Lady Croft meets James Bond and Indiana Jones in a sequel that's better than the original

Category: Tomb Raider 2 Reviews | Posted by: admin
Article Date: July 25, 2003 | Publication: Sci-Fi.Com | Author: Patrick Lee
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An earthquake off the Greek island of Santorini disrupts more than a wedding celebration. It reveals the ruins of the long-lost Luna Temple, where Alexander the Great hid his most precious treasures 17 centuries ago. While Greek treasure hunters bob in the Mediterranean, archaeologist Lara Croft (Jolie) zooms up on a jet-ski with high-tech gadgets to pinpoint the sunken temple.

Descending to the bottom of the sea with her Greek companions, Croft enters the temple and finds unexpected wonders. Climbing onto an immense bronze of Alexander, Croft discovers a glowing amber orb hanging from the ceiling. But that's when her companions are attacked and slain. Croft drops the prize, fights unsuccessfully to retrieve it, then barely escapes to the surface with her life.

Back in Croft Manor in Buckinghamshire, a furious Lady Croft orders her faithful assistants, Hillary (Christopher Barrie) and Bryce (Noah Taylor), to find out whatever they can about the mysterious orb. They don't have to wait long. Agents from MI6, the British intelligence agency, arrive to explain that the orb has been stolen by Chen Lo (Simon Yam), a Chinese organized crime figure in the employ of Jonathan Reiss (Hinds), a Nobel-Prize-winning scientist. It seems Reiss has secretly been concocting bioweapons and selling them to the highest bidder, a modern-day Dr. Mengele.

What does he want with the orb? It may be the key to finding Pandora's Box—not the object of myth, but the repository of a virulent plague that Reiss hopes to unleash on the world.

MI6 authorizes Croft to find Pandora's Box before Reiss. She is intrigued but declines MI6's help. Instead, she seeks out Terry Sheridan (Butler), a mercenary and former special forces soldier, imprisoned in Kazakhstan. Sheridan knows how to find Chen Lo. But there's a complication. It's not that he can't be trusted. It's that he's Croft's former lover.

A 2-D character gets that extra dimension

The awkwardly titled Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life is the sequel to 2001's original film, bringing back Jolie as the intrepid archaeologist adventurer. Like the treasures Croft seeks, Cradle of Life is that rarest of discoveries: a sequel that is better than the original.

The first movie was saddled with inadequate character development, implausible situations and a mystifying plot. The shortcomings were attributable in part to the filmmakers' desire to remain true to the best-selling video game series from which it sprang. But the success of the first film has given a new set of filmmakers—led by Speed-ster de Bont —carte blanche to take the orb and run with it. The result is a much more satisfying reinvention of the entire franchise, transforming Jolie's Croft from an invincible first-person shooter into a conflicted, dimensional character. Early in the film, for example, the audience sees Croft lose a battle, revealing a heretofore unsuspected vulnerability, which deepens her character's motivations significantly.

De Bont et al. have also changed Croft's universe from a black-and-white fantasy world into something resembling a real-life melding of Indiana Jones and James Bond. This Tomb Raider feels gritty and lived-in. And the addition of the charismatic Butler, who generates real sparks with Jolie, injects a welcome dose of adult sexiness and danger into the otherwise chaste franchise.

De Bont also proves himself the better director. Understanding the epic scale of Tomb Raider's globetrotting story, he chose wisely to shoot in several real locations, including Hong Kong, Greece and Kenya. Nothing substitutes for wide shots of sky-flyers soaring over Kowloon Bay or Jolie in a jeep trundling across the African veldt. De Bont also shows that he's a master of imaginatively staged action and suspense, whether Croft is swinging from buildings, falling from cliffs, swimming with sharks or creeping through high-tech labs.

Like the best action filmmakers, de Bont and his posse of writers also get the need for humor to leaven the thrills, and they infuse Cradle of Life with plenty of character-based chuckles, many of which feel very British, in keeping with Lady Croft's aristocratic roots.

Cradle of Life has a flaw. Like the first movie, it's the last act, when plausibility flies out the cave door, and the resolution of Croft and Sheridan's relationship feels forced. Even so, this sequel encourages me that there's a lot more life in this Tomb than was in evidence in the original movie. — Patrick