Mark Reviews Movies


2 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Jan de Bont

Cast: Angelina Jolie, Gerard Butler, Ciarán Hinds, Noah Taylor, Chris Barrie, Djimon Hounsou

MPAA Rating:  (for action violence and some sensuality)

Running Time: 1:56

Release Date: 7/25/03

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Review by Mark Dujsik

Another sequel; another insanely long title. Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life moves the placement of the colon from its predecessor (Lara Croft: Tomb Raider), making the name just as important as the job description. More importantly, though, the sequel is a completely different animal than the original. Therefore, to say the sequel is superior to the original is simultaneously an understatement and a non sequitur. The first was ludicrous; this one is straightforward. The plot was the focus of the original, and it was so outlandish, it bordered parody. This one condenses its plot—so that its only real purpose is to get the characters started—and focuses on the action. There's a lot more of it, too, and it registers much better. More and better action scenes and stunts make The Cradle of Life an actual adventure movie, not a potential cult item. That doesn't necessarily make it a good adventure flick; it would have to be more involving to be that. Which leaves one last distinction between the original and the sequel: The first movie was so bad it was almost good; this one is almost good.

Welcome to Santorini, Greece. Marvel at the view—a peninsula cliff overlooking the sea. Enjoy the festivities of a big, fat Greek wedding. That is until an earthquake hits, which is sure to put a damper on anyone's day. Everyone except Lara Croft (Angelina Jolie), who arrives at the scene to find the remains of the ancient Lunar Temple, which apparently has shown its whereabouts because of the earthquake. How? Don't ask; the movie won't tell. Lara knows exactly where it is and travels down into the sea with a pair of assistants to find what treasures it holds. The most impressive is a golden orb. It's so impressive that a gang of thugs has followed her; they kill her partners and steal the orb. Back at the Croft mansion, Lara is approached by agents from MI6, who want her help in finding the orb—not that she needs the external motivation. The orb is about to come into the hands of Jonathan Reiss (Ciarán Hinds), a scientist, Nobel Prize winner, and creator and seller of deadly diseases. It seems the orb is the key to discovering the Cradle of Life, where life on earth began, and Pandora's Box, which holds a plague that could kill millions.

The idea is to find the box first so as to prevent Reiss from obtaining it. For this, Lara recruits the help of military traitor Terry Sheridan (Gerard Butler). Their hunt sends them all over the world, which is to be expected in any decent adventure, but unlike the first movie, Lara's revealing outfits suit the climate of where she is. There's a scene in China, complete with a sequence of Lara riding her motorcycle on the Great Wall that is present only to have a sequence of Lara riding her motorcycle on the Great Wall. That's kind of the point of Lara Croft, though, isn't it? Why ride down a dirt road when the Great Wall is standing right there? Why wouldn't you plan an escape route that includes the use of these nifty suits with wings that allow a person to fly? Why swim to the surface when you can cut your arm, attract a shark with your blood, punch it in the nose, grab a hold, and ride up? So there are a few blatantly ridiculous things still remaining, but after that shark bit, it's almost nil. At least it doesn't have all the time-traveling and changing crap of the original.

The movie does get a little strange during the climax, but we can forgive it because the results fit the premise. And it allows for a bit of atmosphere with the appearance of these creatures that can travel into the landscape, although anything or anyone they may be holding at the time is left splattered on the outside. The nasty buggers are guarding the Cradle of Life itself, which is a nice little set piece straight out of German expressionism. It's a tunnel system of sorts made of jagged rocks and illuminated by lots flashing lights, and of course, you can walk upside-down and maneuver in any necessary way in this maze. It's not the first maze the movie has seen. Earlier Lara fights a foe between the statues of warriors and finishes the whole sequence by sliding head-first down a rope while shooting away at the bad guys. Director Jan de Bont understands the need for this break-neck ferocity but also gives it an air of acceptability. Lara may pole vault from a rooftop to a helicopter on a bamboo rod, but what else would she do?

Angelina Jolie understands this as well. She still has the physicality (allure and brawn) and edge to play the famous digital heroine. She leaps, dives, shoots, punches, kicks, moans, groans, and grunts with the best of them. The Cradle of Life suffers, unfortunately, from distance. Too many times does it give the sense—appropriately, I guess—of watching someone play a video game. Nevertheless, it is a solid step in the right direction and even resolves its climax with a note of character definition. It's a good touch, I think, because shooting and grunting can only get you so far.

Copyright © 2003 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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