‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’ *** Movie Review 061308

First 3 films DVD set:.... Raiders DVD:.... Indy 4 Blu-ray: ..Indy 4 2-disc DVD: Indy 4 single disc: All 4 Indy ilms set: .......

The Review = ***
Indy (Harrison Ford) is back in theaters, in a new film, for the first time since his third adventure in 1989’s ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’. I’ll cut to the chase: am I happy I saw it? Sure, I’m happy to see Harrison Ford back in one of his most famous roles up on the big screen. However, ‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’ is easily the weakest film in the series and I couldn’t help but be disappointed. Should you see it? If you are a fan of the series you will probably want to, but to others this is not the movie to turn you on to the Indiana Jones films.

For the few who do not know the Indiana Jones films follow a globe trotting archeologist in the 1930s who seeks out rare artifacts and teaches at a college part time. Ford plays the titled Jones with gusto and throughout the years he has reprised the role in film’s various sequels. ‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’ represents a return to the role after the largest gap of time between film sequels. Probably because of the time gap and the age of Ford, the filmmakers have set the film in the late 50s.

In many ways the change is a slight one since this film is more or less patterned on the previous in the series. Long in development, with many different writers involved in its creation, ‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’ arrives with a surprisingly weak plot. In the past Jones has been after something mystical, often possesing holy power, such as the lost Ark of the Covenant from the first film. The Nazis are after it because the Ark can supposedly unleash the power of God. Pretty grand stuff. (SPOILER WARNING: I will be giving away major plot points so read no further if you do not want to know them.)

What do we get in ‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’? A search for an alien head. Yeppers’. Why does everyone want it? Well, I’m still a little hazy on that myself, something about telekinetic powers and some nonsense that somehow just never seems engrossing. I can’t quite put my finger on it but ‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’ lacks a certain sense of urgency and mystery. The whole thing seems more goofy than anything else.

Part of the trouble is outside of Ford and arguably Cate Blanchett as Dr. Irina Spalko, no one in the cast is very memorable. Shia LaBeouf does his best to convincingly spout the dialogue but seems totally miscast and way to tiny to play the gear-head Mutt. John Hurt pops up and literally babbles gibberish throughout most of the film. Karen Allen reprises her role as Jones’ love from the first film, Marion Ravenwood. While Allen seems to be having a ball in the film the trouble is she doesn’t even remotely resemble the character from the first film. I realize a lot of time is supposed to have passed since these two saw each other but she acts so different that I wondered why they even bothered to resurrect the character.

Others like Ray Winstone and Jim Broadbent have generally forgettable supporting roles. Winstone’s character, Mac, is so thinly sketched that when his character switches allegiances several times it makes no difference. I was never given enough to care about the character and consequently didn’t care what happened to him. For her part, Blanchett chews the scenery and does a good job of trying to craft a real character out of the role but she never seemed like she should have been the mastermind behind the communist forces (they are the stand-ins for the Nazi’s that Jones fought in the first and third films.) Perhaps, if Hurt had played some sort of communist spy at the head of the forces opposing Jones, pulling the strings, then maybe the conclusion of the film would have had more weight. As things play out in the film, the conclusion comes with almost no impact whatsoever.

There is no denying that ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ is a pretty hard film to top and the fact that it started the series of ‘Indiana Jones’ films almost makes it number one by default. However, it is also true that ‘Raiders of The Lost Ark’ is a great film with a surprising amount of tense, gritty, action and some sly humor. Re-watching ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ two words kept popping into my head “danger” and “mystery” ‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’ on the other hand is light and heavy on goofy humor. There is no real mystery and no sense of danger, just some over the top action moments that make is seem like an old TV spin-off of the previous films.

Ok, so at this point I have to say, if you like light and goofy, over the top adventure, than you may enjoy ‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’. You could make the argument that, if anything ,the film is not repeating the previous entries in the series. While that is certainly true, I can’t help that I didn’t enjoy the adventures this time out. The third entry in the series (‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’) had its goofy moments but the film was carried by a real sense of urgency at trying to stop the Nazi’s from discovering the secret of eternal youth. Not only that but the surprising chemistry and interplay between Jones and his father (perfectly played by Sean Connery) helped propel the film to be arguably the second strongest in the series.

With ‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’ there is no such interplay except for a few moments between Jones and Marian about Mutt’s college plans. What this fourth entry in the series shares with the second film ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom’ is a sort of meandering plot and often trying companions. The saving graces of the second film are some very memorable action scenes and a few comedic moments. Now, 'Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’ has easily replaced that film as the weakest in the series.

When talking about ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’, one influence is often overlooked: the 1968 Clint Eastwood/ Richard Burton vehicle ‘Where Eagles Dare’ (reviewed HERE.) It may just be coincidence but the over the top sense of action and adventure that ‘Where Eagles Dare’ possesses seems like it was a precursor to Steven Spielberg’s 1981 action extravaganza. (I swear I remember hearing Spielberg talk about how he was a big fan of the film somewhere.) Anyway, as over the top as ‘Where Eagles Dare’ gets at times it never turns into a goofy mess.

There are no doubt those who will enjoy ‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’ and the movie is already a financial success so in that respect Indiana Jones is indeed back. Film critic Roger Ebert loved the film and I must admit his glee makes me feel like a bit of a spoilsport. He writes:

“"Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull." Say it aloud. The very title causes the pulse to quicken, if you, like me, are a lover of pulp fiction. What I want is goofy action--lots of it. I want man-eating ants, swordfights between two people balanced on the backs of speeding jeeps, subterranean caverns of gold, vicious femme fatales, plunges down three waterfalls in a row, and the explanation for flying saucers. And throw in lots of monkeys.”

I can’t help being disappointed in the film and looking back at the past films, note that the action wasn’t always this goddamned goofy. Even in looking at Spielberg’s filmography I am reminded that he has made intense PG-13 action films and could have again. Even ‘Minority Report’ had more intense action than what was present in ‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’. Still, it was nice to see Ford as Jones back up on the big screen. For that alone I give this one a weak recommendation. I’ll just keep hoping that the powers that be decided to make a 5th entry in the series and that it will be a more entertaining film. Look, George Lucas, Spielberg, and company created the series, they can take it wherever they want, I just miss the way it used to be. In the meantime I’ll re-watch ‘Where Eagles Dare’.


‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’ Links:


Roger Ebert's review of 'Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull'

My review of 'Where Eagles Dare'

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