Kam and I went to see Tomb Raider 2: The Cradle of Life last night. Short version of review: much fun.
It would be easy to leave it at that; the movie is fluff, with lots of over-the-top action sequences, lots of witty dialogue, and a great sense of fun. It certainly shouldn't be taken too seriously.
And yet, I think there are some interesting things below the surface here, particularly with regard to class, sexuality, and power, particularly when comparing this movie to, say, the Bond movies.
I don't have time (or, really, a clear enough idea of what I want to say) to go into a lot of detail about this. But I think it's interesting that both Bond and Croft come from the British aristocracy, bred to power and money and authority, and they have roughly similar jack-of-all-trades physical skills, but certain things about them are very different—and I think that's partly because one's male and one's female (and thus American audiences have different ideas about what's acceptable for each of them), but partly because of differences in the characters and perhaps in the actors. I should note that I'm talking about the Brosnan Bond here, because he's my ideal of what the Bond character should be; those who prefer Connery, in particular, may violently disagree with my assessments of the differences.
WARNING: spoilers for TR2 ahoy!
The most obvious difference, I think, has to do with sexuality. Both Bond and Croft are sexy, but Bond is sexy in a cool stylish stereotypically upper-class way, while Croft is sexy in a show-a-lot-of-skin stereotypically working-class way. (The following sentence contains the biggish TR spoiler I mentioned above. This is your last warning.) Bond sleeps with every woman who crosses his path, which causes them to fall in love with him and him to gain power over them; Croft manages to be both tempting and entirely unattainable, using her sex appeal to cause a man to be interested in her and therefore to let her have power over him, without actually having sex with him. (Which looks a little like a couple of annoying cliches/stereotypes about women using sex to gain power, but somehow it seems more intriguing than annoying to me in this movie.)
Beyond that, Bond has plenty of loyal servants (well, okay, and colleagues) everywhere he goes, people who've been hired to work for him or who are nominally on the same side; Croft has (and makes) friends everywhere she goes, people who appear to honestly like and respect her, and she actively dislikes MI6.
And Bond has a sense of sport, of challenge; but Croft has a sense of fun. One of my favorite moments in the movie involves (very minor spoiler) her using a piece of chewed bubblegum for something, and then licking her fingers as she moves on to her next task—not emphasized, just an unremarkable character action. Bond shows off to impress people; I get the impression that Croft shows off just because it's fun.
(They've both got a strong amoral streak overlaid on what I think is a deep loyalty to Good in general and England in particular. But Bond's amorality is more elegant and sleek, while Croft's feels more rough-and-tumble to me, more streetwise maybe. Here's the biggest difference between, say, Connery and Brosnan, I think: Connery's Bond doesn't (didn't) have the same polished sleekness. Which is what I think a lot of people like about him.)
Anyway, I can't help feeling that a lot of this comes back to social class. In some hard-to-define way, it seems to me that Bond acts like an aristocrat, and Croft acts like someone who'd be at home in prisons and back alleys. Am I projecting too much of what I've heard of Joline's reputation? Perhaps.
I should note that I don't intend value judgments here. I like both styles a great deal; both are fun, and sexy, and I've liked all the recent Bond movies and both the Tomb Raider movies. I'm a little chagrined at how much the target audience I am for these things; my intellectual snobbery thinks I should like Merchant/Ivory productions more than action/adventure movies. But tastes are tastes, and there's no accounting for 'em.
Btw, I'm very pleased that there are getting to be more female action heros, and that the American public seems to like the movies that feature them, which I imagine means there'll probably be more to come.