I eased myself into the New Year by watching a trio of films based on computer games and with strong female leads.
DOA: Dead or Alive (2006)
Like Charlie’s Angels, but with more women and less clothes. Though she’s no Mark Kermode, star Holly Valance nailed the film’s appeal in an interview included with the bonus material – ‘Girls like it because we get to kick butt, and guys like seeing cute girls in bikinis’, or words to that effect. She also revealed that, during the shoot for the four minute net ball tournament, she got through thirty bikinis. I’m really not sure how that happens.
The toughest fighters in the world are invited to a secret island to compete in a tournament to see who is the supreme champion, among them Devon Aoki who is looking for her missing brother, Jaime Pressley, Sarah Carter and Ms Valance. But of course bad guy Donovan (Eric Roberts) has a secret agenda and is collecting information on the fighters for his own ‘super soldier’ programme, which will be sold to various criminal organisations and terrorist states. Naturally, after the requisite fisticuffs and free for alls, the ladies beat the crap out of him.
It feels exploitative, with the skimpy costumes meant to appeal to a certain demographic (of which I’m a part), and, though I’m no martial artist, I’d imagine them totally impractical for this kind of fighting. Interesting too how nobody ever gets bruised or seriously hurt, despite going through stuff that you’d expect to break just about every bone in a normal body. But of course realism isn’t an issue in any action movie, and regardless of their attire these women aren’t pushovers, holding their own both in combat and elsewhere. There’s plenty of wire work, the choreographed fight scenes bordering on aerial ballet at times, some moments of humour, a half decent story and, yes, lots of cute girls in bikinis. I’ll file it under guilty pleasure for sad, middle-aged men.
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)
Angelina Jolie as Lara is no pushover either, and she has a more substantial wardrobe, which I put down to the exigencies of being an English milady and living in a stately pile. Early on this film reminded me of Indiana Jones, with Lara in competition with rival tomb raider Alex West (Daniel Craig), and it was something I could never quite get past. Coerced into helping the Illuminati locate an ancient artefact that can manipulate time, at the end Lara must choose between bringing her dead father back from the grave and saving the life of West, who isn’t really all that bad once you get past the whole double-crossing people and related character defects. She decides on the latter course, thus ensuring the future of the James Bond franchise.
The story isn’t especially original, and I’m really rather tired of the whole ‘science of the ancients’ thing (people who couldn’t come up with a flush toilet could manipulate time – yeah, right), but it’s simply a pretext for some over the top action set pieces, and as far as that goes the film delivers in triplicate, with all of its budget up there on the screen, and the final, furious battle inside the ‘cave of secrets’ providing an eminently watchable climax. Jolie hands in a more than acceptable performance, combining a sense of her own superiority with an engaging touch of vulnerability, and throwing in some lively interplay with her two male assistants, a raised eyebrow butler of the Jeeves school and a computer nerd with a robot fetish. Craig is the weak point of the film, looking rather weedy (he bulked up for Bond) and not at all suitable as a past love match for Jolie, but I guess we all have mistakes in our past where romance is concerned. Acting laurels go to Iain Glen as the ruthless Manfred Powell, a would-be megalomaniac with godhood delusions, willing to stab anyone in the back to further his plans. Films like this need a memorable baddie, and Tomb Raider got one in Mr Powell. I liked it rather more than not.
The same three leads, Lara and her two henchmen, are back for the sequel, which I’m not quite so keen on, even though it has a bigger budget and longer running time. The problem is that it’s pretty much the same story, but with different stunts and locales, and the names changed to protect against accusations of self-plagiarism. This time the ancient artefact is no less than Pandora’s Box. This time the bad guy is rogue bio-arms dealer Reiss (an impressive Ciaran Hinds) who wishes to use it to unleash a deadly plague. This time the former lover turned helpmate is bully boy Terry Sheridan (Gerard Butler, looking far more the part than Craig). And once again Lara must make a terrible decision at the end that makes emotional demands of her as well as physical. Oh, it all looks rather splendid – the opening search for treasure in a drowned temple, the various firefights with Reiss and his cohorts, the spectacular escape from a tall building, the battle against invisible and unearthly entities etc – but throughout you have the feeling that you’ve seen it all before, even though you haven’t. I liked it in a muted sort of way, but if it was a woman I went out on date with I wouldn’t bring it home to meet my teddy bear.