Indiana Jones is caught
in the most death-defying trap of his life. After
19 years absent, Indy has to reconnect with his
original audience, generate interest from a whole
new audience that has no emotional connection
to previous films, compete with a spate of cinematic
CGI summer spectacles, surmount the surgical scrutiny
of the “Internet critics” and simultaneously
be both fresh and “the same ol’ Indy.”
Makes getting through the Grail
Temple seem easy by comparison.
Struzan's teaser poster.
George Lucas gave only one guarantee
in the months leading up to Indiana
Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,
saying it would polarize audiences and they would
either love it or hate it. He was right. Indy
and the filmmakers are caught in an impossible
position. After 19 years of almost rabid waiting,
the die hards had time to conceive their own Indy
4 and the new generation of young people
have no barometer upon which to measure Dr. Jones.
To them, Indy is just another summer movie on
equal footing with Batman and the Hulk, so Dr.
Jones doesn’t even have nostalgia working
in his favor.
Indiana Jones has the added disadvantage
that his last movie was a major hit. 1989’s
Last Crusade was
no turkey, a bonafide blockbuster that in the
minds of even the most casual audience that is
all but impossible to top. It's a lot easier to
wow audiences when the previous film was a flop,
like Rambo 3.
Fans have every frame of the original
three movies branded into their brains and change
is always hard, but in this case everything has
changed. Not only has Indy gotten older, but the
creators have gotten older, the franchise has
gotten older, the world has gotten older and the
fan base has aged right along with it. How can
anyone expect Indy or his adventures to remain
the same? After 20 years, and having treaded into
essentially the same story hooks in three previous
films, the filmmakers certainly wanted to try
their hand at something different. More than anything
else about this film, the courage to stick out
their necks and try something different earns
my respect, even if the execution is sometimes
Skull is forced into a different historic
era due to the aging of the title character. Although
I usually do not agree with George Lucas’
creative impulses of late, having loathed his
Star Wars “prequels,”
I concede that his instincts for setting Indy
in the 1950s and focusing on “the atomic
age” are spot on. As Indy has always been
a modern homage to B cinema, looking toward 1950s
B movies for inspiration is a brave choice.
Indy at the warehouse.
Skull, Indy is far more world-weary, having
fought through his second World War and now finding
himself in an America that is not unified through
optimism but postwar paranoia. He becomes the
victim of that paranoia when Russian spies, led
by Cate Blanchett’s Irina Spalko, force
him to assist them in stealing the corpse of the
much-debated Roswell alien from the Area 51 warehouse,
last seen in Raiders
of the Lost Ark.
Now, he's a target of the America's
National Security Agency and put on leave of absence
from Marshall College thanks to his own government's
suspicion. The adventure heats up to a new level
when greaser Mutt Williams, played by Shia LaBeouf,
reveals to Jones that their mutual friend, Dr.
Oxley, has found the much-debated Crystal Skull
of Akator but Mutt lost contact with him in South
America and his mother, one Mary Williams, sent
a letter telling him to seek out Jones for help.
Now, it's a race against Spalko and the Russian
Army to find the Crystal Skull and return it to
Akator first, because whoever returns the skull
to its resting place in the mythical city first
will gain control over great power.
New Indiana Jones images of any
kind will come as a shock to any longtime fan
of the series who has seen the other installments
numerous times. Kingdom
of the Crystal Skull is certainly a shock.
With two decades on the characters and the wait,
the result is a decidedly mixed bag. Much of the
movie works well, most notably Mutt Williams.
LaBeouf's new character is interesting, engaging
and a scene stealer and worth the price of admission.
The action scenes are very kinetic and move at
a breakneck pace akin to Temple
of Doom and both the action scenes and
the dialogue sequences are infused with that Last
Crusade sense of humor. Aside from some
good punches and quips, Dr. Jones' own action
moments are limited in this film, and something
fans I think were hoping there would be more Indy
whipping and jumping, not less.
Meeting Irina Spalko.
What we have here is the slippery
slope of success. The goofy humor of Last
Crusade was such a critical hit with audiences
and reviewers and the film is still freshest in
everyone's memory that the filmmakers went in
that direction with this new installment. To this
day, Spielberg still needlessly apologizes in
interviews for Temple
I truly believe he's still reliving
the critical backlash from the summer of 1984
as if it happened yesterday. As such, he recoils
from being too serious again in an Indiana Jones
film. These movies are vacations for him now.
So, we get more humor, more goofiness and more
over the top comic book style action. Dare I say,
more Temple of Cheese?
This new film has brought me to
the realization that Raiders
of the Lost Ark is really the black sheep
of the series, whereas all three of its sequels
reinvented the character in a new direction that
focused more on humor and comic book or pulp style
action instead of Raiders”
gritty realism and dramatic tension. Now, we truly
have an “Indiana Jones Trilogy” that
just happens to come after a movie called Raiders
of the Lost Ark.
Many fans are already decrying
Indy's escape from a nuclear blast via locking
himself in a refrigerator, Mutt's Tarzan-like
escapade in the jungle on swinging vines and the
UFO-ending shocker as well as the insistence on
goofy humor and yes, in some places including
those mentioned above, the choices are not always
the best. Spielberg and Lucas were once better
than this and they should not have been so self
However, if Temple
of Doom and Last
Crusade are a barometer for the series,
then it must be accepted that Kingdom
of the Crystal Skull is the natural evolution
of the direction the creators were taking this
Beware for quicksand.
Indy falling down the secret stairs
in Castle Brunwald in Last
Crusade is Indy falling off the rocket
sled here. Indy "jousting" with that
flagpole in Last Crusade
is Mutt's Tarzan
homage vine swinging in this movie. The mine cart
jump and the raft jump out of the plane in Temple
of Doom is injected with steroids and becomes
the atomic blast scene in Kingdom
of the Crystal Skull. The first two Indy
sequels are replete with moments of goofy humor
and “unrealistic” action. Take Indy
with his face smashed into a periscope in Last
Crusade, the German giving Indy and Dad
the goofy look as he swooshes by in his flaming
fuselage in the tunnel, Indy punching two guys
at once on Coronado's ship, Germans acting like
goofballs missing at point blank range in the
fireplace scene. Let's not forget Willie unknowingly
about to hang a fake-looking vampire bat up to
dry in camp that is the equivalent of a moment
with a fake snake and a pit of quicksand in Kingdom
of the Crystal Skull. Take Indy's shoes
on fire in Temple of
Doom after using his feet as mine cart
brakes, much like his behavior in the quicksand
scene, which I found to be one of the most entertaining
moments in the movie. And who can forget Indy
in Last Crusade
in the zeppelin wearing a steward outfit three
sizes too small and yelling “No ticket!”
Given that, Kingdom
of the Crystal Skull has much in common
with its predecessors. What it does not have in
common with its brethren is its weakness of story.
There is a potentially strong archaeological mystery
here that has its roots in ideas about aliens
and the origins of man that are outlined in compelling
detail in books like Chariots
of the Gods and Fingerprints
of the Gods. Unfortunately, the screenwriting
does not effectively convey enough information
to make these ideas clear.
That was close!
The result is a little of head scratching
throughout as Indy and company try to unravel
the mystery of the Crystal Skull of Akator. The
plot become too vague at times and the object
of the quest too esoteric, making the exact cause
of Spalko's ultimate demise all the more uncertain.
In the meantime, side characters, including Karen
Allen's own Marion Ravenwood, are not given enough
to do, with Ray Winstone and John Hurt's performances
being shortchanged the most.
All that now spelled out, I still
assert that this is an entertaining movie from
start to finish. I was never bored and had a truly
rollicking time from scene to scene. Unlike my
experience, this movie gets more fun with each
viewing and not more boring or painful to watch.
The establishment of the 1950s and
the first hour of the film are an absolute treat.
Spielberg thrusts the audience into Indy's new
decade with a shotgun blast of imagery and fun,
and it works. There is still magic in these moments,
with the motorcycle chase through the university
and Indy and Mutt exploring the Peruvian tombs
showing that signature Indiana Jones feel.
The ultimate strength of this film
lies in the same place as Last
Crusade, with the humor and the interaction
between family members. The best moments in the
film are the ones in which Indy and Marion trade
barbs about their past and the possibility of
a future, and Indy's attempts to “parent”
Mutt. Here, Indy has become older and wiser and,
in essence, more like his father and the shift
is very appropriate.
There are also, as with the previous
films, great references to past movies and serials.
In this case, it's movies such as The
Naked Jungle, Tarzan,
The Day the Earth Stood
and even a healthy sampling of Spielberg and Lucas'
previous movies, including Close
Encounters of the Third Kind and American
As a good friend of mine put it
upon seeing the movie, Kingdom
of the Crystal Skull is not a fatal wound
to the Indiana Jones series, but it is not what
audiences expected. The movie is rife with action
and humor, and it is a fun ride. However, the
film is polarizing and will likely turn away many
I liked the movie in the same way
I enjoy Temple of Doom
and Last Crusade,
despite their flaws. Now I hope there is an Indiana
Jones 5, so we can see more of our favorite
archaeologist and give Spielberg, Lucas and Ford
a chance to find their rhythm again. Although
they conceived a beautiful song on the sheet,
their instruments were a little out of tune in
places when they played it.