Indiana Jones. The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Easily the most anticipated film of the year, if not the decade. Fans have been waiting for Harrison Ford to reprise his role as the hat-wearing, whip-wielding, sarcasm-throwing archaeologist hero for twenty years. Rumors abounded for so long that people became immune to any kind of tentative announcement. Then, suddenly, Indiana Jones 4 was a reality, and all the big players, from Steven Spielberg to George Lucas and Harrison Ford, were returning. There's no way this new Indiana Jones could fail, right? Right?
First off, I am a big Indiana Jones fan. So big that over the last week, I've watched all three of the original films. I even like The Temple of Doom, for Christ's sake. That being said, I went into Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull hesitantly, determined not to trump it up too much for fear of approaching it with too high of expectations. I had heard that the film was receiving mixed reviews, as it should; this movie, literally the most anticipated film since the Star Wars prequels, was, by nature, going to set expectations unrealistically high. It's impossible not to be disappointed by a film like this.
This new Indiana Jones is entertaining enough. For the first half hour of the movie, I had a big grin on my face as I was so delighted to see Indy back on the big screen (whether I saw any of the originals on the big screen is up for debate, as I was only seven when The Last Crusade hit theaters). Watching Indy jump, shoot, whip and punch his way through Communist slime is entertaining, and with the return of the familiar John Williams soundtrack, it's hard not to pee your pants just a little.
But still... this movie is by far the worst one of the bunch. I hope that on a second viewing I will enjoy it more, but I'm pretty sure even the second time around I will take issue with a few things. The story is absurdly cluttered and hardly engaging. There doesn't have to be much, but Crystal Skull drops so many storylines they're hard to count. Indy gets blacklisted - what's the point? Indy has the FBI after him - what's the point? There are a few other elements that drop by the way side.
Karen Allen is back in this movie, but it's hard to figure out why. She looks ecstatic to be back in a major movie, but forgot that she has to act convincingly. Of course, she needs a part to act . Her character seems to be in the screenplay to establish that Shia LaBeouf is Indy's son, nothing more. She is hardly reminiscent of the tough, passionate woman we saw years ago, and writer David Koepp doesn't seem interested in reestablishing the convincing chemistry she and Ford shared in Raiders of the Lost Ark. A lot of the character dynamics, and the characters themselves, seem underdeveloped. LaBeouf is quite good in his role, but most of the other characters show up out of nowhere to serve as nothing more than plot points. Case in hand: John Hurt, who runs around like a homeless lunatic most of the time.
While things pick up after a few minutes, the dialogue is pretty cringe-inducing at the beginning. I don't know if the film was shot in sequence, but the very first scene that involves Indy's return is about as awkward as they come. It's as if Ford wasn't quite comfortable returning to his most cherished role.
All that being said, those are minor concerns. I can get over them, and because I am such an Indiana Jones fan, I know I'm going to be overly picky. But there are several moments where one wonders, "Spielberg, what on God's green Earth were you thinking?" From here on out, consider this a SPOILER ALERT.
First, the Crystal Skull. Indiana Jones has always had a mysticism around them, but when you think about it, the supernatural has always played a rather minor role in the films. The Ark of the Covenant doesn't do anything until the climax of the movie. In Temple of Doom, there is some heart removal and glowing rocks, but that's about it. In the Last Crusade, nothing abnormal happens until the last scene. In Indiana Jones 4, Koepp, Spielberg and Lucas took the very dangerous path of bringing aliens into the mix, and it is a risk they should not have taken. First off, the Crystal Skull looks cheesy. Two, it has special powers. Thirdly, those special powers play way too much of a part in the movie. Fourth, the alien route is just cheesy... even for Indiana Jones.
Beyond that, there are a few dreadfully bad moments throughout the film. The scene where LaBeouf swings through the jungle like Tarzan and somehow manages to end up back in a car chase that left him long before is something you'd expect to see in The Mummy Returns, not a film from the guy who directed Schindler's List. Spielberg's obsession with monkeys and groundhogs is annoying, too. And what's the point of the nuclear bomb in the beginning? It's a little cheesy, and does absolutely nothing to progress the plot. Absolutely nothing at all.
To cap things off, the action isn't anything to scream about. There are some good sequences, but no memorable sequences like those in the previous movies (the rolling rock and airplane fight sequence in Raiders, the mine cart in Doom and the tank scene in Crusade come to mind). There is also surprisingly little action. There is a lot of exploring, but not a lot of Indy vs. Communist excitement as one would expect. Sadly, the final major fight scene focuses almost exclusively on LaBeouf vs. Cate Blanchett. I'm sorry, but I want to see Indy, no matter how old, taking down all of Russia. Not LaBeouf waving a sword around.
Complaints aside, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has some good things going for it. Despite a lack of action and some cheesy moments, it is consistently entertaining where most films would not be. The visual effects, for the most part, are good; I have heard some criticisms about the fact that they intentionally look old, but as an Indiana Jones fan, they work perfectly. All in all, the movie is still better than most, even though I'm also laying into it more than most.
This new Indiana Jones film is decent enough, but it's frustrating to think that over twenty years, this is the best story and screenplay Lucas and Spielberg could agree on. The alien storyline is just completely wrong. I hope that with future watchings I am able to look back on this review and say that I was overly harsh, but I am skeptical as to whether that will happen.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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