Friday 23 May 2008


Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) dir. Steven Spielberg
Starring: Harrison Ford, Shia LeBeauf, Karen Allen, Ray Winstone


This latest adventure in the Jones saga will inevitably divide camps. After all, it's a 27 year old franchise and things can never be the same as it was. But since each episode of the series is a standalone adventure with only a few connections between them, "Crystal Skull" is automatically relieved of the pressure of, say, the Star Wars prequels to really f* things up. "Crystal Skull" doesn't quite have the same magic as the other films, but it's still a respectable entry in the series and a highly entertaining film.

As usual the film begins with a bang. It's 1957, and we're following an Army convoy in the Nevada desert. The Army has kidnapped Indiana Jones and his sidekick George "Mac" McHale (Ray Winstone). Cate Blanchett, hamming up a great Russian accent (Ukrainian actually), leads the Commies in a search for a piece of military treasure hidden away in a very familiar warehouse. An elaborate chase ensues ending with perhaps the most audacious escape from danger Indy's ever faced - a refridgerator never seemed so helpful.

After Indy escapes and travels back home safely to Princeton he's met by a bold youngster named Mutt Williams (Shia LeBeauf doing a great biker-rebel impression) who has been sent by Indy's old archeologist friend Professor Oxley (John Hurt) to find and bring back a mysterious Crystal Skull to its rightful home in the Mayan jungle. Indy meets up with his old flame Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) along the way and the foursome travel the globe, discover ancient worlds with supernatural powers while fighting off those nasty Commies.

There's a lot of plot in "Crystal Skull" and too much to tell in a review. But the less you know the better, because the biggest strength of this film is it's unfolding story and clever reveals of information. Spielberg and company are wise to tell the story 25 years after the 1930's adventures we're used to. Writer David Koepp also cleverly writes in the Communist scare and the atomic age into the film, and finds new enemies to replace those evil Nazis.

Koepp smartly put some quality time into fleshing out Indy's activities between now and then. Let's face it, a 65 year old action hero is not very exciting, but they do the best they can. We never got to see Indy during the war, but we learn that Jones used his worldly skills and knowledge to become a highly decorated spy for the US Government. He's not even called Indiana anymore. He's back to Henry Jones Jr. and instead of traversing the globe in search of treasure he's living comfortably teaching at Princeton.

There are plenty of elaborately choreographed actions scenes, some of which triumph, and some are just watchable. The action sores to great heights in the first half, and arguably have decreasing returns as the film moves along. The highlight is the cool motorcycle chase through the Princeton campus, and ending with a great comic punchline in the library. The lowlight is a not-so-well shot swordfight between LeBeauf and Blanchett atop two moving jeeps which segues into a CG-heavy Tarzan-style vine-swingning sequence.

On the downside is the overall dillution of the suspense, jeopardy and campy gore of the original three. It's family friendly fare for most of the film. No hearts are ripped from people's chests, and no melting faces. The climax may even turn a lot of people off, as it doesn't have the emotional resonance of "The Last Crusade", or the spine-tingling fear of "Raiders".

The fears of Spielberg and Lucas trying too hard to recreate the magic and failing miserably are adequately allayed. It's a grounded film that stands on its own and never falls into pathetic self-parody. "Crystal Skull" successfully blazes its own trail in terms of style, structure, tone and character. Unless you're really cynical, it's guaranteed to entertain. Enjoy.


Big Mike Mendez said...

It is entertaining, it is fun and that's what the movies should be. That being said, it was not as good as other entries in the series. I was let down by the over reliance on CGI, but the scenes between Indy and Mutt more than made up for those shortcomings.

Anonymous said...

I thought it was a fun movie with an odd lack of suspense. Action sequences were OK, entertaining but they lacked spark. The cast was wasted except for Cate Blanchett who
was the best thing about the movie. Ray Winstone, a good actor, was almost invisible and Karen Allen was little more than a nice smile. Shia LeBeauf was a nonentity. John Hurt’s character was fun but it could have been played by anybody and his enormous talent wasn’t on display. Besides Cate Blanchett the cast, including Harrison Ford, were just going through the motions. I would have like to have seen more unknowns play the parts then maybe you could suspend belief long enough to enjoy the story. The beginning with the blast and rocket sled was fun. The cycle chase was good but it went down hill from there. The rest was a rerun of action scenes from past adventure flics and totally PG. A hot babe is wet jungle gear would have helped. Cate Blanchett was too cool to sweat. It was an entertaining 2 hours but really totally forgettable soon afterwards. As a summer blockbuster it pales next to Ironman.

Anonymous said...

Just saw it, and I'm satisfied. Didn't come in with expectations, just wanted to see another "Indy" flick.
The beginning had a strange feeling to it. Then it picked up at the car chase in town, and then...well. The ending felt like just another movie.
But the adventure, which is what IJ is all about, was invigorating. You're right - Ford IS Indiana Jones, as absolutely no one else can be.
I agree with Michael above, the CGI is taking over blockbuster movies, but because of its cost-efficiency and wider range of control, it's the way the industry is heading. A bummer, because it still creates a disconnect from reality when you rely heavily on it.
This certainly isn't a movie to put tons of thought into...the Crystal Skull carries with it a curse similar to any 'magic character' in a movie ("Why didn't he use magic *then*?! Come on! Use your fireball *now*!)
Ah well - it was a fun ride while it lasted. The others in the series have the advantage of sweet nostalgia; it's the one thing this film can't do.

Andrew D. Wells said...

I haven't posted my review yet, expect it tomorrow, but I was a little weirded out that we both seemed to touch upon the exact same talking points, even though we kind of had different things to say. I liked it a little better than you did, I think, but very interesting how our reviews sort of mirror each other. I promise I did not read yours until after I finished mine.

Anonymous said...

Not wanting to be anal, but you mentioned in your review that Cate's accent was actually Ukrainian instead of Russian. Granted, her character is from Eastern Ukraine, but since Eastern Ukraine was the most heavily Russified area of Ukraine, then her character - even if she were
ETHNICALLY Ukrainian - would actually have a Russian accent, as opposed to a Ukrainian accent. (And there is a difference since Ukrainian is much "softer" than Russian.) That said, Cate's accent is pretty dreadful, but it sure is fun and she hasn't ever looked so drop-dead gorgeous.