Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
That right there, giving it 3 stars, pains me. I really wanted to like this more. But because George Lucas was involved, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull went from a moderately enjoyable to completely ridiculous faster than Dr. Jones can piss off the Nazi party.
It’s been about 20 years since we last saw Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones, Jr. (Harrison Ford), and that’s how much time has passed in his little movie-verse. The year is 1957, right in the middle of the Cold War, and the KGB, led by Irina Spalko (Cate Blancett) has enlisted the help of Indiana to track down the famed and elusive Crystal Skull of Akator, with ties to a lost city of gold in Peru. Don’t worry, Indy hasn’t gone Red. He’s an unwilling participant, the KGB is using him for his knowledge of ancient artifacts. After he narrowly escapes a nuclear blast test (thank you 1957 home appliance construction), Indy returns to his day job: college professor, only to find out a former colleague, Dr. Oxley (John Hurt) has been captured by the KGB, and Ox’s protege, Mutt Williams (Shia Labeouf) has come to Dr. Jones for assistance in tracking down Ox. Which leads them to Peru and the search for the Crystal Skull.
I can’t really get into more without revealing key plot details, but that’s the long and short of it. And it’s a really great premise.
Indiana Jones 4 succeeded where several reboots and sequels have failed. It didn’t fall into the trap of “Hey, remember this from the original? It was funny then, so we’re gonna do it 20 times in the new one.” *cough*Pirates 2*cough* It alluded to the original trilogy, in so much as it provided good bridging stories for several favourite characters, including Dr. Jones, Sr. and Marcus Brody. And there certain logical references, including a flash of the Ark of the Covenant in a secret hanger. But it never strayed into the territory of *nudge nudge wink wink*.
The problem is that it is 20 years on. Harrison Ford is showing his age. The franchise is showing its age. The 80’s were a different cinematic landscape than the 00’s (I believe the preferred nomenclature is the Odds, or something like that). And I appreciate the throwback to both the original franchise specifically, and to the old serial genre in general.
In the 80’s, the films were centered the mythos surrounding the Judeo-Christian faith, and they took several liberties with it in the name of entertainment. And let me state that that was always the intended purpose of the films: to entertain. And they all, including this new one, succeeded fantastically at entertaining. But in 2008, the social climate concerning religious dogma, particularly concerning the Judeo-Christian faith, has become more of a taboo than it was 20-30 years ago. And I think that hindered the development process of the Indy 4. They had to take on a new artifact from a different era and a different culture. Maybe that strayed a bit too far out of my Indiana Jones comfort zone.
But since they went with the ancient Mayans, let’s focus on that. Really entertaining, and I stuck with it even through Mutt Williams swinging on vines like Tarzan. But where it jumped the shark into complete ridiculousness was the end, when it switched from Spielberg to Lucas real fast. I sat in the theatre thinking “What the hell?” Only I used a slightly stronger word in place of hell. I still can’t grasp my head around the ending. Oh, I understood it. I just can’t believe that they did it, because it’s so phenomenally stupid. And the thing of it is, is that it’s not entirely stupid. Just one aspect. Had they ended the sequence a few minutes sooner, it would have been semi-OK. But no, they went for it, and it’s just a severe letdown.
Ford slips back into Indiana Jones like an old baseball mitt. He’s dusting it off, finding his comfort zone, all the little spots that made the character his own. But there are definite signs of aging. Fortunately he doesn’t come across as an old guy trying to recapture his youth. He plays the character as too old for the action, but he does it anyway, and he does it brilliantly.
I can’t finish this review without talking about Cate Blanchett. There are so few great villainous roles written for women, and she’s the perfect actress to take it on. She’s the finest of our time, and throws in the right amount of villainy, naivety and curiosity.
I spoke earlier of the throwbacks to the original trilogy, and perhaps the biggest and best was saved for the third act. Karen Allen returns as Marion Ravenwood. It brings the story full circle, rather than being a cheap attempt to bridge the films.
If you liked the original trilogy, you’ll be entertained by Crystal Skull. But don’t expect it to be the greatest Indy film, because it isn’t. As much as that pains me to write.
– Brodie Mann