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A new Tomb Raider movie is opening this weekend. It won’t be the last, and not because it’s destined to produce sequel after sequel; it won’t be the last because if this version of Tomb Raider doesn’t work, wait five or ten or fifteen years, and someone will try again. That there is a 2018 Tomb Raider starring Alicia Vikander feels, in some ways, like an act of almost religious faith in brand names; the original movie series, based on the popular video game series, starred Angelina Jolie not long after she won an Oscar, started off with one of the biggest domestic grosses ever for a videogame-based movie, and still couldn’t make it past an ill-regarded, poorly performing second installment. For a big hit movie featuring a star who remains globally famous playing a character who remains popular, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider is amazingly forgettable and amazingly mostly forgotten. It’s also entirely emblematic of its early-aughts time period in a way that, too, has been forgotten.
I don’t think it’s entirely the tarnishing of teenage ideals that makes me think of the summer of 2001 as the first Bad Summer. Granted, there were plenty of bad summer movies before 2001, and on the other side, three of the year’s best movies – A.I., Moulin Rouge!, and Ghost World – came out that summer, two from major studios. But compared with, say, the varied offerings of summer 1998 (which included, yes, two asteroid-peril movies, but also Saving Private Ryan, The Truman Show, Out of Sight, The Mask of Zorro, and There’s Something About Mary) or 1999 (which included, yes, hotly anticipated Star Wars and Austin Powers installments, but also The Sixth Sense, Bowfinger, The Blair Witch Project, Eyes Wide Shut, American Pie, and several hit rom-coms), or even the more typical crop in 2000 (Mission: Impossible II, Gladiator, A Perfect Storm, What Lies Beneath, Gone in 60 Seconds, X-Men), 2001 leaned heavily on sequels and adaptations of well-known properties. Many of them were hits, but the collective goodwill of Rush Hour 2, The Mummy Returns, Jurassic Park III, American Pie 2, Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes, and, yes, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider does not appear to add up to much today (and that’s not even getting into how that year’s equivalent of Saving Private Ryan or Titanic was supposed to be Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor).