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Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

23 May 2008 by Gnoll 10 Comments

INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL


2008, Dir. Steven Spielberg
124 min. Rated PG-13.
Starring: Harrison Ford, Shia Lebouf, Karen Allen, John Hurt, Ray Winstone, Cate Blanchett, and the disembodied head of Denholm Elliot.

Review by Gnoll

It’s been nine months since I posted an article on this site. It’s been 11 since I actually did an honest-to-Bob review of a movie. So what draws me out of this hole and back on to the series of tubes that we call the “Internets”, despite a near-complete abandonment of the whole MCFTR process nearly a year ago?

Indiana Jones, that’s what.

This summer’s a hot one for potential blockbusters, and even hotter for the geek contingent. Iron Man bolted out of the gate early, and wound up exceeding critical and box office dreams. Speed Racer fizzled on Tony Stark’s heels, but more big stuff is on its way in the near future. New Batman, Hulk, and Hellboy movies are soon to come, as is Will Smith in Hancock playing the first drunken superhero since…oh, Iron Man. But to many a fanboy and movie connoisseur, the return of the two-headed Spielberg/Lucas monster was the real draw, and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was going to be a cinematic leviathan.

I was torn on whether or not I was looking forward to this. On one hand, I thought The Last Crusade was the best ending to any trilogy ever made, and felt that the sun had set on the franchise forever. On the other hand, I really dig (pun not intended) everyone’s favorite adventuring archaeology professor (even in Temple of Doom!), so it’s hard for me to not salivate at the thought of another installment.

Casting rumors started up a while ago, and with names like Shia Lebouf, Cate Blanchett, Ray Winstone, and the return of Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood, it was hard not to get excited. And for the most part, the cast delivered. More about that later. So when it came down to zero hour, I found myself in a theater at midnight, waiting ever-so-patiently for those opening credits to roll. And then, well, let’s get to that whole review thing.

Quick synopsis: A mysterious artifact which has the power to change the world and seems to drive its bearer into madness and needs to be returned to its place of origin. Cate Blanchett appears in a supporting role. No hobbits appear this time around.

The action unfolds immediately, with a group of Soviet Soldiers invading a top secret military installation in Nevada and enlisting the kidnapped title character and his associate Mac in finding some mysterious container in a Hangar (incidentally numbered “51”). Indy gets free despite a double-cross that can be seen a mile away, and winds up in a little trouble with the Feds for his involvement in the ordeal. Given a leave of absence from the University, he meets a young greaser named Mutt Williams who tells him of the recent findings of a mutual associate, and the pair set out to South America to start hunting relics. Along the way, they’re again captured by the Soviets, and find themselves aligned with Mutt’s ma and Indy’s former flame Marion, as well as Professor Oxley, who has been driven mad by his own quest. A few more escapes and recaptures happen, and they’re eventually led to a Mayan temple where the big finale occurs. Lots of action, lots of adventure, and lots of humorous moments, but this one had quite a few warts.

I get the whole suspension of disbelief thing. I like doing it, and I really thought the first three films in the series balanced that element perfectly. And as The Crystal Skull began to unfold, I did the same. Yeah, Indy can escape from a legion of Soviet soldiers without a scrape by using his cleverness, resourcefulness, and just plain dumb luck. Sure, he can survive a nuclear blast just by hiding in a refridgerator. Why shouldn’t we mind seeing Shia battle Blanchett with swords atop two speeding military vehicles in the jungle, or a legion of giant ants that can devour a man in mere seconds, or a kid with the ability to swing through through the treetops a la Tarzan faster than a car? I didn’t, because that’s part of the fun.

But come on, having our gang of heroes (including Indy, his son Mutt, the unassuming Marion, and a crazy eighty year-old played by John Hurt) survive a fall over a 100-foot waterfall without a scratch or a broken bone or even a moment of trying to regroup seems a bit much, if you ask me.

Doing it again just a few seconds later, well, that seems like a lot much. Come on, Spielberg, you can direct a blockbuster action movie in your sleep. I expect better.

But doing it a third time, over an even bigger waterfall, and not even giving it an ounce of a feeling of peril? You’re telling me that these four, only one of them used to doing such adventures on a regular basis (and likely a little more rugged than most his age based on the ending of the last movie), and only one other who seems like he’d be athletic enough to make such a spill seem even remotely survivable, just manage to get through not one, but three consecutive plummets onto rocky waters and just shrug it off, not even pausing for a second to realize just how lucky they are for not losing a step?

Well, you’ve just gotten me to give up. Honestly, I could have stood up and walked out of the theater and not really missed much, since its completely apparent now that these characters are immortal and we don’t have to worry about them getting out of any situation from this moment forward. Yeah, we probably know exactly who’s going to make it out alive anyway, but we don’t need it choreographed.

But really, that sequence is just the most obvious problem. There’s just not a lot here that really feels special. The discovery of the Crystal Skull is a throwaway event — it happens completely by accident, and is met with little fanfare. There are no real edge-of-your-seat moments of peril, even beyond the goofy waterfall thing. No last-minute escape from being crushed by the sliding stone slab or narrowly missing the giant boulder or anything of that nature. And to make matters worse, the music is dull. Except for the moments where the immediately recognizable title theme comes in, nothing really stands out. John Williams’s score appears to be completely phoned in here.

But the real annoyance is Karen Allen.

Yeah, I said it.

Apparently so thrilled to be back into the world of big movies, Allen can’t wipe the smile off her face the entire time she’s on screen. Whether she’s reuinited with her son and Indy after who knows-how-many years, or she’s driving an amphibious vehicle at a breakneck speed through the jungles of Peru, or she’s fighting for her life swimming through rapids, she looks like she’s having way too much fun. There’s absolutely zero tension between Marian and Indy after they are reunited, which is unusual considering the circumstances, and they don’t even bother to really tease the romance angle with the exception of one failed kiss gag. It’s almost as if the screenwriters and Spielberg just decided that since it was a foregone conclusion that they would wind up together at the end, there was no need to make any sort of deal out of it.

But as much as I begrudge it, I spent about 60% of my time in the theater enjoying myself. It will probably be remembered as the worst of the series, but it’s not a complete waste of time. When the action gets going, it’s hard not to get sucked in, despite a few scenes of eye-rolling unplausibility. There’s a great gag to play on Indy’s well-established fear of snakes, there’s an inspired cameo by one of the previous film’s artifacts, and there’s even a nod to a signature Star Wars catchphrase that earned a round of applause in my theater. We get a placebo for Connery’s absence as expected, but it was also nice to get a nod to the late Denholm Elliot as well. And as far as the rumors go that we may be seeing a new leg of the franchise starring Lebouf as the new adventure hero, there’s a nice teaser at the end to play on them.

So while I can’t exactly give the latest installment in the Indiana Jones saga a glowing review, I’ll not deter anyone from checking it out. It’s still a decent bit of fun, even if some crucial moments get it completely wrong.

10 Comments »

  • JohnCalvin said:

    Spielberg, Lucas and FOrd. Some good movies, some bad movies, but in the end, they all get rich. I’ll wait for the video.

  • Dr. Jones said:

    Noel – glad to see you back on the wagon, your reviews got me through college.

    Back to looking for some Star Warrio,
    -AZ

  • Pandy Fackler said:

    Yea..definitely the worst of the series. The worst part is that it’s so easily forgettable. To me, it just mirrors the last three Star Wars films. The best part was when he said “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”

  • Caelin said:

    I agree, definitely the worst of the series. Not quite “Star Wars Prequels” bad, but definitely should have gone out on the Last Crusade.

    Another very small but widely overlooked flaw with the plot. At the end of Last Crusade Sean Connery drinks from the Holy Grail, a cup that heals his (fatal) wound as giving him everlasting life.

    Yet in Kingdom of Crystal Skull he has died before the movie takes place.

    How does that work?

  • Caelin said:

    I meant to say “as well as”.

    Whatever.

  • Noel said:

    Henry Jones, Sr. drank from the Grail, but part of the eternal life deal was that you had to remain inside the walls. That’s why the 1000 year old soldier was still there. I give the Grail some credit for making Indy superhuman in his 60s, but that doesn’t make up for the rest of the gang.

  • collegeblogger said:

    I must agree with the others, surely the worst of the series. I am a diehard Harrison Ford fan though, and love anything he does. I loved the first Indiana Jones movie and was so eager to see this one, I was disappointed. It is a forgettable movie to be sure.

  • Dan said:

    Hey good to have some more for a great FtR crew, been reading these posts for years.

    And for the love of god, what am I a untrained chimp? yeah a monkey swings on vines in the jungle, i get it mr lucas. Why the heck cant he think of that for himself? If i need a monkey to teach me nething its feces throwing accuracy. Not how to swing on a vine….. I think Nugent taught me that.

  • Cashflow420 said:

    If we could just forget this movie ever happened and start back at the temple of doom. That would be very nice!

  • JK said:

    Awful. I tried watching this movie online, and couldn’t get through it…and that was for free! Then again, I hold no flame for the Indy movies, so maybe I’m not the best judge.

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