Let's get one thing straight: Angelina Jolie is awesomely good as Lara Croft. Forget about the fact that, physically, she's perfect for the part (from the upper-class pout to the buxom physique, she is the game come to life) and look at the way she plays the role.
Yes, she's a toned-up action goddess with huge breasts, but it's the balls she brings to the role that deserve attention. Her Croft is gorgeous and funny, but those qualities just float on the surface. Rippling underneath are powerful currents of adreno-addiction and a love of violence that borders on the sickly orgasmic. It's heady, powerful stuff, and Jolie - - don't forget that this woman has an acting Oscar on the mantlepiece - - pulls it off with brash confidence.
So Lara's a great character. It's just a shame the movies she's been slotted into are so shoddy. The first Tomb Raider was weak and watery at best. A few edgy moments and two stand-out action sequences aside (the opening scrap with a training robot and that bungee battle against gun-toting home invaders), it never rocketed along with the conviction that an action movie needs. A Sunday stroll rather than a 100m sprint.
You'd expect all that to get sorted out in the second movie, wouldn't you? You'd be wrong. Truth is, Tomb Raider 2 is a very dull movie indeed.
What's most frustrating is that Cradle Of Life so obviously could have been a stone-cold winner. Every single element needed for a classic summer crowd-pleaser was clearly ticked off the list during filming. It's just a shame that they then went on to bollocks this raw material up so badly in post-production.
Take the performances. We've already covered Jolie but she's also given perfectly solid support from the rest of an accomplished cast. Ciarán Hinds turns on the slime as evil scientist Reiss, out to use Pandora's Box to create a global plague. Meanwhile, Gerard Butler is seedy and sexy as Terry Sheridan, a former Croft lover-turned-traitor whom Lara has to recruit to help her nick the box out from under Reiss.
As they globetrot in search of the elusive box, second-unit stunt co-ordinator Simon Crane crafts the bare bones of some blinding action sequences. Parachute leaps off high buildings, shoot-outs in underwater caverns, motorbike chases along the Great Wall of China, martial-arts scraps in deserted caves... Crane is a geezer who's been walking the walk for the Bond films for donkey's years. He knows what makes for a great action sequence - and he delivers the goods in potential grand style.
So what went wrong? The blame has to fall squarely on the shoulders of helmer Jan De Bont, who has taken a ton of truly promising raw footage and made a royal balls-up of assembling it into a film.
Bizarre editing choices suck the oooh-factor out of big set-pieces, dramatic moments are spoilt by cutting away too suddenly or hanging around too long, punchlines (both to gags and scraps) get lost as the rhythm of scenes are destroyed by De Bont's pathological unwillingness to stop bleedin' fiddling with the material. It's as if the confident director of Speed (one of the most elegant-but-simple of high-concept actioners) has turned into a twitchy, uncertain wreck. And so has his movie...
Perhaps the biggest mistake of all is the choice of Alan Silvestri's music. Now Silvestri is undoubtedly a class act, but the score he delivers here is mystifyingly out of place. Crammed full of soaring strings and orchestral fluttering, it squats on top of the action rather than enhances it. Far be it from us to suggest that all big actioners should be smothered under chart-friendly tracks selected as much for their ability to flog tie-in CDs as push the action along, but surely Lara's a rock chick, not a philharmonic fuddy-duddy? Good use of music can resurrect second-rate action; bad music only pounds it further into the grave.
Throw in a drivelling, everything-turns-into-a-computerised-effect ending and you're left wondering just what the future holds for Lara Croft. Forget hunting for Pandora's Box or the triangle of time... She should really start searching for a director who can do her big-screen justice before it's too late. If it isn't already.