Film Review: Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

indianajones_latest.jpg

There’s going to be spoilers here, so be warned.

The Preamble

A little background: I’m a huge fan of Indiana Jones. He was my hero growing up. I saw the Temple of Doom right at that age when you become completely obsessed with it regardless of whether or not it’s actually a good movie. I saw that show about a dozen times in the theater when I was 10 or 11 years old. I bought a real leather bullwhip and a real felt fedora (an old one that was way too big for me), and I knew all the lines from the movie. I didn’t see Raiders until a little later, when we could rent it on VHS. And I watched that one incessantly as well. I was somewhat older when the third movie came out, so I haven’t seen it as much, but I recall enjoying it just as much as the others.

As an adult, I’ve come to a realization: It wasn’t so much the movies that I connected with nearly as much as it was the character. And more specifically, it wasn’t so much the character that I connected with…it was Harrison Ford playing the character. What I realized about the movies themselves was that they aren’t great cinema. They’re like Star Wars. More cultural event than great cinema. I see them as simply a vehicle for Ford to play this character that I love. Just like Star Wars was a vehicle for the visual effects and red-hot laser gun and space dogfight action that I love. This should explain why I like the Star Wars prequels just as much as the original trilogy.

So I hope this preamble demonstrates that I went into the movie with an open mind. I wasn’t expecting great cinema. I don’t think my expectations were colored by nostalgia. I just wanted to see Harrison Ford do some good Indiana Jones.

But ultimately, I walked out of the theater dissatisfied. So much potential for a great story. So much opportunity squandered. What I’ve decided to write is a breakdown of a few aspects of the film that I liked followed by a few aspects that I didn’t like.

The good stuff

The Older Indy

I completely bought into the 1957 Indy. The decorated war hero notion was brilliant. And the potential conflict with the FBI, his participation in the UFO cover ups, both great ideas that are brimming with potential. And they were all left on the table.

They do, however, open up a huge market for novelizations and comic book adaptations.

Mutt

This character was an inevitability. You know that a globe-trotting adventurer like Indy was going to have summer kids (some’re here, some’re there…get it?) around. And it’s a great opportunity for a story to have father and son cross paths. Just like they did in the 3rd film. I think Lucas called a good shot when he decided that Mutt should be to Indy what Indy was to Henry Jones, Sr. That’s good story.

I liked the greaser trappings of the character. It made sense in the story, and the leather jacket and switchblade are iconic of this era (like the fedora of the 30’s).

I liked Shea as Mutt. I believed him as the character, and while I don’t know if he has the charisma to take up the whip and carry on the tradition, I think he did well.

The Soviets are the new Nazis

This is a no-brainer. They are the bad guys of the 50’s, and so they should be the bad guys in an Indiana Jones movie. I wish they would have actually been a legit threat instead of a goofy troop of idiots lead by a dominatrix.

The 50’s sci-fi, B-movie sensibility

This is a great idea. Where the previous movies drew inspiration from the serials of the 30’s, this movie should draw from their 50’s counterparts. It makes perfect sense. Love the idea, but I wish it hadn’t gone so far off the rails.

The bad stuff

The complete lack of any sense of danger

The jungle fight sequence went from dull to ridiculous. There was none of the tension of similar scenes from previous movies.
Goofy vine swinging with monkeys
Sword fights with groin trauma jokes
Games of hot potato with a skull of crystal that, despite being flung about repeatedly, never seemed to shatter or be in danger of shattering.
A noble but poor attempt to paint a middle-aged non-combat hardened woman as a skilled wheelman who can pilot amphibious vehicles off of cliffs and down three waterfalls.

And I’d like to know why Spielberg and Lucas think that a bumbling party of 4 old people and a rookie punk wandering through an old temple would be exciting? There are no traps that could befall them that would be both threatening and allow these geriatric adventurers to survive. None.

The climax lacked any sense of danger or suspense at all.

  • no opening of the sky, attack ghosts, and melting heads
  • No fight on a bridge with a nasty, smooth-pated heart-plucker
  • No horrible trials of faith to be passed while a father lay bleeding to death in the other room.

It was just a weird incoherent scene, with a telegraphed betrayal, and where the main bad guy gets trapped by an alien who fills her head with so much knowledge that it explodes. For no apparent reason.

A good snake joke in the lamest, most contrived scene in the movie

They escape from the bad guys in the jungle. Indy and Marion fall into quicksand, and the first thing they do is send the idiot savant back to the captors to get help???? But wait, they manage to escape, by using a big snake as a rope. Which I found entertaining as the next installment of the running snake joke. But this was such a badly constructed scene.

I couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that they had just sent the man that they had come to rescue back into the hands of the people you came to rescue him from. If they escape the quicksand, they still have to rescue the scientist. If they don’t escape, they’re dead. So the only solution is a lame middle ground where you escape the quicksand, but then you’re right back where you started before the whole exciting escape. A completely superfluous scene who’s only purpose was to shoehorn the obvious reveal that Mutt was Indy’s son. So. Very. Lame.

And the biggest travesty? The omniscient Dr. Jones

The charm and appeal of the previous movies was that the hero was rarely in control of what was going on around him. “I don’t know, I’m making this up as I go,” a line from Raiders, summed up what was great about the films. Indy was as surprised as we were when things went right. But in Crystal Skull, Indy seems to know what’s going on at all times. He solved mysteries without any effort. He knew all the answers.

They tried to offset this older, more experienced Indy with the inexperienced son, but they just didn’t do it well enough. It was as if they didn’t want to push too strongly that Mutt was an Indiana Jones caliber character. He was used more as a device to allow Indy to tell the audience what was happening and why they were going to go to South America.

But the net result of this take on the character is a dull story. When your hero already knows what’s going to happen, there’s no surprise, no suspense, and it completely eliminates any opportunity for the character to demonstrate what made him a great character to begin with!

The Final Result

If you haven’t seen it and still read this review, go see it. With this advance warning, you may be able to glean some entertainment from it. But if I’ve saved you the trouble, my work is done here. This is a bad movie that I’ll likely not watch again until I forget why it was so bad and need reminding. But I’ll not be forgetting any time soon.