So once again we have survived.

Summer Movie Flashback: Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life

tn_cradleoflifesmf2003As you know I am a scholar of the Big Summer Popcorn Movie, or whatever you want to call it. And I not only like to review the new ones but I like to look back at the old ones and figure out what’s what. We’re getting to the end of the summer movie season (which I consider to be May through August) but now that I’ve finished The Super-Kumite I think it’s time to start a new summer movie project. Fuck you, September. You don’t scare me.

This is what I’m gonna do. For each summer from 2003 until last year I’m gonna pick two movies to review: one that I never saw before, one that I’m revisiting. And as you can see I’m starting with THE CRADLE OF LIFE as the one I never saw before.

release date: July 25, 2003

It turns out I dig these LARA CROFT TOMB RAIDER movies. Maybe if I’d seen them at the time, on the big screen, as if they were gonna compete with the A-list summer blockbuster type movies, I would’ve been more critical of them. But ignoring them for ten years and then deciding to watch them out of curiosity really pays off I think. Sometimes you gotta let these things age in the cellar for a while.
Angelina Jolie returns as Lara, the British heiress and treasure-hunting adventurer with an expertise in acrobatics, occult history, sharpshooting, horse riding, motorcycling, parachuting, stickfighting, scuba diving, and everything else that exists. She’s a great pulpy character because they never get lazy about trying to show new ways that she’s awesome. She’s introduced showing up late to where boatloads of rival treasure-hunters have gathered for a potential windfall. She’s on a jet ski, and she intentionally splashes her crew, just to fuck with them. Also she does a flip.

still_cradleoflife_shark
And you see that there? It’s kinda dark but it’s to prove to you that this is a movie where the heroine punches a shark in the nose. That would be cool on its own, but it’s actually way better: she cut herself on purpose so the blood would attract the shark and she could ride him to the surface to escape a flooded, collapsing underground temple. That’s the kind of shit this lady does. She practices sharpshooting while riding a horse. She uses the Great Wall of China as a motorcycling shortcut. She fights Simon Yam first with her hands tied, then on top of an army of terra cotta warriors, then showing off her British military rifle tricks. She rappels down a cliff upside down while shooting at people. She jerryrigs a video phone in rural China. She jumps off the International Finance Center with a flying squirrel suit. She wears a cool jacket with a lion embroidered on the back. In my opinion she is ahead of her time.

still_cradleoflife_jacket
I mean, this lady is awesome. I think there were some other feats worth mentioning, I lost my notes. I think she parkoured onto a helicopter or something like that. And you know how the Bond movies have the Bond Girls? Lara Croft has her boys, and they had a perfect record for predicting future marquee names. The male lead in part 1 was Daniel Craig five years before CASINO ROYALE. The male lead in part 2 is Gerard Butler three years before 300. She even treats them like Bond treats women. In this one she has sex with the guy and then leaves him handcuffed to the bed. And (END SPOILER) she has to cap his ass at the end when he gets greedy. Even though she loves him.

Both Craig and Butler play untrustworthy backstabbing ex-lovers and rival adventurers. This guy, Terry, she gets released from a Kazakhstani maximum security prison. We first see him hanging from the ceiling in his cell, doing pushups (push downs?). MI6 has enlisted them to find Pandora’s Box before Nobel Prize winning scientist/notorious global terrorist Reiss (Cieran Hinds from Rome) does, because he wants to sell its contents as a weapon. So they’re fighting with him and a Chinese crime boss (Yam) over a glowing orb and a medallion and a bunch of shit like that. You know, they gotta read old books and figure out riddles and little puzzles and what not which leads to other things which leads to the treasure. The whole INDIANA JONES deal.

still_cradleoflife_motorcycles
Maybe my favorite pulpy aspect is she has implied backstories with maybe a half dozen supporting characters. She has friends all over the world. When she lands in rural China there’s a family who know her, love her, and keep two motorcycles for her (nice ones color coordinated to her and Terry’s jackets, by the way). When she goes to Africa she calls up an old friend (Djimon Honsou) while he’s driving. Her instructions for where to meet her are to keep driving straight – then she drops into his car on a parachute.

Whenever Lara is a stuntperson seen from the distance you can identify her from that long ponytail she has. I kept noticing this and then it’s used to great effect at the climax when Reiss hangs her down over a pit, forcing her to get the Box for him. The ponytail dips into the liquid around the Box and burns off, confirming that yes, that shit is acid. Using her iconic features to establish danger is great visual storytelling.

This one is directed by Jan de Bont, who got on alot of radars for directing SPEED (he’s also a hero for cinematographing DIE HARD) but almost immediately pissed away most of that goodwill. I’ll give him credit on this one, though. He took the goofy vibe Simon West had going in the first one and improved on it. He treats it just deadpan enough, shoots it nice, gets in some pretty good action, including lots of practical stunts. For example he lovingly lingers on footage of stunt people actually doing that jump off the skyscraper in Hong Kong, then parachuting onto a real boat (in fact, it looks like Jolie and Butler actually get lowered on for the landing, not greenscreened).

still_cradleoflife_parachute

Also I like the odd opening where we celebrate a wedding with a nice Greek family before it’s ruined by the earthquake that opens up the metaphorical Pandora’s Box of access to the literal Pandora’s Box.

THE CRADLE OF LIFE already feels kinda old, but in a good way, because it feels pretty organic compared to most movies now. Like in the first one there’s some CGI monsters toward the end, but they’re over with pretty quick, and the climax is between humans face-to-face.

It’s weird to think that Jolie was still married to Billy Bob Thornton while filming this. It was also around that time that she adopted a baby from Cambodia, having become invested in that country’s humanitarian crisis after filming there on the first LARA CROFT.

The sequel didn’t do as well as the first one, but well enough that they considered a part 3. Jolie said she was happy with this one and didn’t want to do another. Too bad, because if there was a third one I’d be excitedly looking forward to its tenth anniversary so I could check it out.


VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
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44 Responses to “Summer Movie Flashback: Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life”

  1. Wasn’t Til Schweiger the main henchman in this one and gets eaten by a monster or was that a different movie? It’s been so long since I saw it.

  2. Vern this is AWESOME! I love that your doing a summer flashback series again!

    for the record, when 2016 comes around could you do one for summer of 2006?

  3. Vern, reviewing movies long after the hype/hate has died down has always felt like the right thing to do for me. The first impression is rarely the one that sticks with you. And people very often change their mind after a while. In ten years time a lot of people will praise what they’ve just murdered here on your sight, believe you me.

    Yes, CJ, Til is one of the bad guys in this. And he’s called Sean, so I guess he’s not supposed to be German.

  4. and 2003, what a fucking year, am I right guys?

    I’m sorry for this one, but I can’t help but look back on 2002/2003 with a lot of fondness, yeah yeah yeah, I know we had that wascally ole Texan in office and that he started something really bad, but…..to be blunt, none of that had anything to do with me and to be frank, I had other more personal things to worry about

    let’s face it, I was young (12 and 13) and that’s just a fun age to be, old enough to know what’s going on around you but young enough to still have a childlike sense of wonder and freshness about life

    make no mistake, it was far from perfect, there was a LOT of bad family related shit going down at that time, but there two things that were really exciting about that era, the video games were great and anime was just starting to really take off in a big way in America

    you’re all probably feeling pretty damn old right about now, huh?

  5. I miss being young, in other words

  6. ok, I will expound a bit, let’s just say my pops was suffering from an AMERICAN BEAUTY style meltdown/midlife crisis that came within an inch of wrecking my parent’s marriage (but thank God, didn’t) and it was hard to care about what was going on tv when there was a real war right outside my bedroom door

  7. If you were 14 in 2003 you’re still way fucking young.

    I avoided these films at the time but remember watching the end of this one in a duty room somewhere just the bit where she agonises over slotting Gerard Butler – despite the lack of context I identified with this scene because I often want to love Gerard Butler, but then he does an ‘accent’ and I feel the need to shoot him in the face.

    Jolie’s career seemed hamstrung at this point in hindsight because she was such a media figure that any casting of her became stunt casting by default.

  8. I remember this one as being completely dull. I thought the first one was chintsy and stupid but Jolie was great in it, so I was hoping for more of a real-movie kind of vibe for this one. Which it did have but I thought it was pretty disappointing anyway. I guess I need to revisit it.

  9. This series idea pleases me. Why didn’t anyone tell me there was underwater wildlife punching in this? Well, I guess someone is telling me now, with photographic proof, but I feel like I should have known earlier.

    The internet tricked a lot of people into watching SHARKNADO, but this important 2003 shark-punching scene has remained a secret. Doesn’t make sense.

    I recently saw CYBORG 2 (1993) (<— that's the year of CYBORG 2's release, not the subtitular year that its makers in, like, 1989 assumed we'd be living in a cyborg-ridden futurescape), groundbreaking & historic for being Angelina Jolie's first feature film role. It's not very good, but I can't recommend the threequel CYBORG 3: THE RECYCLER enough. I feel like I've discovered a minor new MIAMI CONNECTION with THE RECYCLER, which also serves as a proto-analog-MANBORG.

    No Jolie, though, so let's stay on topic here people.

  10. “I think it’s time to start a new summer movie project. Fuck you, September. You don’t scare me.”

    I submit that “Fuck you, September. You don’t scare me” would be a superior title to “Summer Flashback” Or a sub-heading, even. I’m not fussy.

  11. Please do a retrospective of Hulk…

  12. “Fuck you, September. You don’t scare me” also sounds like the beginning of the potentially greatest rap song in history.

  13. Fuck you, September. You can suck my dick. You can’t get me, September, because you’re just God’s farts

  14. I won’t stand by idly while September is besmirched. September is my favorite month because it’s when summer, that most hateful, uncomfortable, and crazy-making time of year, finally rolls over and dies and I can start wearing shirts with collars and long sleeves like nature intended.

  15. While you’re finishing your t-shirt rumspringa, Mr Majestyk, I have to say that if you remember this movie as dull, you have to re-visit it. Now.

  16. *fistbumps Mr Majestyk in summer hater solidarity*

  17. Controversially, I am pro-August and pro-September.

    August 2003 was especially wonderful for me, as I broke in a new awesome apartment with a marvelously slutty, gorgeous blonde cocaine user named Jodi who had a penchant for either wearing a thong above her waistline or going pantiesless while wearing jeans that hung well below her waistline. She was a goddess and a saint and the reason I didn’t need Angelina Jolie’s short shortsed PG-13 video game fem-faux-Indy in my life, and this week is the 10 year anniversary of our fling. Sigh.

    September is great, especially after Labor Day, because that’s when, in my experience, the fewest number of tourists are in Las Vegas and my favorite California cities. Kids are in school all day and less likely to be out after hours, so the bro-ishness & overweening drunken immaturity of midweek amateur hour is mitigated. I can enjoy a pint at happy hour in peace, and can choose to make it an all-nighter kind of night if I want, without having to compete with elbows at the bar or wretched karaoke-ers on the mic.

    September is also the time of great baseball, and the beginning of the NFL season. The terrorists can never take this away. Only European citizenship can.

  18. Mouth, we have the month of September in Europe too.

  19. But we call it Royale With Cheese.

  20. And you can have a beer at McDonalds…

  21. But only in September.

  22. I think I like the first one better because it’s more Indiana Jones and less James Bond and the plot seems more like it was actually written for a Lara Croft adventure and less like a discarded Mission: Impossible plot that they repurposed. Lara Croft fighting some ancient cult is fine, Lara Croft fighting international terrorism like everybody else is just… I don’t know… less Lara-Croft-ey.

  23. grimgrinningchris

    August 14th, 2013 at 5:47 pm

    They let Jolie loose with her natural rack in this one and not the Lara Croft Lower-Up Super Boobs. Notice much less mention of her chest in this review than in Vern’s original Tomb Raider review.

  24. For some reason I always knew Jan De Bont as the director of SPEED 2: CRUISE SHIPS ARE PRETTY FAST, RIGHT? but I had no idea he directed the original too. I thought it was Tony Scott or somebody. I skipped LARA CROFT IS TOMB RAIDER IN THE CRADLE OF LIFE and didn’t really feel like I was missing anything, but now this review has me curious.

    Did anyone play that TOMB RAIDER reboot? I liked it quite a bit, although I wish there were more puzzles and less shooting and scripted action sequences. I was a bit leery of it because of the way it was marketed (making Lara young and weak and vulnerable etc), but it turned out about as empowering as a woman getting the shit kicked out of her for eight hours could possibly be.

  25. I was born in September, so it’s alright with me

    “as I broke in a new awesome apartment with a marvelously slutty, gorgeous blonde cocaine user named Jodi who had a penchant for either wearing a thong above her waistline or going pantiesless while wearing jeans that hung well below her waistline”

    mmmmmmmmmmm

  26. Griff, did you live in that apartment too? Are you the blonde Mouth was talking about?

  27. no, I was just imagining said sexy lady

  28. So I rewatched LARA CROFT: SHARK PUNCHER last night and it’s definitely better than I remembered. It’s still not all that exciting for some reason (all the action seems to be staged at 3/4 speed, and most of the money shots are obscured by that smudgy fake slow-mo that De Bont used to good effect in the first two LETHAL WEAPONS but always feel cheap and amateur in everything else) but there are some great sequences (the glider suits, the Hong Kong parkour, Simon Yam destroying his prized collection of terra cotta warriors for no good reason) that elevate it to a surprisingly laid-back good time.

    I hope they make another one with Jolie so video game nerds can expose their hideous misogyny when they complain that she’s no longer qualified for the role because she had breast cancer. I really want this to happen. It’ll be like TO CATCH A PREDATOR for sexist little shitstains.

  29. “I hope they make another one with Jolie so video game nerds can expose their hideous misogyny when they complain that she’s no longer qualified for the role because she had breast cancer. I really want this to happen. It’ll be like TO CATCH A PREDATOR for sexist little shitstains.”

    that would indeed be pretty damn hilarious

    that’s a sad situation though, I shed a single tear Native American on the side of the road style now whenever I watch those scenes from GIA, fuck cancer…

  30. caruso_stalker217

    August 16th, 2013 at 10:50 am

    Majestyk, de Bont only shot LETHAL WEAPON 3. Unsurprisingly, the smudgy slow motion effect was completely misused. Which reminds me that LW4 dispensed with the fake slo-mo shot, which I always thought was kind of a bummer. The fake slo-mo is integral to those films. As much as Mel and Danny, Dick Donner, Kamen/Clapton/Sanborn, the Murtaugh kids, the police psychiatrist. As integral as “too old for this shit” even. *Murtaugh saxophone cue*

    Even then, though, LW4 > LW3.

  31. Huh. I thought that De Bont did the first three LETHAL WEAPONs and that’s where TR2’s fondness for the fake slow-mo came from, like it was his authorial stamp or something.

    There was definitely some fake slow-mo shots in LETHAL WEAPON 4. I remember at least two: when Jet Li jumps over the banister in Murtaugh’s house and disassembles Riggs’ gun, and a shot when a car goes over the pier at the end.

    I’m kind of on the fence about LW3 > LW4. On the one hand, Jet is a better villain than Scowly McMustache, but 3 had better stunts (the entire exploding building being a highlight) and less comedy.

  32. I love all the LETHALS. I hate to pick a favourite, but I can see why some hate part 4.

  33. I think the first 2 LW´s are unseperable, like siamese twins. They are just perfectly executed in my opinion.

  34. There’s surely interest in the canonization of the important “Films In Which Human Beings and/or Zombies Engage Sharks In Underwater Combat” subgenre.

    If Vern ever desperately needs websight clicks, he can do a listicle, starting with
    Fulci’s ZOMBI 2,
    then a trip back to the very unfortunate but admittedly exciting-looking oceanic animal cruelty of THUNDERBALL,
    then a breakdown of Lara Croft vs. shark, a fight which becomes the ultimate cab ride.

    Comparisons to Conan vs. Camel could yield an interesting article.

    Which films will proudly represent the summer of 2004 in this series? My money is on

    MEAN GIRLS, because it’s awesome and because people enjoy talking about Lindsay Lohan, lamenting & passing judgment on her,

    and COLLATERAL, because it’s awesome and was released in August and because people enjoy talking about Tom Cruise, lamenting & passing judgment on him.

  35. Please no MEAN GIRLS. I have watched the trailer playing on a local network which airs the whole fucking thing frequently and it looks absolutely dreadful.

  36. MEAN GIRLS is not dreadful at all. It’s smart and funny and all the girls are crazy hot and pretty much everybody in the cast was perfect, even Tim Meadows. Even the White House is a fan: http://newsfeed.time.com/2013/08/13/the-white-house-made-a-mean-girls-joke-on-twitter-and-it-was-awesome/

    I know Vern tries to stay away from the comedies of hilarity but there’s enough sociological stuff going on in there that I think it would make a good review.

  37. It looked like a typical college comedy and I am allergic to those. They are past my bedtime.

  38. It’s a high school comedy, not a college comedy, and it’s not typical at all. In tone it’s closer to HEATHERS than whatever fratboy movies you might be thinking of.

  39. I don´t care if it is HEATHERS or THE BREAKFAST CLUB. Shit don´t fascinate me and never have.

  40. For 2005 obviously Vern should stretch the calendar rules and take another look at SERENITY (September release), this time blessedly absent of the brownjackets singing on the sidewalk or whatever nerd shit it was that spooked him back in the day.

    That was overall not a great year for the films of cinema, so I don’t know what else he could watch. I’m always down for more Weinstein bashing if he wants to revisit THE PROTECTOR / TOM YUM GOONG, another September 2005 release and a film/memory that gets us talking again about Tony Jaa and his many mysterious in-production projects that might never be released.

    2006 you got MIAMI VICE (July release), which I don’t want to overhype but has become in my opinion *the* monumental cinematic achievement of that year, surpassing APOCALYPTO.

    2007: ?
    (Please avoid RUSH HOUR 3.) (Forget I even mentioned it just now.)

    2008: RAMBO came out in January of 2008 and nothing else mattered after that, so Vern can skip this year in his series.

    2009: CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS was a September 2009 release. Not sure it fits the Big Summer Popcorn mold. It’s good action, though.

    2010: MACHETE revisit to prep for this fall’s MACHETE DON’T TWEET KILLS.

    2011: This was, like, yesterday.

  41. All i can say about LETHAL WEAPON 4 is i wish I saw it with this audience: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7D1CqVrGXdo

  42. That audience had to be the premiere screening. How could anyone be that shocked by the “surprise” turnabouts in the typical Mexican standoffs? I wish in saw it with them too. Their genuine excitement is amazing.

  43. I really hated this movie. And the first one is not much better. What wasted oportunities. They had the right actress, but the wrong writers, directors, producers, art department, composers, the whole enchillada.

  44. A clean fast is better than a dirty breakfast. insornerori

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