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The F*cking Black Sheep: Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)

THE BLACK SHEEP is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATH. We’re hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Dig in!

LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER (2001)

DIRECTED BY SIMON WEST

So, who’s hotter: Angelina Jolie or Alicia Vikander? Okay, so that’s not entirely fair, Vikander is 13 years Angie’s junior. So let us ask another way: who do you like better as Lara Croft: Angie or Alicia?

Nothing against Mrs. Fassbender, but I’m taking Jolie all damn day. In fact, I’m here today to defend the indefensible, to excuse the inexcusable, to champion all of the perceived wrongs of big-budget Hollywood tent pole moviemaking. That’s right y’all, I’m here to tell you why the 2001 release of LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER, in all of its gormless grandeur and cartoonish lunacy, is far better than it’s credited for. A great movie? Hell no. An obvious and inferior INDIANA JONES crib-job? Good God yes. And yet, it’s so big, so dumb and overtly made as nothing more than a diversionary video-game escapade that, for what it intends to be, it achieves quite remarkably. As it easy as it is to degrade a movie on this level of grand-scale stupidity, I’m here to say I have no shame in enjoying LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER. It’s silly good fun!

Now, let it be known I’m more or less arguing this position on behalf of my the teenage version of myself, as that is not only when I saw the film for the first time, but the period in which I actually played the videogames (parts 1 and 2). You can imagine then, my reaction, as a teenager, when it was announced the gorgeous Angelina Jolie, Oscar winner, would be playing the big-screen version of Lara Croft. I think those Lonely Island guys wrote a song about it (in as English an accent as Jolie’s in the film). All this to say, yeah, I think the OG TOMB RAIDER is a bit of F*cking Black Sheep!

Why do I feel this way? Well, there are three main reasons why I think the movie is, however insipid, eminently enjoyable. They include the sheer scenery of the places visited, the fidelity of the video-game beats from which the movie is adapted, and last but not least, the formidable performance from peak-form Jolie. Oh, and we can’t forget about future James Bond’s receding blond hairline. Too good!

Directed by Simon West, who set the bar unenviably high with his feature debut CON AIR, only to fall back to Earth with the sophomore slumping GENERAL’S DAUGHTER, TOMB RAIDER felt like a compensatory return to form for the man who once put a filthy permed-mullet on my man Nicolas Cage. He got back to the ridiculous standard he set with CON (H)AIR. And it’s much appreciated. Particularly in the way West insisted on world-travel to aptly reflect the videogame. Point blank, the scenery in TOMB RAIDER is exquisite. West and crew actually shot in England, Hong Kong, Iceland, Cambodia, with the inclusion of historical sites like the temples in Angkor Wat, Tower Bridge in London, Windsor Great Park, so on and so on. And that’s just the places the production actually traveled to. Never mind the Venice Italy locale that serves as Lara Croft’s palatial estate and the concomitant action set-pieces that pay homage to and ramp up the videogame.

Speaking of, having been a fervent fan of both Tomb Raider videogames released before the film, I was actually pleasantly surprised how faithful the movie was to both. The movie more or less hews to the structure of the videogames, going through the same sequence of levels and locations, first beginning with Lara’s training sessions in her Venetian abode. Of course, this springboards a ridiculous plotline in which the Illuminati is behind a 5,000 year star alignment with Earth that is meant to expose the Triangle of Light, if viewed through the right artifact, that grants eternal power. Or some such hooey. No matter. Lara must traverse the globe, hurl herself headlong through a gauntlet of death-defying pitfalls and pratfalls, facing off with not just greedy humans, but also a horde of natural and supernatural creatures, in order to locate both halves of the Triangle relic. And do so with a skin tight tank top and pair of cargo Daisy Dukes!

Which, let’s be real, Angelina absolutely owns! It’s easy to cynically dismiss TOMB RAIDER as a big dumb action movie and nothing else. It is that, granted, but it also features one of Jolie’s most physically impressive turns to date. Not just in the way she looks – a buxom 25 year old at the height of her sexuality – but in the brutal toll she puts her beautiful body through. Such a tough character demands an even tougher performance, and frankly, Jolie has both the physical sexiness and sensuality as well as the brute, domineering force needed to make Lara Croft a three dimensional rendering of a two-dimensional videogame character. Honestly, Angie has it even more than Vikander does. What do you think?

I suppose we should talk about some of these silly set-pieces, ay? The standard is set in the opener, in which Lara does battle against a pissed off robot monster inside her ancient looking archaeological lair. We learn soon after it’s just a training session, but it lets us know what kinds of over the top action we’re in for the rest of the way. It isn’t long after that Croft is squeezing Uzi triggers while peeling out on a motor bike, or spelunking through ancient ruins, dangling from chandeliers, entering secret passageways, unlocking new worlds through fitted cogs, etc. I always dug the one in which Lara must jump on a swinging beam, puncture the giant idol-statue until it drains of its liquid and allows her to advance her course. That the statue animates, evilly attacks Lara and ultimately succumbs to her witty counterattack is an added bonus. Then of course there’s the Siberian mission, during which Lara is whisked through the snow by dogs as if on the Iditarod, only to arrive at a phalanx of ornate, octopus-like relics she has to properly sequence in order to achieve her mission. Sure there’s an overt artifice to it all, but damn the production design is impressive in its size, scope and level of detail.

Summarily, LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER is how a big, dumb, broadly appealing videogame tent-pole spectacle ought to be handled. Never feigning to take itself too seriously, the movie knows what it is and stays in its lane as such. The globe-trotting scenery is second to none, the fidelity to its videogame inspiration is pleasantly received, and most impressively, Angelina Jolie’s straight-faced dedication to the title character – never thumbing her nose at or mailing in her performance – is what ultimately makes the movie highly enjoyable to sit through. The movie may be unfathomably silly, but Jolie is not. I wonder if the new TOMB RAIDER with Alicia Vikander will have similar F*cking Black Sheep qualities. Do you?

STREAM LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER HERE

GET LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER ON DVD HERE

GET LARA CROFT: TOB RAIDER ON BLU-RAY HERE

 

Extra Tidbit: You a LARA CROFT fan or what?
Source: AITH

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