Anticipation for a summer blockbuster film can be a killer as more often than not they're a let down - indeed those keenly looking forward to this may be a little disheartened. I however was really looking forward to it six months ago, but the more and more I saw the trailers and heard the bad word coming in from the US the less and less interested I was, to the point where I wasn't too excited when going in to see it - which turned out to be a benefit I think.
"Tomb Raider" is the first watchable popcorn film of Summer, sure its full of faults but its the first time in a while I've been swept up in the sheer craziness and spectacle that I didn't care about the bad script or flat characters - not to mention the three million leaps in logic that are taken. "Pearl Harbor" was enjoyable for 30 minutes of its three hour runtime, "The Mummy Returns" failed to engage me altogether, and the less said about "Evolution" the better ("Shrek" and "Moulin Rouge" are still on a pedestal, and I've yet to see "A Knight's Tale" or "Swordfish").
In comparison TR manages a solid hour of engaging Summer movie, the weakest spots being most of the first act and the pasted together ending - the middle is actually quite fun thanks to some superb action sequences. Its probably because its not only based on a computer game, but also the crazy fantasy elements in it (ranging from stone monkeys to time travel) mean it can get away with a lot more contrivances than something like "Pearl Harbor", and doesn't have a higher standard to live up to like "The Mummy Returns" did to its predecessor. Make no mistake a good film adaptation of a computer game has yet to be made, but TR is an improvement over the likes of "Mortal Kombat" and the woeful "Street Fighter".
The weakness are quite apparent and will certainly stick out more on repeat viewings. The plot is barely there with certain points repeated so adnauseum its annoying. The subplot with Lara's father proved the real weak point of the movie, and a real step down for Jon Voight with one of the worst parts he's played in a while - and I don't mean over the top bad such as the very enjoyable part he did in "Anaconda", I mean just plain boring.
On top of that is the very weird way pretty much everyone around the world knows Lord Croft, whilst jasmine flowers just happen to be right near Lara at every turn - very weak. Jolie is great and really makes Lara her own - you never really think of her as Jolie pretending to be Lara in this, she actually fits the role perfectly which helps her tread over some woeful dialogue at times.
Noah Taylor is kind of annoying as the tech genius who works with her but its always fun to see a great comic like Rimmer-himself Chris Barrie ("Red Dwarf") doing something, even if he's totally underused for comic relief (something the film lacked overall). The other characters however are flat as tacks esp. rival tomb raider 'Alex' and executive assistant 'Pimms' who were just uninteresting, only Iain Glen as the villain Powell saves any face due more in part to his talent than his character which is as dull as everyone else.
The story is cobbled together simply with no real mystery, though an interesting premise - but toward the end it suddenly becomes confusing when time travel becomes a factor and all sorts of surreal moments from running along a pyramid to a "you can see it a mile off" reunion scene takes place which just have no point or make no sense. The action however proves the film's saving grace ranging from the kick off sequence with the robot, to the bungee scene and so on.
Pretty much everything done in Cambodia worked real well and though there were some cheesy stereotype style shots of the locals, there's also some great 'glory shots' of the real life Angkor Wat temples (albeit about 2 seconds long) which are amazing to this day. The action in Iceland also proves pretty good though not as strong, in both cases though the temple sets - while intricate, feel very sound stagey. FX wise its a mix with some really good CG bits like the robot, along with some really bad ones such as the triangle parts and the liquid in the Cambodian temple.
As I said the problems are numerous but hell, I had fun anyhow. In a weak summer so far for action blockbusters, this proves a somewhat of a standout (whereas in a normal Summer it'd be in the back of the line). As popcorn films go its about equally halfway between the quality of the quite good fun "The Mummy" and the woeful "The Mummy Returns". Not something to rush out and see, but outside of the superior "Shrek" and "Moulin Rouge" its probably the safest bet at the multiplex right now. Its a wild fantasy brought to life and for what it is, succeeds about half the time.