Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) Movie Review #2

(Movie Review by Dustin Adrian) So who is Indy battling in the new Indiana Jones movie? The Nazis? The Russians? No — it’s fan expectations. There are two Indiana Jones movies in theaters right now — there’s the film that has received bad web buzz and negative reviews and then there’s the actual movie. Which one you see when the lights go out is entirely up to you. The good news is that the actual movie is entertaining and fun.

We catch up with Indy 20 years after his last crusade — through a rather neat reveal shot that echoes the beginning of “Raiders of the Last Ark.” This time it’s the Russians that are after a device that will rule the world. They are searching for a Crystal Skull that baddie Agent Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchette) believes has psychic powers. Along for the adventure this time are Indy’s old love from “Raiders,” Marian Ravenwood (Karen Allen), her son Mutt (Shia LeBeouf), Indy’s old war buddy Mac (Ray Winestone) and the usual bunch of rotted dead guys clutching the walls of ancient tombs (someday they’ll get the credit they deserve).

So 20 years after the last one, the question is: old Indy same old Indy? Well here’s the deal: Yes! I’ve always regarded Harrison Ford as a genetic anomaly. He basically didn’t age from 1980 to 1996. If there’s any doubt that Ford couldn’t be capable of his Indy antics today it’s put to rest in another reveal shot. That’s right — the gratuitous post-atomic blast disinfectant shower. After Indy finds himself almost nuked in the first 10 minutes, we get to see that Ford, like Indy, isn’t your stereotypical old timer. In fact, judging from his upper torso, he’s in better shape than the average man half his age.

Ford is looking good, but how’s the script? Well the script is looking good, too. In fact, this is where the movie really shines. David Koepp and the countless other writers who added ideas over the years to the script have really made the best of the period. You’ve got Russians, Greasers, FBI, aliens, Roswell, the atomic bomb, anti-communist protest rallies, and the Mayan culture. Did I mention crazy skull faced monkey men? That’s right, skull faced monkey men! Enjoy them before they become overexposed and have their own situational comedy. There are also lots of fun references to not only the previous films but also the missing years since we last saw Dr. Jones (Indy was a double agent? Crazy)!

Indy movies are about the journey, not the destination. Everybody is after the Crystal Skull because it’s powers will . . . yadda, yadda, yadda destroy the world. Who cares? Like the previous sequels, the plot is merely an excuse to weave Indy and his gang in and out of action sequences and historical gags, my favorite being the Russians driving through a crowd of student protestors and having their anti-communism signs whap them in the face repeatedly.

While updating Indy into the 50s, Spielberg and Lucas also updated their source of inspiration, switching from 40s adventure serials to 50s B-movies and sci-fi. Not only is this a logical decision, but it’s also a fun choice, giving Indy a new flavor for his fourth time out. Fans have already griped about the direction they’ve taken the series, but the writers are not making this stuff up. Knowing a bit about the subject matter myself, I was thoroughly entertained with how they wove it together. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but there are theories about Mayans, aliens and the crystal Skulls that are just begging to get the cinematic treatment for years. I think it’s pretty cool that Indy swung, tumbled and punched his way there first.

Spielberg and Lucas succeed in creating a light and breezy tone that is more reminiscent of “Last Crusade” than either the original or “Temple of Doom.” In fact, the film feels like a weird hybrid of the first sequels. It has the warmth and heart of “Crusade”, but also suffers from the action overload that Temple dipped into. Which brings me to my only serious criticism. For a movie that Spielberg promised would use practical effects, there sure is an awful lot of CGI in “Crystal Skull”. Personally, I hate the stuff. There is a chase scene in the middle involving monkeys/Russians/killer ants that I would just love to snip for future viewings. Still, I am not going to let my personal dislike for a single scene distract me from enjoying the whole. Besides, it’s mostly the same kind of scene they would have done 20 years ago using blue screen and optical f/x. It was only when Shia was swinging through the trees with a dozen monkeys did I feel the old urge to stun gun Lucas before he could do any more damage to himself or others.

What’s the verdict on the new Indiana Jones movie? Well, It’s an Indiana Jones movie. In fact, it’s simply giving you more of all the elements viewers enjoyed in the previous installments. Before going, I threw a movie night where a dozen friends and I watched the original trilogy back to back. It was a blast. The same group went to see “Crystal Skull” and despite minor quibbles, the unanimous vote was that we had a great time. So why all the bad buzz? Simple. Too many fans who have written their own movie in their heads. Too many people who enjoyed the original as a kid, but have since become bitter and hard to please adults. Too many kids who cannot appreciate that no, it is not ripping off the “Mummy” films — the “Mummy” films and “National Treasure” ripped off Indy. As with any big release, there are too many reviews by people who should unplug their keyboard.

Read another review of the film here.

Steven Spielberg (director) / David Koepp, George Lucas, Jeff Nathanson (screenplay)
CAST: Harrison Ford … Indiana Jones
Cate Blanchett … Irina Spalko
Karen Allen … Marion Ravenwood
Shia LaBeouf … Mutt Williams
Ray Winstone … ‘Mac’ George McHale
John Hurt … Professor Oxley
Jim Broadbent … Dean Charles Stanforth

more “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” images at our gallery
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull