Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull shows that Henry Jones, Junior has been busy for the last 19 years as it’s now 1957. Has it been almost 20 years since Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? Man, I feel old.
Apart from giving a straight review, this movie requires a bit of dissecting and we shall now dissect in SPOILER territory.
SPOILERS! Avert your eyes, like this Russian chap below! Indy’s helping him avert his eyes, even.
[[image:indy01.jpg:This seems to be an unfinished FX shot :center:0]]
Indiana Jones is George Lucas and Steven Spielberg’s love for pulp movie serials of the 30s redone using modern filmmaking techniques. However with the fourth installation of the series, our intrepid hero, now about the same age as him father as played by Sean Connery in The Last Crusade, has entered the B movie era of the 1950s as we will soon see when we come to the movie’s topic source.
[[image:indy02.jpg:Adventure has a name… two names in fact:left:0]]The movie begins as it usually begins. The old 80s style Paramount title card once transitioned into a far away South American mountain, a decoration on a large gong in a Shanghai nightclub and a rock formation in the deserts of Utah. When the title card became a mound of dirt of a gopher hole, I started to smile and I don’t think I lost this smile until… well, we shall get to that.
Early in the movie, we learn that Indiana Jones (addressed as “Indiana” on screen, I think, only once; most of the time is addressed as “Professor Jones”, or “Doctor Jones”, or “Henry Jones Junior”) has been busy as an OSS officer in the military during the Second World War and the current villains are the Soviet military under the command of Irina Spalko, searching for paranormal artifacts that would give the Soviet Union a psychic edge over the rest of the world. Indy was captured and brought by the Soviets to Area 51 where it becomes apparent that this is the site of the crate scene at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
And what she wants is in a crate that Indy recovered in 1947 at Roswell, New Mexico. However, he escapes in the manner befitting a two-fisted serial hero with a bullwhip, which takes him on a new adventure in search of a prehistoric South American crystal skull.
Let’s walk through the good and the bad of the movie.
- The effective feint in the beginning with the hot rod racing with the military truck which gave the illusion of two golly gee gosh all-Americans participating in a quick race on the roads.
- A beautiful and haunting shot of the mushroom cloud of a nuclear explosion.
- Smooth Indy moves that pepper the first 3 quarters of the movie, like using the whip, playing chicken with the trucks, initiating the malt shop fight with the college students, the reverse blowpipe trick, pulling out a rocket propelled grenade launcher in the truck… I could go on forever. These made me grin non-stop throughout the movie.
- Shia LeBeouf as Mutt Williams. He didn’t come as annoying and he played well against Harrison Ford both underestimating each other.
- The return of Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood. She looked like she had fun returning to the role and driving a duck off a cliff into the Amazon River.
- It might be over the top, but the swashbuckling action between the vehicles in the jungle was great.
- Role reversal of Dr. Jones where Mutt gave him an enthusiastic grin after a motorcycle stunt and he scowls back. Almost exactly what occurred between his father and him in The Last Crusade, also involving a motorcycle.
- Even in death, Denholm Elliot as Marcus Brody got a little piece of the action.[[image:indy03.jpg:You can’t have an Indy movie without a gaping chasm of some sort:right:0]]
- A reference to an episode of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles TV series was also mentioned. That was a very welcome snippet in the movie.
- True to 50s sci-fi B movies, they never once mentioned the word “alien”. They did talk about spacemen or saucer men from Mars, and Kane from Alien managed to spurt out “interdimensional beings”, but never “alien”.
- The obligatory ophidiophobia scene appeared abruptly and without any warning, which contributed to its fun factor.
- Scenes that played out well and looked good with classic Spielbergian direction and camerawork to tell a story using moving pictures, such as shadows, unveiling of a villian, surprises in the shots (like the buckshots suddenly being pulled under the crates) and second layer of story told through the action of the characters as the actors are talking boring exposition (the malt shop scene).
Take, for example. the ending of The Last Crusade where Indy chooses to let go of the sangréal, or Temple of Doom where he forsakes fortune and glory for the release of the child slaves. Those are great examples of having heart in the movie, where the main character has to choose well and his choice might not be self-beneficial but it is the right choice.
[[image:indy04.jpg:The Elephant Man and Han Solo:left:0]]However, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has nothing of the sort in the last quarter of the movie. It was like watching a video game being played. Jump. Solve the puzzle. Avoid the traps. Evade the natives. Jump some more. Then they’re captured and the bad guys get what they wish for… to their own damnation (as usual). The heroes escape while their surrounding is undergoing a chaotic computer generated transformation. Water carries them out and they escape the chaos and survive.
It sounds and seems exactly like the end of The Mummy Returns.
And of course, the monkeys and vine swinging. Not that I have anything against a bit of Tarzan hijinks in an Indiana Jones movie, but it’s just too much of a suspension of disbelief when Mutt does it. Indy can do all these fantastic things because of his implied history (and those actually seen on screen in The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles) but Mutt’s been established as a dropout.
So, yeah I didn’t particularly like those parts.
Finally, I like the ending where Indy and Marion finally get hitched, with a fun bit where serendipity gives Mutt a chance to wear Indy’s fedora… almost. But when the credits rolled, it seemed forced and too happily ever after to me. No quips. No comebacks. Nothing to remind us although it’s a happy ending, there’s still some cynical Indiana Jones-eque humour behind it all.
To summarize, the first three quarters of the film was pure old school Indiana Jones fun, but the last quarter is like watching a video game, ending the movie on an impersonal note.
I would love to see another Indiana Jones movie as much as Harrison Ford appears to enjoy playing him again. True to the 50s B movie theme, I would even watch them if the titles were Indiana Jones and the Atomic Horror From The Deep or Indiana Jones and the Lord of the Undead Fiends as long as they lose the video game like action sequences and not lose the archaeological premise of the character. Heck, having Shia LeBeouf as Mutt around as a foil to Indy (and vise versa) should work wonders, just like Sean Connery in The Last Crusade.