Dir: Jan De Bont. US. 2003. 118mins.
Smarter, sexier and more stylish than its predecessor, the second film of the Tomb Raider franchise drops the video-game pretence and goes the Bond route. Dean Georgaris' screenplay gives Lara Croft more to do and more to be, and Angelina Jolie responds with a more dynamic performance, tougher, sexier, with an emotional vulnerability absent in the first outing. With Speed's Jan De Bont at the helm, the film moves at a furious pace, flying through hails of bullets and showers of candy glass. Paramount probably expected the new film would follow the summer blockbuster curve when it opened in the US last week on 3,222 screens. But Lara's diminishing profile since the previous film - the last game suffered repeated delays and disappointed many when it did arrive - and some tenacious box office incumbents seem to have hobbled the film at the starting gate. With an opening weekend less than half the original's $47m, the best that can be hoped for is an afterlife on DVD crammed with cross-promotional extras (aka Easter Eggs.)
An earthquake in Greece unearths the Temple of the Moon wherein Alexander the Great has hidden an orb, a luminous globe that will reveal the location of Pandora's Box. Needless to say a certain svelte tomb raider is on the scene. Alas, so are some murderous Oriental gents who snatch the orb and leave Lara as shark bait. Matter-of-factly punching a shark in the snout, she grabs the stunned beast by the dorsal fin and makes her escape only to discover her ship has been sunk. Luckily, manservant Hillary (Barrie) and technogeek Bryce (Taylor) are aboard a passing submarine which surfaces directly underneath her. Audiences, mostly male, will not be distracted by the log-jam of inanities, particularly when Ms Jolie parts her lips for Lara Croft's first screen kiss. Interactivity still has some catching up to do.
It seems the thieves are henchmen of a certain Dr Reiss (Hinds), a Nobel Prize-winning scientist with a sideline in weapons of mass destruction, who has plans for the Box. Lara's mission, as charged by MI6, is to intercept the hoodlums in darkest China before they can pass the orb to Dr Reiss. Enter Lara's former boyfriend Terry Sheridan (Butler), now serving time in prison. Only he can get her behind enemy lines etc etc. The onion-skin layering of exotic business - Lara's itinerary makes Bond look like a shut-in - is in keeping with the video-game source; it is what passes for plot between bursts of cannon fire.
While the idea of basing a motion picture on a videogame is absurd from a narrative point of view - it's strictly a branding exercise - the first film took the notion to heart, attempting but failing to approximate the chambers or levels familiar to game players. De Bont opens the screen up, with big-sky set-pieces and a balletic, almost lyrical style to the action sequences - in particular a high-rise parachute jump as Lara and her companion glide gull-like to safety. Unfortunately, the film's climax is a throwback to the first film's infatuation with third-rate fantasy lands.
Scots actor Gerard Butler is a welcome addition, bringing a laddish touch to the standard brooding intensity, supplied by Til Schweiger as one of the scientist's henchmen. Hinds is in fine form as the megalomaniac du jour, smoothly malevolent. But the film is Jolie's. As Lara, she's finally earned her swagger. If she could only stop killing her boyfriends.
Prod co: Paramount Pictures, Mutual Film Co
US dist: Paramount
Int'l dist: UIP
Exec prod: Jeremy Heath-Smith
Prods: Lawrence Gordon, Lloyd Levin
Scr: Dean Georgaris, from a story by Steven E De Souza and James V Hart
Cinematography: David Tattersall
Prod des: Kirk M Petruccelli
Ed: Michael Kahn
Music: Alan Silvestri
Main cast: Angelina Jolie, Gerard Butler, Ciaran Hinds, Christopher Barrie, Noah Taylor, Til Schweiger, Djimon Hounsou