Even though the first Tomb Raider film was lambasted by critics, video game-inspired treasure seeker Lara Croft returns to her gun-toting, globe-trotting ways in The Cradle of Life. “This one is better,” Angelina Jolie says. “It’s smarter and sexier and a bit darker. The fans should be happier this time.” We’ll see. Once again, any plot is simply an excuse to string together action sequences. When an earthquake creates access to a submerged temple off the coast of Greece, fortune-hunters with opposing agendas converge in search of a golden orb able to direct them to the legendary Pandora’s box. The evil Jonathan Reiss deals biological weapons to the highest bidder, and believes unleashing the power of the box would be like exposing mankind to a virus for which there is no cure. So Lara tries to reach it first. She enlists the help of Terry Sheridan, an old flame doing hard time for treason. Their action-packed journey takes them to the jungles of Africa by way of Hong Kong. Of course, since Terry is a mercenary, it’s hard to know exactly where his loyalties lie.
Lara is loyal to her friends, and ultimately resists the temptation to recover Pandora’s box in the better interests of humanity.
A seaman suggests that a series of natural obstacles to their quest may mean that God doesn’t want the underwater temple found. The story is told of a king who made statues of warriors intended to protect him in the afterlife. The whole notion of Pandora’s box existing with all of its mythical power flies in the face of biblical creationism. Lara raises the question, “How do you think life began?” Her answer includes the idea that the same box spoken of in Greek mythology that “brought life to earth” contained a plague—an equal, yet opposite force capable of destroying life. Lara refers to this as “the Sunday school version,” though it’s doubtful any Sunday school teacher ever used a felt board to explain that. The fact that Pandora’s box exists in the context of the film implies that the story’s explanation of its origins may be accurate as well.
Imagine a female cross between Indiana Jones and James Bond with an exaggerated hourglass figure, bedroom eyes and pouty, collagen-enhanced lips. Then instill brooding hostility and a thrill-seeking spirit. That image as a noble bad girl makes Lara Croft both a symbol of female empowerment and 14-year-old male fantasies. And just like in the Charlie’s Angels films, it infuses a certain sexuality into the barrage of action violence. More specifically, Lara and Terry allude to their sexual history together with a few mild innuendoes. Both half-dressed, they kiss passionately and writhe on the floor before she handcuffs him to the bedpost (he assumes she’s getting kinky; she’s not). [Spoiler Warning] There’s a disturbing pairing of sexuality and violence at the end of the movie. After defeating Reiss, they kiss tenderly, but quickly find themselves rivals. Terry smacks Lara to the ground and she defends herself by shooting him dead.
Countless people are killed, mostly victims of shootouts. Two men have their throats cut. There are martial arts showdowns between Lara and the bad guys. Her friend’s boat is blown out of the water with him in it (implied). A Chinese crime boss attacks Lara with large swords before she finishes him off with a knife to the chest. She punches a shark in the snoot. Several people are pistol-whipped or shot at close range. Reiss infects a traitorous businessman with a fast-acting form of Ebola and watches dispassionately as the man vomits blood and dies. A villain falls into a pool of black acid that eats away his flesh (cheesy computer effects are used to show him thrashing about, skinless and tormented). Another presses Lara’s head down against a table covered in broken glass. Soldiers use automatic weapons to mow down natives. One tribesman hurls a spear into an attacker’s chest. Before being stabbed in the back, a thug has nasty bacteria sprayed into his eyes. Soldiers are snatched or devoured by grotesque monsters guarding Pandora’s box.
A mere seven profanities (one of which is the s-word). God’s name is used as an exclamation.
Alcohol is served at a wedding. People take pills containing an antidote to a deadly virus.
A slight improvement over the first film, Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life is the cinematic equivalent of getting blasted in the face with a Super-Soaker; it’s a stinging, immature assault that’s not terribly pleasant, but at least offers a brief escape from the summer heat. A few action scenes pack a “wow” factor. One tracks Lara and Terry as they leap from a skyscraper and glide to earth wearing only webbed suits—a stunt actually performed without the usual CGI sleight of hand. But overall what passes for adventure is a lot of running around, dodging bullets and avoiding falling debris. The kineticism is designed for mind-dulled action fanatics. It’s noisy, numbing eye candy that dares us to care a lick about what’s going on.
What bothered me most about The Cradle of Life is the same thing that has bothered me about a lot of recent action movies, including X2: X-Men United, Daredevil, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and The Matrix Reloaded. All of those films pit men and women against each other in brutal hand-to-hand combat, sometimes to the death and often with sexual overtones. In the interest of making women equal to men in every way, Hollywood has turned them into fierce warriors who trade kicks, punches and karate chops with guys. God’s Word and the vast majority of human history tell us that a healthy society should value and respect women. Cheapening ladies by lowering them to this level does just the opposite, especially when that violence is intercut with shots of females in skimpy or provocative outfits. In other words, if Angelina Jolie decides not to strap on her pistols for a third installment, the world will be better of for it.