Lara Croft certainly appealed on a financial level: Jolie pocketed at least $12 million for the sequel (a hefty raise from the $7 million she was paid for her role in the first). And, after her last couple of duds, the chance to be tops at the box office with a big splashy tent-pole was undoubtedly pretty tempting too. But then the most tantalizing aspect of returning to ''Raider'' had to be the timing: With the breakup of her two-year marriage to actor Billy Bob Thornton still ringing in the tabloids, an opportunity last summer to slip back into Croft's combat boots and once again rumble in the jungle as a fearless neo-feminist action hero was just what she needed. ''It was a good point in my life to jump back into that character,'' she admits. ''I remember when I first arrived on the set, I found this little card waiting for me that said, 'Welcome home, Lara.' It was nice to return to something that felt like home.''
Angelina, though, came back to the ''Lara Croft'' franchise set a changed woman. In fact, her eye-opening experience two years ago shooting the first ''Tomb Raider'' in Cambodia (where land mines left over from the Vietnam War could be found within easy stumbling distance of the set) seems to have triggered a genuine shift in her notoriously wild personality. Turns out, for instance, she's actually serious about her new role as a U.N. Goodwill Ambassador, spending many of her off hours popping into places like Tanzania to investigate refugee-camp conditions and human-rights violations. She recently committed $5 million of her own money to establish a Cambodian wildlife preserve (and another $10,000 to rebuild a hospital in Sri Lanka) and has also been spotted lobbying in Washington to help immigrant orphans in this country. And, of course, there's Maddox, her 2-year-old Cambodian-born adopted son and the most serious commitment she's made in her life.