Thursday, March 15, 2018

Blast from the Past Movie Review: Tomb Raider (2001)

I never played the Tomb Raider video game series, but back when I was something of a gamer I do remember thinking the original game looked pretty cool. When the film adaptation starring Angelina Jolie came out in 2001 when I was a junior in high school, I remember going to see it and finding it at least somewhat enjoyable.

Well, as the podcast Myopia: Defend Your Childhood is wont to do, we re-watch childhood (or in this case, later adolescent) pleasures to see if they're still good. Here's the podcast. And now for the review...

The Plot

Lara Croft (Angelina Jolie), a British aristocrat served by butler Hilary (Chris Barrie) and technician Bryce Turing (Noah Wallace), uses the freedom her wealth provides to go adventuring, in particular exploring ancient ruins and tombs for treasures. However, she's haunted by the death of her father Lord Richard Croft (Jon Voight). But when a clock she doesn't know exist starts ticking, she's thrust into an adventure featuring rival "tomb raider" (and possible former love interest) Alex West (Daniel Craig) and sinister Illuminatus Manfred Powell (Iain Glen).

At stake? The Illuminati seizing an ancient artifact that would allow them to control time!

The Good

*The movie starts out quick and entertaining and is never dull. Perhaps that's why I enjoyed it as a high-schooler. To re-watch it for the podcast I "rented" it off Amazon for $4, downloaded it to my Kindle, and watched the second hour of it on the elliptical. It made the workout go by pretty quickly, which is always a plus.

*When Lara finds a letter from her father, we get a voice-over/flashback sequence to him writing the letter rather than her just reading it out loud. That's more interesting, especially since it allows the filmmakers to work in the origins of various artifacts with Lord Croft providing the explanation.

*It's interesting to see the different actors playing against type. Daniel Craig, who would later play none other than James Bond, plays an American "tomb raider" rival to (and possible ex of?) Lara who came off to me as a dork. Glen, whom I've only seen as the lovelorn Ser Jorah Mormont from Game of Thrones, plays an ambitious and backstabbing member of a dangerous cult.

*Lara's fighting style is predicated heavily on speed and skill, which makes a lot of sense for a woman who isn't big and burly like Brienne of Tarth. This would allow her to take on larger, stronger male opponents without difficulty. And when faced with a male opponent who's just as skilled and quick (not going to say whom for reasons for spoilers), it's a lot tougher.

The Bad

*The Illuminati's plan operates on a very tight timetable and all Lara would need to do to foil the Illuminati for the next 5,000 years would be to cause delays, refuse to cooperate, etc. Instead, she often assists them. She even puts herself in a position where they no longer need her and, if so inclined, could kill her. West states that she's in it for the glory while he's in it for the money--she'll help them retrieve the artifact so she can take it from them, rather than simply prevent them from getting the artifact in the first place.

*When Lara mocks West for his business-like attitude toward tomb raiding, there's a missed opportunity for character development--West can point out that unlike her, a British aristocrat with a landed estate who goes on adventures and robs tombs for fun, he has to work for a living. This would develop his character further and reveal Lara's disdain for his greed owes much to her privileged wealthy status, but it would also make Lara look kind of bad, so no wonder it didn't go into the film.

*The way Lara acts about her father, it's like he hasn't been (presumably) dead long and she is still mourning him. However, he's been missing since 1985 and assuming the movie takes place in 2001 and she was in later elementary school in the flashbacks (age 9-11 or so) before he went away, he's probably been gone for half her life. If Lara were younger and this movie was her origin story, this movie could be about a young woman taking up her father's sword to fight a sinister world-domination cult, but given the allusions to past adventures and the amount of time it would require to develop her sheer physical skill, instead she kind of comes off as emotionally stunted and even obsessive.

*Complaining about sexual objectification/fanservice in a movie based on a game known for following an attractive female character around from behind the whole time (aka a continuous butt-shot) may seem like a waste of time, but the way it's done in the film is kind of lame. The beginning battle features her moaning in exertion while pinned beneath a hostile robot, there's a completely gratuitous shower scene soon afterward, and she annoys her traditional-minded butler who wants to make her a proper lady by walking around naked in front of him. The latter seems to me to be a character moment at least (see the bit below about how him being traditional and her being rebellious might be a dynamic that's been going on so long it's a ritual or a game), but the first two were kind of annoying.

*Hilary, who is Lara's butler or personal assistant or something, lectures her about the need to be ladylike, but rather than being an Old Retainer, he looks to be around her age or only somewhat older.  The actor is only 15 years older than Jolie. I could imagine she might put up with that from somebody who was a surrogate parent (and at this point it might be an inside joke more than anything else), but not someone reasonably close to her age who works for her. His hair could have been dyed gray to make him look older or, since a widowed British aristocrat with only a daughter would probably remarry to have more children to ensure the name is passed down, it would've been more interesting if the character were instead Lara's more traditionally-inclined stepmother who has been trying to "manage" her tomboyish stepdaughter for the last decade or more.

(Lara's father being missing and not yet legally dead could be a reason why she's still there, or perhaps Lara has much younger half-siblings who have just as much right to live in the house as she does. In the latter case, Lara's adventuring might be in part to gather money for herself if she has a younger half-brother who upon reaching a certain age or if her father is declared legally dead will take control of the property. A bit too much Sense and Sensibility or Pride and Prejudice for a video-game action film, but perhaps it can be done subtly.)

Of course a more traditionalist British aristocratic wife isn't going to arm up when mercenaries barge into the house, but you could still have Hilary in a more reduced role for that purpose.

*It's never made particularly clear why the Illuminati getting hold of the artifact would be such a bad thing. Obviously nobody should be trusted with that type of power, but it's never discussed over-much.

*The CGI hasn't aged well.

The Verdict

Entertaining, but kind of stupid. See it once, preferably by renting and not buying. 6.0 out of 10.

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