Lara Croft, Tomb Raider:
The Cradle of Life

directed by Jan de Bont
(Paramount, 2003)

Lara Croft, Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life didn't match the box office success of the original Tomb Raider, but it is easily a much better film. Cradle of Life is just a lot more fun than the first movie. Since the audience doesn't have to be told exactly who Lara Croft is, director Jan de Bont can get right into the action immediately with a classic Croft entrance. And, once the foot is on the pedal, there's no letting up on the gas until the very end, as this film is just packed with incredible action, one exotic locale after another and -- most importantly -- Angelina Jolie.

Sure, the premise of the story (a real life Pandora's Box that contains the deadliest weapon known to man) is a little less than believable, but this is an action movie, not a PBS documentary. There's also a surprising amount of depth to the character of Croft in this movie, and that only adds to the film's strengths.

An earthquake off the coast of Greece leads Lara to the long-lost Lunar Temple of Alexander the Great and an artifact that points the way to Pandora's Box -- which is suddenly something quite more than the stuff of mythology. Ancient armies had been decimated by the mysteriously evil powers lurking within the box, and it must be found before it falls into the wrong hands of the impeccably nasty Jonathan Reiss (Ciaran Hinds), who plans to sell its secrets to as many terrorists as he can. Unfortunately, the all-important clue falls into the hands of a notorious Chinese gang, and Lara -- for once -- needs help finding the club's secret hideout. She asks for and gets Terry Sheridan (Gerard Butler), a man who once betrayed his country as well as Lara herself. The dynamic duo make a most memorable entry into China, where more elaborate action scenes quickly ensue. Lara's quest, however, will then take her to Hong Kong and, eventually, the heart of Africa where Pandora's Box reportedly lies. As you might expect, some romantic tension arises between Lara and Terry along the way but, although we see more of the female side of Lara in this film, she knows what she has to do when the time comes.

This film boasts some amazing special effects and an almost endless supply of stunts (many of which Angelina did herself). CGI is used in a couple of places, especially the final setting with its Guardian Shadows protecting the location of the box; these scenes lack realism, but the CGI effects themselves are quite good. The DVD features a number of featurettes all about the making of the film, along with deleted/alternate scenes (including an alternate ending), a director's commentary, a superfluous screen test with Butler and two music videos (and I would encourage Angelina fans to watch the Korn video).

I really don't know what else you could ask for in a summer box-office action film. Cradle of Life takes all of the components of the first film and improves upon them by leaps and bounds, goes out of its way to present stunts the viewer hasn't seen countless times before, adds depth to its main character, and features Angelina Jolie in all her glory.

by Daniel Jolley
22 October 2005

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