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

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
Starring: Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett, Shia LaBeouf, Karen Allen, Ray Winstone, John Hurt
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: David Koepp
Rated: PG-13
Rating: **** (four stars out of five)

Indy’s back. And in full flavor. I completely enjoyed myself, but I cannot say the same for everyone else in the theater.

We begin with the standard Paramount mountain fade into something else — this time it’s a prairie dog mound. Elvis begins playing and we meet the Army, driving in the Nevada desert, just outside “Hangar 51” (you make the connection). After a small skirmish, it’s revealed the men aren’t US Army, but Soviets, lead by the icy villianess Irina Spalko (Blanchett). Out of the trunk of one of the cars comes Indy and his pal Mac (Winstone).

Spalko is a psychic, or wants to be, but since she can’t coax Indy into doing her bidding with mental powers alone, the guns alongside her help. They then search for a box, about the size of a coffin, in a warehouse of boxes that will be familiar to fans of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Fortunately for everyone involved, the box is highly magnetized and therefore pretty easy to find.

This sparks the main adventure, details of which I will not expose here. It’s easy enough to find the spoilers on the internet. I will say that most of the rumors you have undoubtedly heard are true — all but a meager few of the ones I had read early on were false. I will say this: Had George Lucas’ originally proposed title of “Indiana Jones and the Saucer Men from Mars” stayed the title, I’m not sure I’d have seen it.

Indiana Jones is definitely back, but in a different way. Age doesn’t matter much in this film, except for comedic effect. The age is played up, almost too much at times, but never once did I look at Indiana Jones and think to myself that he’s too old for this shit. To me, Indy has always been a bit of an anti-hero — gruff, tough, and not too much of a gentleman. His work seemed to go under the radar, unacknowledged beyond academia. To Crystal Skull‘s detriment, he’s hyped as an incredible hero. If anyone uttered the phrase “war hero” again, I was going to be upset.

Why try to make an icon iconic? He’s already an icon! All three of the previous films were also cheesy — they didn’t take themselves all that seriously, and that’s a significant reason that they are great films. There are moments throughout Crystal Skull where you get the impression that the filmmakers were too conscious about making it cheesy and tried too hard to not cross that line. Unfortunately, there were times that they did, most notably in the climax with Spalko.

Does any of that actually detract from the film? I don’t think so. I think it lives up to it’s lead character and more. The whole experience got me thinking (and my thoughts are likely to become another blog entry). Was I expecting too much? Or was I too sold on the originals? Definitely not to the latter — Raiders of the Lost Ark is, and always will be, as fantastic as the first time I saw it. Last Crusade will never be boring, and, while it’s not as good as the other two that bookend it, Temple of Doom is still an amazing adventure yarn. I think that because I know the previous three films so well that Crystal Skull was almost certainly set to disappoint. The fact that it wasn’t nearly as disappointing as I had feared says a lot.

My only true disappointment with the movie is that there is likely to never be another after it. The original plan in the 1980’s was to create five (yes, five) Indiana Jones films. Four are now complete, and new star/character has been tapped to possibly continue the series (Mutt Williams, played by LaBeouf). Sean Connery as Indy’s father was timeless. I want to see a fifth film with Indy playing that role to Mutt’s novice adventurer.

I don’t want to be done with Indiana Jones yet, and this film didn’t help that. That is why it’s worthy of the title and a great movie.