Rarely is a sequel better than its predecessor, but “Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life” is much better than “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” because it actually went back to the source material: Indiana Jones.

More on that below. The real news is that “Cradle of Life,” directed by Jan de Bont (“Speed” and “Twister”) is one of the few movies of the summer to live up to its hype. This Angelina Jolie-starrer has all the adventure, action and thrills that a popcorn movie should be legally required to contain.


We start in Greece and travel to England, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Kazakhstan and Kilimanjaro.


The story is rather straightforward: Alexander the Great buried an orb in his Luna temple—an orb that is actually a map to the “cradle of life,” where humanity began. And within the cradle of life lies Pandora’s Box, which houses a sort of “anti-life” plague capable of destroying the planet.


The villain is Jonathan Reiss (Ciaran Hinds), a biological weapons designer who wants the orb … to get the box … to use the plague for his own devilish ends. All this exposition is nicely laid out for the audience when a couple of security agents from MI-6 appear at the Croft manor.


And that scene is the first real clue as to what “Cradle of Life” really is: “Raiders of the Lost Ark” with the dust brushed away. In Steven Spielberg’s 1981 masterpiece (also a Paramount Picture), a couple of G-men badger Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones for help. They want him to procure an ancient artifact—the Ark of the Covenant—before Hitler and the Nazis do.


So Jones hooks up with a long-lost love interest to begin his quest; and Croft hooks up with a long-lost love interest to begin hers. Jones travels the globe, battling another raider; and Croft travels the globe, battling another raider. Jones and companion wind up on a ship for a romantic liaison; and Croft and companion wind up on a ship for a romantic liaison.


When Jones finally encounters his treasure, he develops a new respect for its power and place in history; and when Croft encounters hers, the comparison hardly breaks down. “Some things are not meant to be found,” she says, revealing an arc akin to Jones’.


Of course, the pictures exhibit some genuine differences—Croft’s gadgetry, for example. But quite a few of Croft’s story points match those of her archeological predecessor, and in the final analysis, so what? It’s summer, the studios are banking on blockbusters, and if they can’t achieve financial remuneration starting with a blank page, they might as well “appropriate” ideas from a previous hit.


Furthermore, “Cradle of Life” is infinitely better having unearthed “Raiders of the Lost Ark” than if it had sifted through the fractured pieces of “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.”


The action sequences in “Cradle of Life” are fantastic: a battle underneath the Mediterranean’s cool surface, a motorcycle race across China’s rocky terrain, a skydive from a Hong Kong skyscraper, hand-to-hand combat amid a terra cotta warrior excavation, and the occasional but impressive leaps, kicks, somersaults and generic derring-do.


Jolie nails Lara Croft in the sequel. Whereas director Simon West chose, in the first film, to convey Croft’s cool through a melodramatic gait, de Bont chooses to establish Croft in more inventive ways. For example, Croft’s character is perfectly encapsulated in a few brief moments at her manor, as she gallops on her steed, taking target practice as heavy metal music underscores her unique blend of gentility, adventure, edginess and supreme cool.


The picture got a PG-13 rating for “action violence and some sensuality.” It earned that rating, as there’s no shortage of bullets and fists. Nor is there a shortage of product placement.


Panasonic and Jeep, whose logos also appear on the movie’s Web site, garner the most attention. In fact, Regal Entertainment Group has refused to exhibit the movie in some venues because Paramount, which made a deal with Jeep that included lobby advertisements, refused to share the proceeds.


“Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life” far surpasses the “original” from 2001. From beginning to end, it’s a globe-trotting adventure.


Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.


Visit the official Web site.


See our review of “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider


MPAA Rating: PG-13 for action violence and some sensuality

Director: Jan de Bont

Writer: Dean Georgaris

Cast: Lara Croft: Angelina Jolie; Terry Sheridan: Gerard Butler; Jonathan Reiss: Ciaran Hinds; Hillary: Chris Barrie; Bryce: Noah Taylor; Kosa: Djimon Hounsou.


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