Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003)

Directed by Jan de Bont

It didn’t take me long to figure out what bothered me about this movie. Despite having so many elements in it that I like, the action-adventure movie Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life lacks one of the key elements movies like this need to work: humour.

It’s not that the movie takes itself too seriously, it’s just that it doesn’t have enough fun with itself. Or maybe more precisely the movie doesn’t have enough fun with its main character, Lara Croft (Angelina Jolie). She doesn’t need to be cracking jokes, but if your main character is as serious as this then other characters need to be the source of humour.

There at least needs to be scenes where she is the target of the movie’s fun. One of the reasons the Indiana Jones movies work so well is the fact that there is loads of humour in them and often at the expense of Indiana Jones.

I think it’s fair to make this comparison since the Lara Croft movies are very much in the tradition of those Indiana Jones adventure stories. They do differ, of course, but I think the place they most differ is where they find their source and inspiration – and this may be why there is so little humour informing this movie.

The Indiana Jones movies are rooted in old Hollywood adventure films – B movies and the like from somewhere around the 1930’s and 1940’s (more or less). They are about romance – not romantic relationships (though they have these) but the romance of exotic locales and adventurous quests.

Angelina Joli is Lara Croft in Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle Of life.

With Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life romance is not the point, action is. They are rooted not in old Hollywood movies but in comics and computer games. Whereas the old Hollywood movies were trying to be for everyone, comics and games are largely focused on a young audience, especially young men.

This doesn’t exclude others from enjoying them, but it does limit their range. (It should also be pointed out that while this is where a movie like Lara Croft is rooted, it doesn’t necessarily mean it appeals to this younger group.

(It’s source may be comics and games, but its filtered through Hollywood and a “showbiz” interpretation.)

The point here is that action is so much the focus there is little room for anything else. If there is any focus on the characters (other than breezy scenes to set up the next action sequence), it’s on driving home how oppressed by time, villains, and other perils the hero is so the action can be more emphatically charged. In other words, it takes its environment (the world of the film) very seriously. Something like humour never comes up because it never occurs to the filmmakers, and they seldom see it as part of their source material, comics and games.

If you think of other recent films that find their roots in the same place (comics and games), you’ll see these are also very serious about their worlds. (Think of the utterly humourless Neo and Morpheus in The Matrix movies, or something earlier like the spate of recent Batman movies. On the other hand, there are exceptions like the X-men movies).

As far as the action goes, Cradle of Life is great. Director Jan de Bont is good at delivering fast-paced, stunning sequences, and particularly in a seamless marriage between live-action and computer work. This is probably due to his experience and skill at cinematography. There are few better at capturing this kind of thing on film.

But, as with his Speed films or his The Haunting, he is weak at delivering compelling stories. Character development and plot are not his strong suit. He creates wonderful moving images but links the sequences tenuously at best. In the case of Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, this flaw hobbles the film quite a bit. While the action is brilliant and Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft is sexy and fetching, it’s hard to generate much enthusiasm.

It’s simply too hard to give a rat’s ass about what happens to Lara Croft, or the fate of the world. In the world of the film, both take themselves too damn seriously.

© 2003 Piddleville Inc.

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