I Felt Stupid and I Heard Words Uttered that I Never Thought I’d Hear Again and Then I Reviewed Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
How’s that for a long title? And it’s all true…or at least it will be once I’m through writing this. Before you read on, know that this is going to be one spoiler heavy review. So, if you haven’t seen the movie, wait til you’ve seen it to read this. Seriously. Even if you think you want to be spoiled….wait. Because more than this is a review it’s a response to other reviews I’ve read online.
One of the most poignant lines in the movie takes place early on, as the dean of the University tells Indy that they’ve come to the point where life is taking more than it’s giving now. I think this is a message to all of us movie fans/geeks out there. It’s message that those of us who were children of the eighties are all grown up now. When it comes to entertainment, if you’re a child of the eighties, you pretty much grew up in somewhat of a golden age. Sadly, the days of the magic that captured our imagination may be gone. Let’s face it, in the past few years we’ve had to say goodbye to a lot of things. We saw Rocky leave the ring for the last time. We watched as Rambo finally went home. All of our long night conversations about the Clone Wars and why Darth Vader turned were declared null and void. Our passion for playing with toys was replaced with a desire to horde collectibles and sell them to the highest bidder. Somewhere along the way our wonderment at action, adventure, and the excitement that movie magic brings was replaced with a cynical look at all things we used to simply enjoy. We’ve come to that point where we can’t just sit down and enjoy something anymore. without it being deeper, darker, and more “adult.” We’ve said goodbye to a lot, and if this is indeed one last goodbye to Iniana Jones, then I think it’s a fitting one.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull does it’s best to bring us back to that place of wonderment and fun, and if you’ll let it, it succeeds.
This is an Indiana Jones movie. Period. I don’t know what people expected from this movie, but a lot of those trashing it seem to not get the spirit of the original Indy films.
These movies are not arthouse films. They’re not meant to be the next Citizen Kane. They never were. They’re meant to be over the top thrill-a-minute fun movies. KOTCS falls right in line with all of the originals.
About halfway through the movie I realized I had a big dumb grin on my face. I couldn’t stop smiling. I couldn’t stop enjoying every chase, every mystery solved, every dire situation, and even the snake. I just enjoyed it.
Let’s break this thing down though.
First, the story. I’ve heard comments like “over the top,” “too much,” and “unbelievable.” To that I say, “HELLO! IT’S INDIANA JONES!” Let’s look at the first three films. Unless you believe in the God of the Bible, a golden box that unleashes the wrath of God and melts faces is unbelievable and over the top. That was Raiders. Unless you believe in pagan gods and black magick, then it’s over the top to believe in three magical stones and a priest of a dark cult that can pull a man’s heart from is chest and the person stay alive until burned to death. That’s Temple of Doom. Unless you believe in the Grail Legend and that a knight could live in a cave by himself for over a thousand years and speak perfect modern english even though he’s never been exposed to it, then the events and artifacts of The Last Crusade are over the top.
In all three of the original movies there are situations that nobody should be able to survive and yet it happens.
So, the premise of KOTCS isn’t all that far fetched to me. It takes established legends and puts the “What if it were real?” spin on them. Aliens may seem like they have no place in an Indiana Jones movie, but let’s face it, Aliens are as paranormal as anything else in the Indiana Jones movies.
Then there’s the acting. It seems that everyone agrees that Harrison Ford is back. I have to agree with everyone. Ford slips back into this role easily and flawlessly. The hat and jacket seem to be as natural to him as breathing.
Karen Allen plays a Marion that’s not as young and cynnical as she was when we first met her in Raiders. Being a mother and enjoying life with a good man served to soften her up. However, not in a bad way. She can still scrap. Allen seems to understand something that a lot of movie fans don’t quite get. Parenthood changes a person. Priorities are different. Attitudes are different. Everything changes when a child comes into the picture. So, the Marion we get is not a carbon copy of the Marion of Raiders, it’s a woman who has grown and changed as her life has changed. Karen Allen does an outstanding job of walking the fine line between the woman who was and the woman who is now Marion.
Shia Labeouf is given the character of a young man who wants to be a greaser rebel, but who is much more. Mutt (Shia’s character) is the wild card of this movie. This is the character that could easily go either way. I think Lebeouf does a good job with what is given him. By the end of the movie, Mutt is almost ready to step into Indy’s shoes, but…not quite. That point is wrapped up in the final shot before the credits roll. Can one take or leave the character of Mutt Williams? I think a valid argument could be made that the character isn’t needed, but I also think he is used effectively and adds to the movie.
Ray Winstone as Mack. This is probably one of the better kept secrets of the movie. I had no idea what to expect from this character. I assumed early on that he would be comparable to John Rhys Davies’ Sallah. However, (and yet another spoiler alert) when he turns on Ind, then turns again, and turns yet again, he becomes the intriguing fly in the ointment of the whole adventure. He adds a dimension to the Indy sidekick that has never been there before.
Cate Blanchett as Irina Spalko, the villainess of the film. She is one of the Soviet’s psychic soldiers. When I heard this, I envisioned her reading minds and knowing plans. Truth be told though, she never does this. You get the idea that she’s just really clever, no so much psychic, and that’s how she’s remained in Stalin’s good graces. Cate Blanchett just disappears into this role. If it weren’t for her distinctive facial features, I wouldn’t know it was her. She does a good job of making you not like her for all the right reasons.
The big question is How does this movie stack up with the other three. I think it fits right in there. It’s better than Temple of Doom and almost as good The Last Crusade. A lot of people I’ve read have used that criticism as a negative reaction. I will be honest and say that I was unaware that there were so many people who were unhappy with The Last Crusade. I really like that movie. My good friend Derek from Starkville’s House of El told me that he thought the movie “looked” like The Last Crusade. I totally agree. There are obviously shots and moments of the movie where the blue screen and digital work isn’t up to what people have come to expect today, but would have been cutting edge and beyond back in the early nineties. In that respect it works. In other respects, there’s a moment with some digital prairie dogs and another with digital monkeys that all look very much like the animals from Jumanji. It does kind of jar you out of the movie for a minute…but not too long and not so much that you can’t easily get back into things.
There’s also been a lot said about Indy’s relationship with Mutt. Many people have commented (mostly to the negative) that Indy takes on a very sarcastic wise cracking attitude toward Mutt early on. I did not see this at all. In fact, I liked how Indy immediately took to Mutt and tried to help him more than anything else. Early on, it tends to hearken back to Indy’s relationship with Short Round, or at least what the beginnings of Iny’s relationship with Short Round may have been like. As I thought about it, I wasn’t surprised at all by Indy’s reaction to Mutt. After all, he IS a teacher, and we’ve seen him interact with young people before, not just Short Round, but his students as well. When he discovers that Mutt is his son, he immediately does what most sons do…he becomes his father. He calls Mutt “Junior,” he starts nagging him about school, and he beams with pride when Mutt does something good. It just fits into the character of an older Indiana Jones.
Ultimately, I felt stupid about halfway through this movie as (as I said before) I realized that I had a grin plastered on my face that I just couldn’t get rid of. I was enjoying myself that much.
Then, to put me over the top, and in a wink to Star Wars and Han Solo fans, Harrison Ford, as Indiana Jones, uttered words I never thought we’d hear Harrison Ford say in the movies again, “I have a bad feeling about this.” I almost peed my pants. Steven Speilberg said at the outset that this was a movie made for the fans. A quick shot of the Ark of the Covenant, iconic moments and shots, the return of Marion, over the top action, sound effects, and death scenes all come together to show us what Mr. Speilerg meant.
I really believe that if you are a fan of the Indiana Jones trilogy as we have known it, and you can still find that place in you that used to just enjoy movies as a kid, then you will enjoy this movie.
I give the movie a solid 4 out of 5, docking a point for some of the digital work that distracts for a minute or two from the film. Don’t go expecting the second coming of Raiders, don’t go expecting a deep character piecer, don’t go expecting an oscar award winning ground breaking movie. Go expecting a good old fashioned romp around the glob with an old friend. You’ll enjoy it.