Some movies can enlighten you, teach you something, make you feel deeply, and teach you something about the human condition.
Other movies don’t do any of that, and that’s fine.
Angelina Jolie’s two Tomb Raider movies from 2001 and 2003 are perfect examples of that. The plots of both movies are forgettable, they frequently don’t make much sense, they’re unrealistic blah blah blah who cares.
I love both movies, for one very simple reason: they’re FUN.
Seriously. They’re both really, really fun. If you haven’t seen 2001’s Lara Croft: Tomb Raider or 2003’s Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, you really should. Get them on Netflix or whatever, pop some popcorn, sit back, and have a blast.
Most people are probably familiar with the name Lara Croft, even if they haven’t seen the movies or played any of the video games. Everyone knows this character, right?
And okay, I get that some people aren’t that big a fan of this character, but I don’t care because I love her and I have no problem saying that on the internet where anyone can read it.
But the reason I love her isn’t just because of her prodigious assets. I love her because she is, wait for it, a FUN character. Who doesn’t love a badass treasure hunter? She fights bad guys, she goes to exotic locations around the world and finds cool stuff. Who doesn’t want to live that life? The character of Lara Croft is wish fulfillment to be sure, but in case you hadn’t figured it out by now, I am totally okay with that. The recent video games have shown there’s maybe more to the character than just wish fulfillment, but I’ll get to that in more detail later.
First, the movies. They’re guilty pleasures. A while ago, when I wrote about the Mission: Impossible movies, I called them Popcorn Perfection. The same could be said of the Tomb Raider movies. They’re popcorn escapism at its finest.
The first movie involves Lara’s quest to locate a mystical triangle which grants its user the power to control time. Of course, this ancient artifact was split into two pieces that are located on opposite corners of the globe, and both must be found in order to wield the great and terrible power. Also, Lara is facing off against the Illuminati, who also seek the triangle.
If at any pointed during that plot description you yawned, or perhaps snorted derisively, it’s okay, I forgive you. This is a safe place, and there is no judgment here. Like I said, the plots of these movies are nothing special.
But what the plot does allow for is exotic locations and lots of hugely enjoyable over-the-top action scenes. One particular highlight takes place in a tomb (of course) where a bunch of statues come to life and start attacking people. It’s cheesy and wonderful, and features some less-than-convincing early-2000’s CGI.
The movie also features an appearance from pre-Bond Daniel Craig, speaking with a flat American accent, which is really off-putting since I’m so used to his smooth British tones. It’s always weird when you’re used to hearing someone sound a particular way, and when they sound different the whole thing just feels sort of off. Craig’s accent isn’t particularly bad, it just sounds…funny.
Speaking of accents, Angelina Jolie really nails Lara’s posh English accent. I find that American actors are usually terrible at doing English accents, while English actors are really good at American accents (you’d never know from watching the Dark Knight trilogy, for example, that Christian Bale and Gary Oldman are both Brits). Fortunately, Jolie is the exception to this.
Her English accent really works, and I think the key to it is that she doesn’t over do it. Half the time when Americans try to sound English they exaggerate it way too much and end up sounding like idiots, but Jolie’s accent is more understated in the Tomb Raider movies and it really benefits the character a lot.
And if it seems like I’m harping on the accent, it’s because it’s important to making the character of Lara Croft work, and if the main character didn’t work, then the movie wouldn’t work. It would have been easy for the producers to say, “screw it,” and have Jolie speak with her natural American accent, but they didn’t. Lara’s Englishness is an essential aspect of her character, and credit to the filmmakers for not messing with that.
Ok, rant over. The first movie is loads of fun. It’s full of goofy action and seems at least somewhat aware of how silly it is. In one scene, after an epic shootout in Lara’s stately manor, a UPS guy comes by the next morning, and finds Lara’s butler and her tech guy (both of whom are good comic relief) cleaning up the debris (which includes shoveling rubble into a wheelbarrow). As Lara signs for the package, she sees the delivery guy looking around incredulously and she says “I woke up this morning and I just hated everything.” The UPS guy gets the hell out of there in a hurry. That’s always cracked me up.
The movie even ends on this freeze frame, and there’s something awesomely cheesy about a movie ending on a badass freeze frame.
The movie also clocks in at a brisk 100 minutes, which is perfect because it doesn’t overstay its welcome. Unfortunately, the sequel, The Cradle of Life, is 117 minutes long, which feels a bit overlong. The sequel follows Lara as she attempts to find Pandora’s Box before an evil megalomaniac can find it and unleash it upon the world.
The sequel also features pre-300 Gerard Butler as Lara’s sidekick. They used to have a thing together, of course, which complicates their relationship. Overall the sequel doesn’t feel quite as fresh as the original and it drags near the end, but it’s still plenty entertaining, and is helped immeasurably by Jolie’s presence in the title role.
Seriously, kudos to whoever had the idea to cast her as Lara, she’s great. You might say that there’s not a whole lot of depth required to make this character work on screen, and in some respect you might be right, but Jolie really is great in these movies, and I swear to God it’s not just because she looks like this:
Although of course I would be lying through my teeth if I said that had nothing to do with it. But hey, this is a judgment-free zone, remember?
And the last few years have been good for Lara. The last couple Tomb Raider games have been fantastic, and it’s my recent addiction to Rise of the Tomb Raider that helped inspire me to write this post.
Developer Crystal Dynamics has done great work with the series, and proved that there’s more to the character than just being aesthetically pleasing. The recent games have taken Lara back to the beginning and emphasized her vulnerability and her humanity. She’s also more, shall we say, realistically-proportioned than she used to be, although she remains supermodel-gorgeous.
2013’s Tomb Raider reboot was dark and gritty, and at times shockingly violent (there’s a sequence where Lara falls into a lake of blood) but it did a great job rebooting the character and showing that there’s more to Lara than just looking good. The most recent game, Rise of the Tomb Raider, which came out last year, is a tremendously fun game which offers a deep and varied gameplay experience. It’s also not as dark as its predecessor, which is a bit of a relief.
The movies and the recent games have done a superb job of capturing the appeal of Lara Croft. She’s just a fun character, and there’s more to her than meets the eye. She’s more interested in knowledge than treasure (it’s not like she needs more money, she’s already fabulously rich), which makes her a hell of a lot more interesting than someone who’s just in it for the money.
Lara Croft has come a long way, and if the next Tomb Raider games are as good as the previous ones, I’ll be more than happy.