twisting her cord with the enemy’s.

Meanwhile, some other dudes are making moves toward the clock sitting in Lara’s lab. Her butler is also taking his sweet time donning combat gear and arming a shotgun.

Lara ditches the bungee gear and sprints for a dumbwaiter shaft, falling down it into her garage. Where she has a GUN CABINET. That’d be nice, but another bad guy–they’re everywhere–shoots at her, forcing her to dive for cover.

Speaking of guys everywhere, what’s happening at the lab? Several goons have shot at the glass surrounding the lab, but it’s bullet proof, so they go to plan B: plastic explosives. They destroy the glass this way, which triggers steel grates to slam down and enclose the lab. Wisely, the goons came prepared for that, turning on blow torches. They are distracted a bit by shotgun blasts coming from the pajama-clad butler.

Bryce the tech guy, locked in his trailer, has links to all cameras in the mansion. Acting as Lara’s eyes, he tells her enemy positions, and she shoots them with tools. What are these tools? Unclear, but they disable the goons well enough.

Lara runs out of non-gun things to shoot. She finds a crotch rocket to work just as well. Avoiding gun fire, Lara, takes off, using a car hood as a ramp to get the jump on the other goons in the large garage. She steals a gun and shoots one of her cars, which explodes and flips toward a guy before he runs away.

Still on her bike, Lara sprints toward a staircase, where she finds another bad guy. She slams the brakes, doing a front wheelie, and whips the bike’s rear wheel around to slap the bad guy in the face. Terrific move.

Whew. Take a breath. Despite all these shenanigans, the bad guys steal the magic countdown clock. More impressively, Lara does not kill a single person during the raid. The two sides shot thousands of rounds, and not one person was hit. That’s the most amazing part of the sequence.

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider is a stunt coordinator’s dream. They let their imaginations run wild in the mansion attack sequence. Most of the time, bungee cords used on a movie set are scrubbed out in post-production. This time, however, they were part of the plot.

Climax (2/6)

Lara and her crew head to the home of the ancient city that made the time triangle. Turns out it’s in Siberia. Color me confused. I thought the two halves of the triangle were sent to opposite ends of the Earth, but suddenly one was never sent anywhere. It was in the ruined city the whole time? (I might have ignored this plot point.)

Lara has her cool orange glow sticks active as she enters the city on a dog sled. She finds an old-ass bell and rings it, as coolly as a person can ring a bell. She’s wearing her “I got this” face.

Lara, West, Powell and his men enter a giant room, where an ancient steam punk astronomical model dominates the set, er, room. A glimmer floats around the room. A dog jumps through it, revealing its insides, before emerging fine. It’s a “time storm,” Lara informs everyone. Obviously.

West and Lara leap onto the swirling astronomical clock. The lesser goons trying to climb the thing are knocked into the bubbling water, but not the named characters. Oh no, how terrible. The Illuminati main guy is there, eager to get that second half of the triangle to control time and fulfill his group’s destiny.

Lara ducks, dodges, and swings to the center globe, where she lies upside down, waiting for the right spot to insert the clock. When she does so, she’s sucked into the globe and almost immediately spit back out with the other half of the time triangle. Anti-climactic to say the least. She gives the triangle piece away.

Now it’s the Illuminati’s turn. The main guy is about to unite the pieces, but first he must give a big speech about fulfilling a promise to their ancestors and yada yada yada. Powell says what we’re all thinking, “Enough of this twaddle,” and with a flick of his finger he orders his firing squad to kill the Illuminati leader.

So it’s Powell who unites the pieces, but nothing happens. Lara looks on with her poker face. Powell says he has an idea that Lara knows what’s up. “Let me test my theory,” he says, and he throws a knife into West’s chest.

West falls into the roiling water; Lara dives in after him. She kisses him in the water, which would revive most men, but Daniel Craig is not most men.

He’s an actor.

Lara emerges from the water, which, by the way, is in Siberia and should be frigid, though no one seems troubled by the temperature. Powell says, “If you deliver me the power of God, I will spare him.”

Lara throws the clock into the floating time glimmer, which explodes the piece like an assembly diagram. Each part of the mechanism floats. Lara finds a tiny sliver of material–it’s hard to tell what–and drops it into the center of the triangle’s eye.

Cut to a mystical pyramid. Powell and Lara run up it, and only those two, for some reason. Lara snatches the triangle before Powell, and skips backward in time to visit her living father.

Lara’s mad at her dad for not telling her about being in the Illuminati. “I strove only to tell you what would inspire you,” he says. Lara says, “I missed you.”

Lara has the power to bring her father back to life. He argues against it. “We can’t change time.” Well, if not, then what’s this damn triangle thing here for?

Back to the ruined Siberian city. Lara walks forward in time as she reverses the last few moments. Alex falls out of the water and the knife ejects from his chest, slowly streaking backward toward Powell, who threw it.

Lara walks beside this knife, grips both ends, and, with tremendous strength, turns the blade toward Powell. A key shot focuses on Powell’s eye as it twitches. Can he sense what’s coming?

Turn the knife around, let it kill the bad guy.

Lara faces the twirling triangle, does a cute spin, and shoots it as the planetary alignment plus solar eclipse ends. The triangle shatters, and the knife flies into Powell’s chest.

Everyone, including West, is fleeing the cavern as Powell lies on the floor. He’s not dead, not even close. He uses his final moments to taunt Lara. Flashback to a stormy cliff top, where Powell shot Lara’s father in the head. To prove it, Powell dangles a pocket watch with a photo of Lara’s beloved mother inside. Lara wants that watch.

She returns to face Powell, who was playing possum the whole time. He pops up and both point guns at the other’s face. It’s as if Powell didn’t get the message–he’s supposed to die. They agree to fight without guns.

Powell strikes first with two blows, then Lara delivers an elbow to the face. Some kicks are blocked, and Lara is kneed in the gut and elbowed in the back, knocking her down. She gets back up and the two trade blows mostly blocked, until Lara delivers a head butt and attacks Powell’s knife wound. She chops him in the neck and gets the watch back. A quick fight for a broken man.

The ancient city crumbles. The steampunk globes explode for some reason. Lots of events occurring for unknown reasons. Lara must save herself, and she does by sledding out with the remaining sled dogs, who are the most well behaved dogs in Siberia, aren’t they, aren’t they? Lara sleds out on her feet.

Back home, Lara is finally at peace with her father’s death, so at peace that she’s ready to shoot the shit out of that robot again.

Jokes (0/4)

Lara Croft is a serious person and won’t crack any jokes. It’s clear, however, that she enjoys her job. Lara throws a smile on when she straps on her dual pistols. She’s in her element when blasting at stone monkeys or six-armed robots.

Setting (1/4)

Few places on Earth invoke mystery and intrigue like the jungle-clad temples of Cambodia. What happened to them? Did they become too powerful for their own good? Did some ancient demon destroy the temples?

You won’t find answers to these questions in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. You’ll find giant, well-lit sets instead. The two pieces of the time triangle are housed in large, underground rooms, thousands of years lost to humanity.

Here is where the movie fails. For being undiscovered temples millennia old, the Cambodia and Siberia locations are clean. No dust, no cobwebs, no crumbling stone statuary. Metallic swords in Cambodia show no signs of rust. Neither do the steampunk globes rotating on metallic arms in frigid Siberia. “Hard to believe” is an understatement.

Lara’s mansion in England is a beautiful piece of Georgian architecture immaculately kept by a single butler. There’s no evidence of any other person working the grounds. Her place is as clean as the temples she raids, and I can’t decide which of the two is less believable.

Lara’s house

Commentary (0/2)

Wisely, the movie avoids the paradox of time travel and controlling time, instead focusing on the tomb raiding parts. It’s better that way.

Offensiveness (0/-2)

Lara takes a long, sultry shower in the beginning. I pegged this as Jolie objectification, which it is, but later the movie shows Daniel Craig also showering. He shows off more skin than Jolie. So both sexy bodies are objectified. Progress, folks.

Others

  • Jolie is a lefty
  • Powell dons a black turtleneck, the worldwide symbol of sophisticated, accomplished villainy.

Summary (24/68): 35%

Lara Croft doesn’t raid any tombs in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, instead hitting the ruined temple and city circuit. That’s a minor problem, except the two big sets are poorly designed. We need doom and gloom. Resident Evil has the right blend of horror and violence that this movie needed.