Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) – Flashback.

THE FACTS:

  • U.S. Release – 15th of June 2001.
  • Studio – Paramount Pictures.
  • Budget – $115,000,000
  • Global Box-Office – $274,703,340

THE SETUP:

A big-budget action adventure based on the popular new video game on the hottest console in the market with an instantly iconic heroine that tapped its way into the mainstream through crossover marketing synergy (I’m looking at you, Lucozade) and immense sex appeal for a burgeoning male teen demographic. Hire an actress whose most noted credits at the time was a young up-and-comer playing second billing to Nicholas Cage in Gone in Sixty Seconds and a tabloid-incurring lifestyle with Billy Bob Thorton, pump up her cup-size to a D (because DD looked too unrealistic on camera according to the filmmakers), and you got yourself a movie no matter how good or bad it may be.

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THE EXECUTION:

From the perspective of nearly twenty years later, 1997 to 2003 has to be one of the strangest periods in Hollywood blockbuster history. It’s almost impossible to imagine any of these films being made now in the age of cross-media platforms, intensified piracy, and quality control. It’s most likely that everyone has forgotten Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (save for one facet which we will return to), so it might shock some that the plot is absolutely, unapologetically bonkers.

It works, suiting to the game’s original absurdity (anyone remember the dinosaur?), but the live-action element makes the more faithful segments all the more jarring. For the first time in 5,000 years, an alignment of the planets is due for course in one week, and the Illuminati (yes, really) are determined to find a mysterious ancient artifact before its completion. Simultaneously, Lara Croft discovers a concealed clock ticking in her father’s mansion that contains a key to opening the sought artifact. Exposing what she possesses to a wealthy tycoon and Illuminati servant, Manfred Powell, Lara’s home is attacked and she sets off to try find the artifact before the sinister organization does.

The artifact itself is a key to time travel itself and what The Illuminati intend to do with time travel is never made clear. Nor is it necessary really, as it’s just a maguffin to witness Lara travel to various parts of the world. Comprising of primarily four set pieces (Training room; Mansion hall; Aztec Temple; Ice level), it’s commendable to see Simon West and the stunt choreographers implement aspects of the gameplay into the film as well. The double back step, the straight vertical jump, the backwards leap and tumble – there’s a commitment to the video game aesthetic hardly seen in other adaptations that are embarrassed of their derivations. In style, aesthetic, and detail, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider stands out as possibly one of the best video game films of all time by its sheer tongue-and-cheek  dedication to the source.

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However, that’s not why people remember Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. Even its critical detractors at the time (with an inexorable turned nose to the idea of a video game movie) were quick to concede that Angelina Jolie elevates the film into something beyond niche/ironic appreciation. It’s hard to think of another actress who could be an equally perfect match with character. Jolie possesses a unique charismatic and sexual mystique that seems so natural and self-assured in her performance that the nearest contemporary comparison would be Catherine Zeta-Jones, who both owe a significant tribute to unforgettable Jane Russell. Jolie is playfully cocky and audacious, taking a persona that was catered to male gaze and turning it into character who transcends the material given to her. Jolie may have won an oscar, she may have been part of the most powerful Hollywood couple of the ’00s, and she may have broken the mold by proving her versatility, but Lara Croft and Angelina Jolie are synonymous with one another for an entire generation of people. 

Daniel-Craig

If you like cheesy action/adventure films, there’s no harm in returning to it. Problems are rampant with some horribly dated soundtrack choices and the editing reflects a post-Matrix/Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon era of filmmaking, but Jolie and, pre-James Bond, Daniel Craig help make the film stand out as a charming relic in its own right. Whether or not 2018’s Tomb Raider will be good remains unseen. A definite backlash will be had from the fan base, as the reboot had as well, but one thing is for certain. They can never replace Angelina Jolie.

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