Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Review
Refreshing and pulsating with good old-fashioned entertainment, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull attempts to bring life back to popcorn cinema, and largely succeeds in doing so.
The man with the fedora hat named Indy is back. The space of time between the last Indiana Jones film to now has been such that it seemed another new film would never happen. Over the years we had rumors and rumored scripts with Indy finding the lost city of Atlantis, to Perils of Nyoka yarn, to Indy travels in time to partner up with Buck Rogers… the seemingly endless slate of rumored scripts as such became Mad Lib sketch comedy among fans. With the latest outing we get a send up of Close Encounters, X-Files, the best hits of Indy and more.
The last film hit screens in 1989 and I can honestly say I was in no rush at all to see it. I wasn’t burned by Temple of Doom or anything like that, it just feels incredibly awkward within certain film series to walk into hoping they don’t derail everything you have come to like about it. For the most part I really enjoyed it, but couldn’t help but notice a trend of each passing film being more warm and fuzzy than the next. The dark themes and more classical adventure of the first was becoming as film territory with the character of Indy, a distant memory.
I fell in love with Raiders of the Lost Ark when I first saw it, which when combined with Road Warrior, made for one hell of a great year in cinema for me in 1981. Though I'm still envious of others I know that were lucky enough to see a longer cut of the film. The experience of seeing Raiders on the screen for the first time was having that priceless feeling of movie magic for nearly the first time. It was the equivalent to me at the time of the book one might read where each following page gets better and better and you have no idea what will happen next.
The filmmaking voice that marked both George Lucas and Steven Spielberg seemed to drastically go away from the more edgier and darker themed material that brought them into cinema history in blazing fashion. They became happier. They got the girl. They bought the jukebox. They stopped having to worry about credit card bills. They now could focus solely on their craft and nothing else. The only thing they haven't bought is the Pacific Ocean (yet). With this sudden grounding in life also comes the opposite effect of will the hunger and tenacity that drove you initially still be there to spark you enough to rekindle what makes your artistic voice tick and unspool transcendence. This isn’t an indictment of Lucas and Spielberg, but like all artists this can largely play a factor in continuing forward.
With that in mind, everything was in place for Indy IV to be the Lucas and Spielberg version of Grease 2. Everything was right there for this movie to be a complete misfire. Luckily the latest outing becomes a backyard grill for fans of the series, a love letter to the magic of motion pictures and more specifically America in the 1950’s. This is a film from Lucas and Spielberg saying that they still both in fact have that first love feeling for cinema running through their veins. They just want to take a quick time out from all the other work they have going on and do something fun that honors the spirit of movie going entertainment. It still is an adventure for the young at heart, for the cinephile in us all and as man on a perilous quest.
If Raiders was more of a serious business private fine dining experience, then Indy IV is a backyard grill. Here we mingle with the story in the same mold as a Young Indiana Jones Adventure on Television. It has much more of a Young Indy series feel to it in my opinion. Overall the feel of the film was far more in the spirit of Truck Turner and Skatetown U.S.A., in just having fun and enjoying cinema, versus taking anything too seriously or trying to craft moments of rousing transcendence. Perhaps they said it all in the first film? Either way Indy IV does work as a part two to this love affair they have with the nostalgia of their youth, except now we get the sunny side of the story. Well aside from the ridiculous swinging monkey scene that really fell out of place with the rest of the film.
Now that we have it out in the open this is a warm and fuzzy Indy tale, then you should know this is the furthest progression to date in this series of this transition away from darker themed material. The plot itself is fairly straightforward and offers up enough side trips that you can see why the speculation on what the movie about was really about was so all over the place. Indy IV simply is about the quest for the Crystal Skull and to stop the evil Russians that want it. Transplant the Crystal Skull as the Ark from the original and Russians for Nazis and you now get a general sense of how the stakes are crafted here. We start out at Area 51 in Nevada in 1957 and from there on, are but a crack of the whip away from another mystery to be solved or moment of peril to move the plot forward.
The red lines and dots that mark the airplane travel sequences are back, as is the strong passion and curiosity of being an archaeologist.
Overall this outing as laid back as it often seems does in addition to everything else seem to be a bookend and wrapping up of everything to date we have seen with Indiana Jones and the characters of his world. The most notable change in the Indy universe here is just how sci-fi elements are introduced and woven throughout its tale and ultimately how radically different the ending of this film feels with the others (outside of Temple of Doom which had a real yawner of and ending).
The flow and movement of the film is top notch as we weave around moments, locations and characters with Janusz Kaminski to guide visually guide us on the journey. Everything is largely top notch with most of the practical thrust put upon the film instead of opting for a largely bloated CGI approach. Kamisnki absolutely dazzles behind the camera and often times makes the scenes more vivid and captivating than anything the script has to offer to it.
What they don’t have in this outing is a solid script. The script used feels several versions from being a complete affair. As such expect a wildly uneven ride with Indy working in spurts to a degree it becomes a game of peek a boo in places. When the luster and greatness of the character of Indy and the moments we come to expect do happen, you can’t help but sit up in your seat and smile.
The movie is one big mixed bag of loud screeching action to laugh out loud nods to the previous films. You certainly have to keep a keen eye on all the goings on here or you might miss a gag, wink or nod. The Vertigo movie poster for instance passes very quickly, as does one great Raiders nod early on. The Day the Earth Stood Still reference is a blip as are many others. The Wild Ones reference as seen in the trailers does happen and does turn out even more incredibly silly when seen in full, but you have to wonder how many in current audiences will even get this one? And there is no Easter egg at the end of the credits; however, getting to hear the score blast out as they play is one hell of a welcome treat and rush indeed.
Despite the adventure and fun, the movie never seems to connect from one scene to the next. It never gains enough momentum or traction to fully carry us on its adventure. There is enough to admire and enjoy, but like its disastrous ending, there is enough to make it a film to love in parts rather than the whole. At the least Spielberg, Lucas and Ford are back with every ounce of fun and film first love they still have in them. Let’s just hope next time they a finished script. The energy and enthusiasm bursting from them is contagious enough to make this film largely work. It overcomes the movies shortcomings, yet at least for me marks this as the weakest entry in the series. In terms of sheer fun with this series, the film is only second to Raiders.
Cate Blanchett supposedly turns in one evil vixen that is incredibly cruel and memorable. The reality of her character for me was she had a great look and weaponry, but the script given to her didn’t offer up anything mean or really evil to do or say. In contrast to her character for example, Mini Me from Austin Powers would look like the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. So definitely don’t go in expecting Cate to be this terrible bad character that chews everything up. She does solid work for what she is given, yet sadly gets a very under written that is realized with way too much indifference.
Shia LeBouf I can honestly say I haven’t been much of a fan of, yet here in Indy IV he more than holds his own and with the lensing of Janusz Kaminski and direction of Spielberg, should easily go on to stardom. He becomes the right mixture of reckless youth and heart on his sleeve characterization. He seems to possess the potential to eat scenes alive with his skills, while at the same time seeming to defer too much to everything and everyone else around him. Once he gets past this, there is no telling how much screen success he will go on to have.
John Hurt turns in a really strange and likeable performance as Professor Oxley. It perhaps is the closest on screen anyone has ever come to filming what Dennis Hopper might have been like while filming The Last Movie. Here we don’t have to imagine that scenario as Mr. Hurt puts the W in weird to such a loud degree that Sigur Ros can’t even understand him. Equally charming and weird, Mr. Hurt shines and gives life to a character that played by any other actor would have come across as pure camp.
If you like Harrison Ford as an actor then this movie is a true return to form for him. I can’t recall him looking this comfortable up on the screen in a long, long time. He absolutely owns the role from start to finish in the small and big moments. He has this role down so well and knows how to play to the audience that you almost wonder where the boundaries between Mr. Ford and Indy really are. Some of his action scenes are a bit awkward though. These moments stand out with some rather odd editing and disbelief.
While the score offers up little new it certainly brings back some of the great all time scores in cinema to the big screen. The overall sound design seems to opt out of more bass heavy sound effects and cling to the original under polished sound design and effects of previous entries.
Now will you be throwing this Indy your whip or be whipping it instead? This largely depends on if you like your Indy tales dark or with sunshine. If your choice is the sugary sweet rays of the sun, then this outing is custom tailored for you. The only dark scenes this time around are those shot in night time. Oh and the ending, perhaps if you have somehow missed several older and more recent sci-fi films, then it might actually work.