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Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)

Directed by Simon West

Starring: Angelina Jolie (Lara Croft), Iain Glen (Manfred Powell), Jon Voight (Richard Croft), Daniel Craig (Alex Cross), Noah Taylor (Bryce), Leslie Phillips (Wilson), Chris Barrie (Hillary)

Lara Croft: Tomb RaiderOnce every 5000 years the planets align in a solar eclipse, enabling those with knowledge, a mysterious clock key and two pieces of the missing triangle to control time itself. One person unwittingly drawn into finding the two pieces of the triangle is Lady Lara Croft, our ubiquitous heroine. On the other side let me introduce the Illuminatus, long secret sect who wish to control time for their undoubtedly nefarious purposes. Lady Lara has the key but not for long, and she is forced to the end of the world to reclaim it and seek control of the triangle in order to be reunited with her deceased father. Naturally such a task will not prove easy; Powell, a member of the sect is almost insane in his desire for the artefact, even taking on board and old companion of Lara’s Adam as well as the seemingly endless stream of high-end natives and black clad machine-gun toting storm troopers to realise his aim. Still Lara is not unaided in her quest as she has the ever-reliable family butler on her side as well as Bryce, gadget man extraordinaire. Adding to the troubles of both the teams is time itself, for the conjunction of the planets is crucial in the reclamation of the broken artefact and, should they fail to unravel the mysteries of the ancients in time, it will be another 5000 years before they get another opportunity. A wait that no-one wishes to endure…

“Poor Simon, what has she done to you?”

What indeed? Given the recent press mauling of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider you would be forgiven for thinking that Simon West’s film is the worst one in memory since, let us say, Pearl Harbor. In some respects this is the case, although it is purely on the basis that barely a fortnight has passed since the (doubtlessly) lingering memory of four hours of jingoistic tedium has ingrained itself in our consciousness. Those expecting the videogame heroine’s first, perhaps last, big-screen treatment to be an intellectual treaty or a delicate romance are clearly missing the raison d’etre for its existence; Tomb Raider is first and foremost a popcorn munching action film of the sort expected by those who are familiar with the game or at least familiar with the concept of the game. To this end the film succeeds admirably as reflection of computer game design; first introduced the character via a training mission and then unleashed her into the world to survive a number of increasingly difficult levels. These levels start out with cut away plot setting and discovery, minor skirmishes and progress to set piece destruction of hordes of faceless enemies before facing the end of level the big boss. Repeat as necessary. The fact that Lara manages to take health restoring tea from a Buddhist monk between “levels” is entirely in keeping with the computer game ethos of restoring characters’ health in abnormally short amounts of time, as are the sequences where pixel perfect jumping is required if she is to stay alive (in the game you have to restart, here, of course, the aforementioned hordes face certain death by lack of co-ordination).

Key to the appeal of Lara Croft is character is always been a fine line between fantasy figure and female role model – something that the film generally manages to retain, although a number of sequences (notably at the beginning) are highly dubious. Early on we see Lady Croft taking shower after a near orgasmic (and unnecessarily life threatening) encounter with a training robot, unembarrassed by the entry of the family butler she responds to the shock by noting that “yes, a Lady should be modest.” Lara clearly isn’t. Unlike say Batman, with whom she shares the threads of deceased parents and unfeasibly large inheritance, Lara is anything but shy and withdrawn – no hiding behind masks for her, an attitude that makes the occasionally lecherous camera placements (bearing in mind the player spent most of the game staring at her butt) less offensive than they could have so easily become.

Visually the film is replete with mist and streaming light, its action punctuated by strobe effects and set design as anachronistic as you could want. The set pieces take place in the English mansion, with its bungee jumping fight and Hard Boiled inspired motorbike shootout, then over to Cambodia for an Indiana Jones and Jason and the Argonauts inspired grave robbing at Ankor Watt before heading off to Siberia for the snowy climax. West shows that he has lost none of the touch that made Con Air such a rivetting (and stupid!) film in the action department but sadly has also retained that films is inability to get anyone to act. Jolie is marginally better than in last year’s risible Gone In 60 Seconds, her father showing that Anaconda was no flash in the pan (or something else in the pan for that matter) but Noah Taylor’s gadget geek Bryce is close to unwatchable. Still it’s a take-it-or-leave-it no brainer which passes the time, has a fair few scenes of tension, plotting from the Mummy Returns school and plenty of John Woo inspired double pistol shooting. Only with a girl and with no squibs (this being a 12 rating after all).

One point that is worth noting is the oh-so-fashionable wirework sequence. Practicing bungee aerobics at her mansion (as you do) Lara’s house is invaded by the Illuminati’s SWAT team which she proceeds to take out while still bouncing. This enables her to do all the Crouching Tiger/Matrix fighting without the need for expensive post production wire removal. Inspired.