Thursday, November 30, 2006

Review: Tomb Raider movies

I remember being disappointed with the first Tomb Raider movie, though for the life of me I can't figure out how my expectations for it were high enough to merit disappointment. It must have been bad enough of an experience that I didn't rush out and see the sequel when it came out, but I guess it must have been good enough for me to keep the sequel on my To See Eventually list.

Or maybe it was just the thought of seeing more of Angelina Jolie running around in a tank top and hot pants.

Anyway, "eventually" finally arrived this week, and I even went back and re-watched the first one for context. They're similar enough that in reviewing one, you're really reviewing both, so I won't differentiate much between the two here.

They're not great films, but they're fun to watch. Basically, they've taken all the cheesy things that I hate about the typical James Bond movie and put them into a new franchise. And that's okay with me. Crazy gadgets and outrageous stunts aren't inherently evil; they just don't belong in a Bond movie. Give them to a beautiful woman with a great accent though, and I'm all for them. No one's going to complain that you're ruining the character of Lara Croft by adding that stuff. It's mindless and it's gratuitious, but sometimes you just want to see stuff blow up.

On the other hand, even when stuff is blowing up, it's not too much to ask that it happen creatively. I mean, look at Die Hard. It's the perfect example of an action movie that skillfully avoids being mindless. The Tomb Raider movies, on the other hand, follow a simple, uncreative recipe. Take an ancient artifact with immensely destructive power; add an organization of villains who hope to sieze that power and use it to take over the world; mix together with a complicated map that leads to the artifact; sprinkle with stunts, explosions, and cheap CGI.

Even though I don't mind the stunts-and-explosions sprinkles, I do object to the uninspired plot and the cheap CGI. A major peeve of mine is when directors drop in CGI for something that I've already seen done a zillion times with real actors and props. For example, in Van Helsing there's a scene where Hugh Jackman is supposed to leap from a speeding carriage onto the horses that are pulling it. How many times have you seen a real guy do that in ancient, low-budget Westerns? It's inexcusable to substitute a CGI cartoon character for an actual stuntman in that scene. Same thing with the scene in Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life where Lara Croft fights a CGI shark. If Sean Connery can go up against real sharks in Thunderball, Angelina Jolie can do the same thing. Using CGI for that kind of stuff is lazy and insulting and it looks stupid.

I also object to the fact that in both movies, Angelina Jolie wears hot pants a total of one time, but that complaint comes from an entirely different source of motivation.

Having seen both movies now, I remember why I was disappointed in the first one. It wasn't that I went into it with great expectations; it was that it was fun enough and sexy enough that I was let down when the plot (and characters, by the way) turned out to be unimaginative. And the sequel suffered the same problem.

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