Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Director: Steven Spielberg (Jaws, Jurassic Park, Schindler's List, War of the Worlds, Munich)
Story: George Lucas, Jeff Nathanson
Screenplay: David Koepp
Producers: Frank Marshall
Starring: Harrison Ford, Shia Lebeouf, Cate Blanchett, Karen Allen, Ray Winstone, John Hurt
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 124 min
read my spoiler disclaimer



reviewed by Andrew James
      Since last we caught up with Dr. Jones, he's apparently had countless adventures with lots of friends and unsavory characters alike. All of which are vaguely alluded to in the opening thirty minutes or so of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. From serving with honor in the military, fighting wars, traversing the jungle and somehow still managing to find time as a part time archeology professor. It's unfortunate that we didn't get to go along for the ride over the past twenty years, but we've finally caught up with Indy on quite possibly his most exciting, and most preposterous, adventure he's ever been a part of.

      The story begins in 1957 and Indy is once again up to his neck in bad guys. This time it's Cate Blanchett and the Russians who are looking for some mysterious box in a military warehouse in the middle of the desert; somewhere in New Mexico. What it is they are looking for and why is a mystery that will unravel as the story progresses. Working with an old friend, Indy obviously escapes and sets out in search of a missing colleague with the help of a young punk (played by Shia Lebeouf) named Mutt, who has a letter written in an ancient language that appears to be a sort of map leading to a lost city of gold. All of this of course ties in with the Russians and their plans with the mysterious box. The new adventure takes Indy though small, secluded villages, the deepest jungles of South America, raging rivers and even an ancient Mayan temple.

      The big question of course is how does a sixty-something year-old Harrison Ford handle the reprisal of the role of his lifetime? The answer is actually pretty well. At first something seems a bit... off. Maybe it's the fact that Ford has aged, maybe it's the script or maybe it's just the preconceived notions that one brings to the film. Whatever it is, it only lasted a short while and the “off” feeling was soon shaken. A bit slower in stride but looking no worse for the wear, Indiana Jones is certainly back in all the glory I remember him having; bullwhip, fedora, leather jacket and even his snake phobia; and still giving the bad guys a brutal history lesson they won't easily forget.

      As the new Indy sidekick is Shia Lebeouf, who, while picking less than favorable films with this critic, is usually quite good in delivering what's expected of him and more with his roles. Here is no different. As an obvious target as the new guy in the Jones world, he works quite well at being the green adventurer but with a stable, resourceful mind and just the right amount of comedy when asked for.

      Cate Blanchett is the villain. It's Cate Blanchett. What else can be said? Amazing as always.

      With other big names in side roles (Ray Winstone, Jim Broadbent, John Hurt, etc) The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is full of familiar faces. But none more familiar than Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) making her first return as the damsel in not so much distress since Raiders of the Lost Ark almost 30 years ago. One more piece to the nostalgia puzzle fitting neatly in to place.

      Quite the roller coaster ride of thoughts throughout Indiana Jones IV. As mentioned, something feels a bit “off” in the beginning, then the feeling subsides and we're right back into an Indiana Jones movie. But then, something goes wrong again and a strange feeling of worry washed over me and I wondered, "is this how it's going to be?" Then after time, the story takes another turn for the better and I was swept up again. This happens several times throughout the picture; leaning towards greatness one moment, then leaning towards disaster the next. While disaster is probably too harsh of a term, unfortunately it so happens that the wrong elements in this film outweigh the good just slightly.

      Walking into the theater, I had two main concerns for Indiana's return movie. One was that this was going to be a movie with one liner jokes throughout the entire picture about Indy being an old man. While there is some of that, rightfully and expectedly so, the movie thankfully never over indulges with the old age puns.

      The second was the CGI factor. After Minority Report and War of the Worlds, it was feared that director Spielberg would shoot for the moon and try to dazzle us with amazing feats of technologic wizardry. Fear not. Quite a few of the effects, with a few exceptions, look vaguely similar to those of the late 80's and early 90's, funny enough. These slightly cheesy and noticeable effects have never bothered me and don't seem to be a problem or hinder the production in any way. With Indiana Jones, effects have always been slightly sub-par comparable to their counterparts of the time period. To me, this just adds a slight touch of camp that I believe Lucas and Spielberg are going for. Whether they purposely go for this camp in their effects department I can't say, but it sure appears that way.

      The problem comes with the story line and two or three completely ridiculous moments. Because these moments deal directly with plot, I don't want to give them away as potential spoilers. Let's just say that Indiana Jones, nor anyone else, has ever seen anything like this. Yes in Raiders, there is the Ark of the Covenant that has some mystical properties. Yes, in Temple of Doom there is a mysterious liquid which brain washes its victims. And yes, in The Last Crusade we're seeking a chalice that gives eternal life from any who drink from it. So Indy is no stranger to the world of supernatural legend and the occult. But none of these plot threads, which are fairly reserved thematically, hold a candle to the preposterousness of the final thirty minutes of The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. It's just too much suspension of disbelief for me to handle and just doesn't feel “right” when comparing it to Jones adventures of the past.

      And while this may be a bit nit-picky, the film really lost me during one key action sequence in the jungle in which Lebeouf's character does his best Tarzan impersonation. Did I say preposterous before? I meant completely and utterly retarded. It actually angered me a bit that Spielberg thought that was a good idea... especially after seeing how it works (or doesn't work) in the final product.

      Still, despite the fact that the storyline completely lost me and there are several wtf moments that actually kind of upset me, the nostalgia factor works here. It's like Indy's character never left us and it's reassuring that he's out there. Like a nice warm security blanket... made of khaki pants and leather. And with what I gathered to be a very important message from Lucas/Spielberg, the final ten seconds of the film won me over and I admit I softly applauded with the rest of the audience as the credits began to roll – something I NEVER do. However many problems there are with this movie, it's nice to have Indy back. Even if it's just for this one last time.
     


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andrew@moviepatron.com