Review: Tomb Raider movies

I remember being disappointed with the first Tomb Raider movie, though for the life of me I can’t figure out how my expectations for it were high enough to merit disappointment. It must have been bad enough of an experience that I didn’t rush out and see the sequel when it came out, but I guess it must have been good enough for me to keep the sequel on my To See Eventually list.

Or maybe it was just the thought of seeing more of Angelina Jolie running around in a tank top and hot pants.

Anyway, “eventually” finally arrived this week, and I even went back and re-watched the first one for context. They’re similar enough that in reviewing one, you’re really reviewing both, so I won’t differentiate much between the two here.

They’re not great films, but they’re fun to watch. Basically, they’ve taken all the cheesy things that I hate about the typical James Bond movie and put them into a new franchise. And that’s okay with me. Crazy gadgets and outrageous stunts aren’t inherently evil; they just don’t belong in a Bond movie. Give them to a beautiful woman with a great accent though, and I’m all for them. No one’s going to complain that you’re ruining the character of Lara Croft by adding that stuff. It’s mindless and it’s gratuitious, but sometimes you just want to see stuff blow up.

On the other hand, even when stuff is blowing up, it’s not too much to ask that it happen creatively. I mean, look at Die Hard. It’s the perfect example of an action movie that skillfully avoids being mindless. The Tomb Raider movies, on the other hand, follow a simple, uncreative recipe. Take an ancient artifact with immensely destructive power; add an organization of villains who hope to sieze that power and use it to take over the world; mix together with a complicated map that leads to the artifact; sprinkle with stunts, explosions, and cheap CGI.

Even though I don’t mind the stunts-and-explosions sprinkles, I do object to the uninspired plot and the cheap CGI. A major peeve of mine is when directors drop in CGI for something that I’ve already seen done a zillion times with real actors and props. For example, in Van Helsing there’s a scene where Hugh Jackman is supposed to leap from a speeding carriage onto the horses that are pulling it. How many times have you seen a real guy do that in ancient, low-budget Westerns? It’s inexcusable to substitute a CGI cartoon character for an actual stuntman in that scene. Same thing with the scene in Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life where Lara Croft fights a CGI shark. If Sean Connery can go up against real sharks in Thunderball, Angelina Jolie can do the same thing. Using CGI for that kind of stuff is lazy and insulting and it looks stupid.

I also object to the fact that in both movies, Angelina Jolie wears hot pants a total of one time, but that complaint comes from an entirely different source of motivation.

Having seen both movies now, I remember why I was disappointed in the first one. It wasn’t that I went into it with great expectations; it was that it was fun enough and sexy enough that I was let down when the plot (and characters, by the way) turned out to be unimaginative. And the sequel suffered the same problem.

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To Read: The Mark of Ran

A friend told me about Paul Kearney’s The Mark of Ran, so I checked out the Publishers Weekly review for it. They had me at “fantasy swashbuckler.”

The rest of the description in the review isn’t quite as compelling because it sounds like Kearney’s world is overly magical. I like just a teensy bit of magic in fantasy stories, otherwise the magic becomes mundane; just a substitute for technology. One of the great things about The Lord of the Rings is that not everyone went around casting spells. Magic was special. The description of The Mark of Ran talks about witchcraft, magical gods, magical races, and a magical sword. That’s a lot of magic for a one-paragraph review.

But then, it also talks about “the creak of ship’s timbers and the flash of live steel,” so I’m at least going to give it a chance to pass the 100-Page Rule.

Link du Jour: Matt Fraction

The other day I told you about the lovely and talented Kelly Sue DeConnick. Today’s link is to the blog of her hubbie, Matt Fraction.

Fraction got a lot of attention as the writer of the graphic novel Last of the Independents, but it wasn’t until his 30 Days of Night: Bloodsucker Tales story with Ben Templesmith that I read his work. That got me curious enough to want to try his next comic book series, Casanova, which turned out to be an insane dumping ground for idea after wonderful idea.

I wrote in a review somewhere that Fraction throws ideas onto the page like he’s never going to run out. And, of course, he’s not. But that doesn’t keep a lot of writers from being stingy with their ideas anyway and I love that Fraction’s not like that. It makes Casanova a brilliant adventure comic, and it makes me very interested in checking out Fraction’s new stuff for Marvel: Punisher War Journal and The Immortal Iron Fist.

Missed it by not at all

So, Warner Brothers is making a movie version of Get Smart. I never watched the show, but my wife and her family are big fans, and I’m very sensitive to the difficulty of finding an actor who can adequately fill the shoes of someone as distinctive as Don Adams. I mean, that would be like trying to find someone besides Peter Sellers to play Jacques Clouseau.

Maybe it’s because I’m a bigger fan of The Office than Get Smart, but I think they’ve done it in this case by hiring Steve Carell to play Maxwell Smart. He may not be interchangeable with Don Adams, but he’s funnier. And at least he’s not Matthew Broderick.

Link du Jour: Mark Evanier’s News from Me

If you’ve ever read Groo, you know that Mark Evanier is a very funny man. He’s also a great student and follower of pop culture, all of which comes in handy on his News from Me blog, a place for him to collect and comment on news from a variety of pop culture industries, from comics to TV and movies.

The only problem is that Evanier blogs faster than I can read, but whenever I’ve got a few minutes of free time, he’s always up on the latest stuff.

Link du Jour: The Alexandre Dumas père Web Site

One of these days, I’m going to have to sit down an make a bona fide list of my Top Five Favorite Novels of All Time. I’m pretty sure that The Three Musketeers is going to be on there though. It’s got swashbuckling adventure, historical figures, believable (yet larger-than-life) characters, mystery, horror, humor, and tragedy. I’m amazed at how well Dumas worked all of that into a single story and did it so flawlessly.

I’ve wanted to read more Dumas ever since I finished The Three Musketeers, but haven’t gotten around to it yet. When I do though, I’ll be using The Alexandre Dumas père Web Site as a resource.