Revisiting the Reviled – ‘Tomb Raider’ is a Dusty Relic Best Left Undiscovered

GameStop, Inc.

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Every week with Revisiting the Reviled, Sean looks at a film that was meant to appeal to geeks and failed, often miserably.

The character of Lara Croft represents a double-edged sword in terms of representation for women in media. As a character, Lara Croft was one of the first female protagonists of any video game. Not only is she capable of duking it out with larger foes, she’s cerebral to the point that she works in the field of archeology. The flip side, however, is that Lara Croft was designed by creatures well versed in their own fantasy of the female form as opposed to anything resembling actual anatomy. While I certainly can’t call myself an expert on video game history, I believe Lara Croft to be the first video game character I can recall that further sexualized by its fans than its creator. There were always the rumors of the cheat code that had Lara shedding all of her clothes allowing the users to control her naked body. Of course, that was just urban legend. But one could argue that the pushback against video games and cheap sexualization starts at Tomb Raider. While this column is primarily focused on the 2001 film adaptation starring Angelina Jolie, the sexualized history of the character looms over this ill-conceived project.

Tomb Raider was an extremely popular video game, and though nobody had yet to make a video game of any discernable quality, Paramount Pictures moved ahead. Coming off films like The General’s Daughter and Con Air, director Simon West was tapped to direct a script with myriad of writing credits – story by Sara B. Cooper, Mike Werb, and Michael Colleary; adaptation by Simon West; screenplay by Patrick Massett and John Zinman. Yet with 6 credited writers, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider is no better than a third-rate knock off of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Only Simon West isn’t even in the same zip code as Steven Spielberg, hence his directorial credit on the incomprehensible Expendables 2.

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The film opens with Lara Croft (Jolie) exploring some dusty enclosure where the walls are engraved with an ancient script. Then a massive robot pops us, techno music plays, and Lara Croft defeats the robot before the film informs us that this is just a training exercise in her massive estate. Lara has two live-in servants with her, Bryce (Noah Taylor), the computers expert, and Hillary (Chris Barrie), an uptight butler. After discovering an artifact hidden by her dead father, played by Jolie’s actual father Jon Voight, Croft has secure some artifacts that were made from the metals within a meteor. When the planets align for the first time in 5,000 years, which just so happens to be in a week, whoever has these artifacts will have control over time. Of course, Croft faces interference from an archeological rival, Alex West (Daniel Craig), and the Illuminati henchman who wants the magic triangle for himself, Manfred Powell (Iain Glen). Then a bunch of stuff of little consequences happens. Freeze frame. The end.

Nothing works in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. The action has no real flow to it. In many regards – certain uses of slow motion, the techno-heavy soundtrack – Tomb Raider is very much a film trying to capitalize on the trends sparked by The Matrix. As we know, a film trying to conform to an ephemeral trend will always age terribly instead of an ambitious failure that tries to blaze its own path. But Tomb Raider is also lethargically paced and remarkably complacent for a globe-trotting adventure film. The titular tomb raider doesn’t actually raid any tombs until about 40 minutes in, which coincidentally is the first time any of the film’s action takes place out of England. It’s a story of international intrigue without the effort necessary to be intriguing.

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For all the failings of Tomb Raider, none are greater than its backwards interpretation of female empowerment. First of all, there’s an emphasis on the physical prowess of Lara Croft and very little on any cerebral strength she may possess. She can kick plenty of ass, but relies on other to do the thinking work for her – it may not be a conscious decision, but it’s that kind of carelessness that undermines the character. That, however, is a minor gripe compared to realization that in the film Lara Croft is a trust fund kid with daddy issues that must stop the Illuminati – no, this isn’t InfoWars, it’s the plot of the film. This is given an extra layer of creepiness by having Jon Voight, who has since become estranged from Jolie, as the father whom she longs for. In this film, Lara Croft spends millions of pounds at an auction, lives in a mansion that would house the entire roster of the X-Men, and wears short-shorts in Siberia. Of course, West makes sure to sneak a shower scene with a bit of sideboob within 6 minutes of the film’s running time and have Jolie run in slow motion at the film’s conclusion, this moment seeming like something out of a Russ Meyer film without any of the self-awareness. This isn’t sleazy exploitation, it’s a sleaze that comes from pure idiocy.

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The numerous flaws of Tomb Raider might be easy to gloss over had it contained at least one of the following: good acting performance, well-choreographed action sequences, a self-aware sense of humor, narrative momentum, and/or half-a-brain. At this point in her career, Angelina Jolie wasn’t capable of pulling off the duties of being an action star. The way she handles her guns are reminiscent of the manner that MacGruber handles firearms. Her most glaring deficiency as actress speaks to the disconnected nature of this film – Jolie speaks in an obviously fabricated British accent while Daniel Craig adopts an American accent. Neither character contains any characteristics that are inherently British or American, so you could allow each actor to adopt their own nationality without affecting anything related to the story. But this film can’t do that. This is a lazy film that aims to leech of the credibility of other films, namely The Matrix and Raiders of the Lost Ark, without the burden of having to carve out its own identity. As a result, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider has nothing distinctive about it. It’s just another in a long line of crummy video game adaptions.

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