Something that I noticed while watching the ads for "Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life" was that there wasn't really that much action and what there was seemed fairly ordinary. Maybe it's just that action scenes in recent films have been racheted up to a remarkable level of complexity. Maybe the action scenes in this film weren't that well-handled. Maybe a little bit of both.
In the second film's favor is the fact that the film is handled in a completely different manner than the original. While the first film was a bright, loud, energetic sugary actioner, this film makes attempts to have a story that's a tiny bit more substancial and a more serious tone. While it's admirable to try and make the overall film less action lite, there's a point where that's taken too far, and that certainly happens here. Although the fact that everything is taken more seriously this time, the one-liners, energy and fun of the original are missed. This film is never dull, but it feels like it's checking off scenes rather than throwing itself into them.
The story isn't anything terribly new - Lara saves the world once again, this time from a scientist who is seeking Pandora's box, in order to unleash its horrors upon the world. So starts a race between the scientist and Lara to first unlock the location within an orb, then to actually find the thing. Despite the attempts to make a somewhat more substancial story this time around, this is clearly more an action movie than anything. Unfortunately, new director Jan De Bont ("Speed", "Haunting") doesn't manage to reach the heights of the action sequences of the first film. Although it's pleasing that the action here isn't hyper-edited into oblivion, nothing here manages to equal the bungee cord battle around Lara's mansion in the first film. The only over-the-top moment that registers is a goofy scene where Jolie finds herself stranded underwater. She manages to punch an angry shark and hitches a ride on its fin to the surface. Other scenes, such as a fight in a market square in Shanghai full of neon signs, doesn't manage much suspense or, well, speed. A horseback scene and a motorcycle sequence are action scenes without the action, as there's noone following the action. As a result, they seem pointless. As with the first film, there's little sense of danger, as it's never in question whether or not Lara will triumph.
In terms of technical credits, I was surprised to be rather uninimpressed with the film. There are some sets throughout the picture that looked distractingly like cheap sets, rather average CGI effects and cinematography that's straightforward and plain. There's also an overreliance on slow-motion - and not even sleek, smooth or effective slow-motion - that seems dated. Although the fact that the ending looks like some sort of Tim Burton outtake is neat, it's a mess story-wise. Although De Bont offered strong efforts on memorable action features ("Hunt for Red October", "Die Hard"), he's never managed to replicate the kind of action thrills that he did with those films or "Speed". "Twister" even managed a few thrills. "Cradle of Life" is nowhere near as horrendous as De Bont's "Haunting" (or "Speed 2", which I almost forgot about), but it's still one of those movies that had potential to be better.
Jolie seems a bit more at home in the character this time around and plays Croft with a somewhat greater (at least compared to the first film) range of emotion. She's a bit less wise-cracking this time around, playing the character as if she really means business. Gerard Butler does a decent job playing a rogue agent pulled from a jail sentence to be Croft's guide through China/love interest. Unfortunately, we hear less from Croft's regular assistant, Bryce (Noah Taylor) and butler, Hillary (Chris Barrie).
I suppose it was a fair idea to take Lara Croft a bit more seriously and build a somewhat larger (if still awfully familiar) tale for her. Still, the filmmakers have gone about things in the wrong way. Lara's seriousness makes for a humorless and rather joyless experience through stretches of "Cradle of Life" and despite De Bont's experience with the action genre, there's not a single action sequence here that stands out. Hopefully next time - if there is a next time - Lara can strike a better balance between drama and action.