There are some good scenes in "Laura Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life," one takes place in the beginning and the other in the end. The rest is filler, unoriginal action fodder featuring a female Indiana Jones and villainous bad guys out to control the world.
But maybe calling Laura Croft (Angelina Jolie) a female Indiana Jones is saying too much. For a tomb raider, she does a lot less raiding and a whole lot more extreme sports. In the begging though, she does explore an underwater temple in search of a mysterious orb that contains the map pointing to the location of Pandora's Box. For the first half of the exploration, the temple is somehow watertight for unexplained reasons, until midway when the overbearing weight of the ocean above starts cracking the pillars quickly flooding the temple. Unable to use her inoperable underwater transporter, Croft cuts her wrist with a blade, attracting the attention of a nearby shark who is eventually used as a taxi to bring her to the service. As Croft was slitting her own wrist, I could only think about how painful it must have been to resurface in such conditions; her ears must have been popping like crazy.
Her failed attempt at capturing the orb from the temple where it was hidden by Alexander the Great puts it in the hands of Dr. Jonathan Reiss (Ciaran Hinds), the villain who will use it to find Pandora's Box and wipe out humanity with it, somehow saving him and few worthy others in the process. Now without the orb, Croft starts her quest to find it. As we are told, the box arrived from unknown origins in outer space, and was discovered in 2300 B.C. in a place called the Cradle of Life that is guarded by angry spirits and local tribes.
Croft's companion is Terry Sheridan (Gerard Butler), an ex-prisoner who was freed by Croft in exchange for his tour guiding services. Together they will literally travel the world and end up on more than continent in search of Pandora's Box. But don't expect her to do any tomb raiding, or any raiding for that matter except for in the scene I've already described that takes place in the beginning.
The stunts are impressive as long as you don't expect anything mind-blowing or revolutionary. Some of the stuff Croft does: infiltrates a secret lab hidden in a Asian mall, floats to the ground from the top of a skyscraper when her clothes transform into a wearable parasail, undetectably pole-vaults onto a helicopter and implants a tracking device, and parachutes into a moving jeep from an aircraft thousands of feet in the air.
All of this stuff is pretty good and it all happens before the location changes to the continent of Africa. I had some major issues during the parasailing scene that shows Croft gracefully floating down to earth. What leads up to that is foot pursuit through the building. Croft and Sheridan are running from the bad guys who have been given the orders to kill them. But when Croft and Sheridan find themselves cornered, the simply pull the ripcord and float off the side of the building while the thugs simply stare at them with their guns at their sides. Why don't they just shoot them? Anyway, the bad guys are then simply told to "follow them." I guess it's an unmentioned rule in Hollywood that you don't fire at gravity-defying persons.
Eventually, upon learning the location of Pandora's Box after decoding the orb, she heads for Africa. Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you that she eventually reclaims the orb, but I haven't given away anything crucial because the real objective is obtaining Pandora's Box, the orb is just the map and first part of the plot.
We now go to the parachuting scene where Croft lands in the Land Rover belonging to her other companion, Kosa (Djimon Hounsou), a tribal member who can speak the language of the tribe who must grant Croft access into the caverns where the box is located. Reiss is hot on the pursuit, bringing along his army of nameless crooks. The scene that takes place in the cavern is the second good scene in the film. We quickly learn that Croft and the thugs aren't the only ones present in the caves. It appears to be guarded by shadow-like creatures, and they don't like company.
The CGI beasts first appear out of place because they are the only fantasy characters (unless you count everyone else too, which is an argument in itself) in the film, and it takes place near the end as if it were a different movie altogether. The creatures disappear and reemerge at will, snatching up nameless victims so they don't reach Pandora's Box. Few will of course, and a final showdown will take place.
Angelina Jolie is the right pick for this role. She's got the sexiness required to fit the pants, literally, but also the desire to bring the famed videogame character to life. According to the Internet Movie Database, she did her own stunts in the first film, which shows her commitment to the series. But if you haven't seen the first one, don't worry about getting lost, it isn't a prerequisite as the two different plots don't depend on each other.
"Laura Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life" isn't a bad movie. In fact I kind of liked it, although in the end I can't completely recommend it. Action fans might still be craving end of summer mindless flicks, and this is one of the smarter ones. I would have liked more exploration; more tomb raiding, because that would have required more thinking and originality, and less special effects we are all too familiar with.