A more positive, yet far more damning, review of INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL comes in...
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. I'm doing my best not to let these reviews bring me down. I was shopping last night and picked up some Indiana Jones toys (Belloq and Crystal Skull Indy) as well as some Dark Knight toys (damn ebayers fleecing all the Jokers out of the stores!). I was sent the new DVD box set of all three INDIANA JONES movies and have been watching the special features... RAIDERS is on right now, just finished with one of my favorite scenes, when Marion accidentally hits Indy in the face with the mirror.
Needless to say, I'm in full anticipation mode.
The review that came in earlier wasn't positive, but I think the below review is more damning, even if it is more positive. I really hope I radically disagree with both of the reviews we've gotten. I want for nothing more than to love another Indiana Jones adventure. Growing up Indiana Jones was as close to my heart as Star Wars was. These films mean a lot to me and I'll be very sad if this one turns out to be either a misfire or just non-offensively mediocre.
Fingers are still crossed, though. There aren't too many spoilers below, but I'm posting with a spoiler tag anyway. I'm hoping to go in knowing as little as I can, but it's starting to become more difficult to avoid that stuff now.
I read ShogunMaster’s uniformly negative review because I saw the film myself two days ago, and I wanted to see if his reaction was the same as mine. It wasn’t, but I’m not surprised by what he wrote. The entire audience at the screening was holding its collective breath, waiting for the breakthrough moment that would signal Indy’s triumphant return to the top of the Geek Heap, and that moment never really comes.
But that’s not to say it’s a bad movie. It’s just an unnecessary one.
Ironically, the problem is that Lucas, Spielberg, and Ford are trying far too hard to give everyone what they think that they want. Look! It’s the Ark! Look! It’s Marion! Look! It’s not the mileage, it’s the years! Everyone’s just treading water in this thing. The result is a movie that could – and should – conceivably have been made about a year or two after the Last Crusade, and would probably have been pretty well received. But after twenty years, everyone expects something that this movie can never be, and the harder the film tries to cram in as much nostalgia and clever references to what’s gone before, the more achingly clear it is that this movie is an empty exercise. It’s all about trying to recapture lightning in a bottle. Nothing about this film stands on its own – it’s constantly leaning on the past, hoping we don’t notice that it doesn’t bring anything new to the franchise.
This is the “Free as a Bird” of Indiana Jones movies.
Ironically, the movie I kept thinking about as I watched it was “Rocky Balboa,” which I consider the best of the recent returns to the long-abandoned franchise wells. Stallone used nostalgia to further a new story – Rocky’s obsession with the past allowed the audience to relive some of their favorite moments, but it also showed us who Rocky is now – lonely, lost, a little pathetic. It used old story elements to tell something new. It showed us how an ancient, weary Rocky adapts to a new world, and in the process, it deepened our appreciation for the character and capped the franchise perfectly.
“Crystal Skull” goes in exactly the opposite direction. Ford is given plenty of asides and one-liners that acknowledge his age, but they’re just obligatory and have no bearing on the story. Indeed, Indy delights in showing up his Wrath of Khan-style Instant Son every chance he gets. And he absorbs more punishment in this thing than in all three of the previous movies combined, which just gets silly after awhile. He’s like Roger Moore at his View-to-a-Kill pruniest – no man of any age could withstand the crap they throw at him, and it’s even goofier to assume a geezer like this could.
And where Rocky Balboa succeeded by stripping the thing down to its essence, Crystal Skull bloats everything far beyond what this plot or these characters can sustain. Set pieces just sort of appear out of the ether, and each is bigger and more bombastic than the last, and none of them matter, because you don’t really give a rip what happens to anybody. Which is really sad, when you consider what an iconic character they’re throwing away.
What’s especially strange about this movie is how heavily it relies on the MacGuffin, and just how talky it is. I, for one, don’t want to know anymore about the crystalline structure of an alien skeleton or their lost city and how they enhance the psionic abilities of psychic Russians than I absolutely have to, but apparently Lucas thinks I need a PhD on the subject. Had this been a story really been about an aging Indy, it might have been interesting. As it stands, even with all the hokey in-joke references to the first three flicks, the characters don’t matter at all. Instead of Indiana Jones, you could call this Horace the Monkey Boy and replace Harrison Ford with Richard Chamberlain or Harvey Keitel or Booger from Revenge of the Nerds and not much about this movie would change.
That’s not to say it sucks. The actors acquit themselves well, especially Karen Allen, although it would have been nice to see her with more screen time. Ford is just fine; he just doesn’t give us anything we haven’t seen before. And for all the Shia hate, LeBoeuf is a long way from embarrassing himself. I couldn’t decide if Cate Blanchett was awful or not, because she’s certainly strange. She’s the most bizarre of the Indy villains but also the least interesting because she’s the least human. She’s all dominatrix weirdness, but you can tell Blanchett is having fun, so eventually you do, too. Ray Winstone is wasted, which is too bad, as his character actually shows signs of being something interesting but never really gets to go there. He’s sort of an amoral Sallah, which might have been fun if it hadn’t been part and parcel with the stupid Skull narrative that crowded out everything else.
It sounds like I hated it. I really didn’t. But I have to admit it made me sad. It felt like going to a family reunion where everyone was forced to watch a slideshow or old home movies instead of getting a chance to catch up with each other. Spielberg boasts that this movie looks and feels exactly like the first three, and he’s exactly right. Had he truly made a fourth Indiana Jones movie rather than just a weak retread, I’d have been a whole lot happier.
Call me Languatron’s Bane.
"I love almost everybody."---Rocky Balboa 1990
"Let's reform this thing.Let's go out and get some guys who want to work and go do it"--Neal Schon February, 2001
"I looked at Neal, and I just saw a guy who really wants his band back"-JCain 2/01