When Angelina Jolie appeared recently on TV's The Daily Show, she admitted not being pleased with her first Lara Croft movie. "But this time we got it right," she told host Jon Stewart. I agree wholeheartedly with Jolie -- on both counts. I found Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life a much better film than its predecessor, Tomb Raider. In fact, I think this sequel is the most exciting action/adventure film since The Mummy.
How often do we see a movie heroine who's brave enough to punch a ferocious shark in the nose, then hitch a ride on its back? Or one with courage enough to dive off a skyscraper and float through the air over an entire city before opening her parachute? Or one more interested in saving the world than in pleasing her materialistic boyfriend?
Although Lady Croft (Jolie), the intrepid British archeologist of video game fame, did some amazing things in her original film outing, I never felt she was in much danger. It all seemed too unreal. But director Jan de Bont (Speed) worked his magic here and changed all that for me. Of course, I'm sure he had help from the screenwriters, one of whom (James Hart) also worked on the humanistic film adaptation of Tuck Everlasting.
I'm also happy to see this Lara Croft adventure featuring a more dastardly villain than the first one. Ciaran Hinds portrays Dr. Jonathan Reiss, a bio-terrorist out to find Pandora's Box (you thought that was mythical, didn't you?) in order to unleash all kinds of plague and pain -- as part of his plan to establish an elite group made up of people who can afford to pay for the antidote. Hinds (Road to Perdition) has a way of looking down his nose at everyone, and he makes his character simply ooze contempt and hatred, most of all for Lara Croft. He's a worthy adversary for our heroine - but, rest assured, Lara will leave no exotic location unexplored, no cliff unclimbed, and no stunt undone to stop this evil man and his nefarious plan.
Lara even stoops to accepting help from Terry Sheridan (Gerard Butler), an untrustworthy former lover serving time in prison. Why? Because she knows he has contacts among the group now controlling the "Orb," a beautiful glowing ball which contains the map to Pandora's Box. Butler continues to surprise me with his versatility. I first noticed his screen charisma in Dracula 2000 (he played the title role) and couldn't believe he was the same actor in TV's Attila (title role again). I didn't recognize him right away in Cradle either, but I was impressed with how quickly this Scottish actor drew me into his performance and kept me guessing about his character's motivation.
Cradle of Life deserves kudos for its stunning and creative special effects. For example, when huge trees seemed to sprout monstrous creatures during a sequence in an African forest, it almost frightened me out of my wits. And, in another amazing scene, a man's facial features and arm dissolve in a pool of acid-like liquid. Horrific -- but eye-popping.
However, the most stunning special effect in Cradle is Jolie herself. With her crisp British accent, perfect figure, intriguing face (shown in plenty of close-ups!), and athletic performance, she's great fun to watch. Yes indeed. Jolie did get Lara Croft right this time.
(Released by Paramount Pictures and rated "PG-13" for action violence and some sensuality.)