Lara Croft: Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life (2003) — Shark punching anonymous

“Some things were not meant to be found.”

Justin’s rating: Two guns. Two lips. Two movies.

Justin’s review: Sometimes you have to laugh in glee when critics pile on a fun movie — and the movie does gangbusters at the box office anyway. That’s what happened with 2001’s Tomb Raider, which racked up $274 million and established Angelina Jolie as a legit action hero. And Hollywood, which cares more for box office than awards and respect, greenlit a sequel right away.

That brings us to 2003’s Cradle of Life, the second of the Jolie-Tomb Raider duology. After the cheesy goodness of the first movie, I was eager to see what the sequel had in store, even as I was steeling myself for the disappointment that this is where the series ended. It failed to do anywhere near the box office of the first movie and Jolie didn’t want to do any more of them, so that was the end of that. Shame.

“You know I can’t resist a bit of fun,” Croft says after she makes an entrance on a jet ski (which she, of course, completely flipped over). And it’s this fun-loving trait that sets Lara Croft apart from so many modern adventure protagonists who are cynical or conflicted or some sort of anti-hero. Her glee at discovering ancient ruins and putting her twin pistols to good use is infectious. Go figure: When a movie hero looks like they’re having a terrific time, that usually rubs off on the audience too.

At least this time around, the movie starts off with the raiding of a tomb, as Lara explores an underwater temple that harbors a mysterious orb. And as we all know, great power is always contained in convenient-to-carry orbs. Bad guys get the orb, and Lara barely escapes by (checks notes) cutting herself to beckon sharks, punching the summoned shark in the nose, and then riding a shark to safety.

So the orb is a map of sorts that leads to the titular cradle of life, where Pandora’s Box rests. Bad guys want it because the Box contains a super-plague, and Lara wants it because she’ll get a new high score. This time around, Gerard Butler replaces Daniel Craig to fill the role of sometimes-partner/love interest.

On top of the built-in fandom for Lara Croft, it’s bizarre to consider this movie’s failure despite being directed by Speed’s Jan de Bont. This guy knew how to set up a good action movie. Then again, he did Speed 2, so let’s not be too surprised and the middling results. Allegedly, de Bont had such hardships with this filmmaking experience that he up and quit directing entirely. That’s not a huge vote in this movie’s favor.

While the plot is a hodge-podge of Indiana Jones and James Bond leftovers, you don’t come to a movie like this for classical literature. You come for shark-punching and motorcycle racing across the Great Wall of China. Oh, and also Lara Croft’s ever-changing wardrobe, which seems to be designed to sell as many action figures and posters as possible.

This over-the-top ridiculousness is what made the first movie a guilty pleasure, and if anything, the sequel needed far more of it. Instead, it pulls back on some of that goofiness and tries to be more of a generic action blockbuster, shedding one of its biggest selling points for nothing gained.

I don’t think Cradle of Life is as terrible as its metacritic review score testifies, but it’s certainly not some sort of hidden gem worthy of a national holiday.

Didja notice?

  • Lara does a flip on the jet ski, just because
  • Temples deep underwater won’t fill up with water even if it’s been leaking for hundreds of years.
  • Lara likes unnecessary gymnastics
  • Spear gun through the thigh, ouch
  • Tell me she didn’t just cut herself to summon a shark to ride. She did.
  • And then she summoned a submarine. She has magic blood!
  • They just fed this guy ebola in his drink? On a plane? Doesn’t seem prudent.
  • Libraries are perfect for sparring practice
  • Sunday School doesn’t usually cover Pandora’s Box
  • Mini-jet pods are the only way to drop into a country. They could’ve just parachuted in, you know, but this is more expensive.
  • Riding a motorcycle across the Great Wall cannot be safe
  • Lara’s “adventures” seem to end up destroying so many priceless artifacts and locales
  • Lara with the parade rifle is a good scene
  • It’s easy to shoot people while sliding upside-down on ropes

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