Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)—A Bad Adaptation, with a Charismatic Lead
Video game movies. Aren’t they just…so well-written and received? Full of sharp-witted dialogue and breathtaking acting? No? The thing is, video games are generally not designed to be made into film format. Why’s that? Because early video games largely depend on the player exploring the world around them, while having a loosely-connected plot. However, that hasn’t stopped movie studios from trying to make adaptions. One good example of this is 2001’s Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, directed by Simon West, best known for this:
The film opens up with Lara Croft (played by Angelina Jolie) training against a giant robot in her mansion, where she lives with her Butler Hilary and tech wiz Bryce. We cut to Venice, Italy, where The Illuminati are meeting to collect a key of an ancient artifact known as “The Triangle”. Manfred Powell, a member of The Illuminati, claims that they must unite both halves of the artifact on the day of the solar eclipse, where all the planets will align. However, he doesn’t know where the key is. That night, Lara has a dream where her dead father (played by Jolie’s real father, John Voight) tells her where the key is and The Illuminati’s evil plans. She finds the key in a clock under the stairs. Later that day, she goes to visit a friend of her father to discuss the key, where she runs into American adventurer Alex West (played by Daniel Craig). The friend sets Lara up with a meeting with Powell. Croft learns that Powell is also a tomb raider and later that night, Powell sends armed commandos to her mansion to take the key from her. She fights them off, but they steal the clock. With the key in his possession, Powell and West set off to Cambodia to find of of the halves of “The Triangle”.
So the film’s biggest strength is its strong cast, who do their roles well enough. Iain Glen, who would play an important role in Game of Thrones (2011-2019), shows his talent here as the smarmy Powell, and Jon Voight is fine, though neither are amazing. Daniel Craig is solid aside from his American accent, which is not good and even stranger considering that every other lead is British. The comedic relief characters are performed well by Noah Taylor and Chris Barrie of Red Dwarf (1988-) fame. But the real star here is Angelina Jolie as the titular Lara Croft. She nails the role on the head, bringing a strong confidence in both voice and mannerism. She definitely feels like she would stand with Indiana Jones if she had better material to work with.
Another thing the film gets right is its action set pieces and the action in general. The film’s three major set pieces, the mansion bungee jumping fight, the temple with the six-armed statue and the final area, are distinct with strong stunt work and choreography. The action is further helped by the cinematography which is good enough for what it is trying to be. The special effects, or more specifically the CGI, has aged horribly. It just doesn’t sell itself as anything but some computer generated madness.
The biggest issue with the film is the plot. The story is dumb, maybe insane. Aside from the idea that not only an ancient civilization would hide two pieces of a device in Cambodia and Siberia, let alone know that both exist at a time where the fastest travel method was a horse; but that this civilization was able to create an object that controls time, as well as having it sync up with a once-every-5,000 year planetary alignment is as sane as it sounds. Adventure films aren’t known for their strong plots. Hell, the Indiana Jones films had some absurd plots themselves, but nothing that required this much mental gymnastics just to exist.
The film’s pacing doesn’t help much. 2001’s Tomb Raider is an hour and 40 minutes long and the film poorly segments its time. The last 30 minutes are the only parts of the film that feel like it’s going at a solid pace. Out of the rest of the time, the plot really gets going 40 minutes in. By then, there’s only time for one set piece and middling story elements. As a result of this pacing, the film feels like it is missing part of itself. It’s like the writers went overboard with the setup, then realized they didn’t have enough time left, so they combined the entire 2nd act into one 10 minute section. It’s an adventure film that trades the actual adventure for subpar writing.
Finally, the romance in this film is lacking. Neither the writing nor acting makes me believe that Lara and Alex have any romantic interest in each other. Sure, Lara flirts with him, but she does that with the villain as well. The only behavior that she shows Alex that we don’t see her show anyone else is disappointment and annoyance. They only have two scenes together, both of which have the two fighting with each other, while the other scenes they share are focused on everything except their relationship. So when Alex is killed to get Lara to help put “The Triangle” together, there's no emotional weight. Plus, she already has a connection she wants to bring back: her father. So Alex is just useless, except for giving Daniel Craig work before Bond. Heck, even when Craig’s character is saved, he doesn’t even show up for the final scene. Honestly, if the love interest were either her tech guy or butler, based on how well these characters bounce off each other, I would believe them.
Overall, while 2001’s Tomb Raider has its plethora of problems, it’s still a serviceable video game movie. The action is breathtaking and fun, the tone takes itself seriously but not too seriously like many failed blockbusters today, and Angelina Jolie’s charisma shines through the entire film. In a genre that is often bound to fail, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) succeeds at being an entertaining video game movie.
Co-written by: Owen Gonzalez