Saturday, May 24, 2008
REVIEW - "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" (2008)
There are two types of people in the world: “Temple of Doom” people, and “Last Crusade” people. When you walk in the theater to see “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” it won’t matter which one you are, you’re either going to like it or dislike it. I’ve thought about the review I’m going to write for this movie harder than any other review I’ve written—Trying to weigh the pros and cons, and filter out as much bias as I can. But no matter what review you read or opinion you hear it’s always going to be riddled with bias. So filtering is almost a futile attempt. I want to give this movie a good write up because it’s Indiana Jones, but I don’t think it quite deserves it.
The movie begins on the right foot. Indiana is thrown in to a position to help the soviets uncover a crate in a large warehouse. No, it’s not the Ark of the Covenant, but it does make a cameo! The “artifact” they find leads Jones on a chase for the Crystal Skull with his new partner Mutt. The result is, of course, puzzles Jones must think through, wild chase scenes, battles with the Soviets and the return of a familiar face. None of this is necessarily a bad thing of course, but there are aspects to each that could have been omitted.
What is the Crystal Skull? I won’t spoil the mystery of its origin, but lets just say I figured out what it was going in to the movie and was prepared to accept that knowledge with an open mind. It wasn’t enough though. The fourth Indiana Jones sidesteps the supernatural element, which has been a huge factor in all of the movies, and spirals deeper and deeper in to science fiction. It simply doesn’t feel right. The Holy Grail, sacred Hindu stones, the Ark of the Covenant—All of these had elements of imaginative supernatural powers. With the Crystal Skull it’s too easy and non-too-subtle, even for Indiana Jones.
Meanwhile, I’ve heard a lot of complaints about the character Mutt played by Shia LeBeouf. I don’t think he hurt the movie at all. Jones has always had a sidekick and Mutt is no more incredulous than Short Round. What I didn’t enjoy about the character was his Tarzan abilities and implausible sword fight with Cate Blanchett’s character. Groin shots? Come on Spielberg! You’re better than that.
That scene does include a very entertaining chase scene through the jungle. Though much of it is downright impossible, I’m reminded of the chase scene from “Temple of Doom.” Granted, the chase this movie offers isn’t quite as an insane, but it’s fun with only a few moments of eye rolling.
So even though there are some cringe worthy scenes, like Indy surviving an atomic bomb test by hiding in a fringe that is blown clear from the blast; or a car jumping in to a tree so it can be catapulted to smash Soviets, the returning actors couldn’t look more comfortable. Harrison Ford somehow keeps a straight face throughout this absurdity and plays Jones with as much confidence, strength and presence as he did before he road off in the sunset in “The Last Crusade.” Meanwhile, Karen Allen who returns as Marion Ravenwood still manages to look as spirited as she did in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” (And she still has a gorgeous smile.)
There were times where I wondered if this film had too many characters. With LeBeouf’s “Mutt,” Marion’s return, the inclusion of Ray Winestone’s “Mac” and John Hurt as Harold Oxley, I could tell the development was rather thin. I enjoyed John Hurt, but nothing will top John Rhys-Davies, Denholm Elliott and, of course, Sean Connery. I know, I know. How can I compare the new cast to these titans, especially Sean Connery? It wasn’t simply the cast, it was how they were utilized. The previous characters were fleshed out better and had a steadier pace of development than Mutt and Oxley. Even Marion’s character seemed to be lacking purpose during the course of the film. Perhaps they should have spent less time with Shia swinging on vines?
The ending of the movie was probably my biggest disappointment. It wasn’t the cool, warehouse ending from “Raiders” and no one went off in the sunset—It was unbecoming of Indiana Jones. Furthermore, the end result of the Crystal Skull itself was too sci-fi for the character’s experiences. Though I did have fun throughout the movie, and seeing Indiana on the big screen was a fantastic experience, I didn’t love the film—And I wanted too. Badly. It just saddens me that after nearly two decades of script rewrites and development hell this is the result we get.
** out of ****