REVIEW: “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”

Posted: May 28, 2008 by V in Review

Once again, lured into theaters by the promise of action stars of my youth taking a good thrashing on screen, I bring you the fourth movie in the Indiana Jones series. My general rule is that I try to avoid spoilers on movies still in theaters and that I would recommend seeing, but this is a film that is difficult to review without giving at least something away. Therefore, there may be spoilers ahead. Hint: just look at the poster.)

he gonna jump you!

Joining the recent trend of breaking the trilogy, “Indiana Jones: KOTCS” features a much older Harrison Ford as a battered Indy, a much older Karen Allen reprising her role as Marion from the first film, and a very James Dean-ish Shia LaBeouf in the role as sidekick.

First and foremost, I applaud the creators for keeping this film in a style that matches the spirit of the older films. With a gap of 20 years, that can’t have been easy. The urge to slap CG throughout everything (especially with Lucas and Spielberg together on the project) must have been unbelievably tempting. Even more so when I say that the “Crystal Skull” of titled mention, is alien. Yes, I repeat. Alien, space alien. As overly CG as some of the scenes were, I know that personally, I would have been hard put to avoid the ease and ubiquitousness of modern graphics. To illustrate, if someone were to have asked me to form an image using “Indiana Jones” and “Aliens” before tonight, I would have imagined something like this:

Closely examining a net total of 4 films, I have concluded that Indiana Jones may be the single worst archaeologist/anthropologist known to the history of time. One must consider the extent of damage, and the sheer RANGE of his adventures. He has managed to bring about the destruction or loss of at least one ancient architectural structure, culture/civilization, or priceless artifact per adventure. Sometimes multiple times. Untold and uncounted damages never to be seen by any other eyes. If he had a custom bumper sticker, it would read “I came, I saw, I or the people after me smashed it up”

“KOTCS” is set in the Cold War era, sometime in the fifties. The time of communist scares, Roswell, and malt shops. Therefore, it is only fitting that all three are included in this film. Ford is dragged from his comfortable lecturing professorship by Soviets bent on claiming a “mummified artifact” snuggly settled in amongst all the other US Government concealed goodies in Area 51. The Russians, lead by a severe and bad-ass Cate Blanchett in a really cute bob, are convinced of its ability to grant the possessor both knowledge and psychic ability beyond the realm of human possibility. As everyone in the entirety of the 20th century knows, if there’s an artifact that needs finding, just go kidnap Dr. Jones. And so that is exactly that happens.

Adventures commence as LaBeouf, cast as “Rebel Without A Cause” complete with motorcycle, leather jacket, switchblade, and pocket comb to nurse his pompadour, swoops Ford up into helping him rescue an old friend. At which stage the party moves to Peru in search of “the crystal skull” and John Hurt who is stimulating in his role as a Brittish guru/savant. Right and LaBeouf’s mom is out there too. All this while being chased and/or followed by Blanchett and her team of burly Russian dudes.

Final score: 4 out of five bullets. A stable fourth movie to the series, but not amazing. If you liked the first three, you’ll like this one. The action picks up immediately, so fear not for Ford’s delicate aged bones, for he sure isn’t. Some of the attempts at cheeky humor fall flat, and for some reason, there is kid/chimp monkey comedy included even after having already proven to always be a losing cinematic decision. Several leaps in logic and gaps in continuity can be noted, most of which are easily dismissed in the face of the enjoyment currently at offer. Regardless, of the scenes that are a little stilted, the entirety of the movie came together well, and was satisfyingly packed with action, adventure, and exotic destinations and exploration.

Some of the greatest appeal that Indiana Jones held for me was that he’s not really that great of a fighter. He’s got a smidgen of ingenuity and some tricks, but mostly what helps him win is his scrappy tenacity, some absurdly good luck, and an ability to take a hard beating and still hobble on afterwards. He shares some of his beatings with LaBeouf in this film, who puts on a good showing. I had always considered him a rather flat and one dimensional actor, but credit will go to LaBeouf for doing a bang up job at being Indy’s side kick. As far as the part was written, I’d say he was solidly cast.

As for the alien plot device, it didn’t bother me as much as it could have. I was fairly entertained by their parallel of the Mayan practice of head boarding (to better emulate the godliness of corn) to the oblong structure of the alien skulls. For those upset at the inclusion of sci-fi into the classic style of exploration, characteristic of the Indiana Jones movies, I challenge you to think of another chronologically plausible grand adventure with a lost artifact and a villainous group or organization after it, that would somehow pull Indiana Jones from his impending retirement. Please no more “Temple of Doom” plot lines.

  1. Susana says:

    I’m continually reminded of the joke Mom used to tell me: “If you ever want an easy class, take Jones, anthro. He ditches half the semester.”

  2. Mike says:

    One thing that really bothered me about this movie was the editing during the car chase. You pointed out at one point while Princess Perestroika was chasing Indy along the cliff edge that her car suddenly went from being behind him to in front of him, and I noticed quite a bit of this during that chase. I remember Indy throwing a Russian out the side of his vehicle after I had been sure he had already swept that vehicle for communists just minutes earlier. Granted, a car chase is no place for continuity, especially one as complex as this (there were FOUR FRIGGIN’ CARS AND A SWORD FIGHT, ALL AT ONCE!!!) but it did make it tough to understand exactly what was happening at times.

    Some other things that bugged me-

    Magnets don’t randomly turn on and off, yet the one at the beginning appeared to do so. It was powerful enough to suck in gunpowder from waaaaay across the warehouse, but it wasn’t until it was uncrated that it started to turn the lamps.

    How did Oz figure out that he had to bash the little rock faces to have sand drain out while he was in prison? I forget what the exact riddle was, but I assure you it had nothing to do with what actually happened. And while we’re on the subject, how did draining the sand cause the floor below them to suddenly collapse? And why are ancient ruins always filled with so many death traps? These guys are as bad at being architects as Indy is at being an archeologist.

    Finally, the flying-in-a-fridge thing was stupid, but I can forgive this because it let me see fake people melt.

    Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely enjoyed the movie, but it did require a lot of suspension of belief

  3. Anonymous says:

    “I challenge you to think of another chronologically plausible grand adventure with a lost artifact and a villainous group or organization after it, that would somehow pull Indiana Jones from his impending retirement.”

    Spear. Of. Destiny.

    But I will withhold that argument until I actually see the movie =3

  4. Vicki says:

    As to Spear of Destiny — the answer to my question:

    I say a very good answer, but it fails to explain why Indy is 20 years older! In addition to the fact that most references to the Spear connect it with Hitler. Temporally improbable given the completion date of the movie and the current age of Ford!


    But you totally get points for trying. Bring on more suggestions!

  5. Mike says:

    I wish to put in a request. This is my request.

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