When I originally heard them folks in Hollywood were adding a fourth film to the beloved Indiana Jones trilogy, I couldn’t help but think this was a somewhat awful idea. It irks me when tired movie makers dig up and reuse an idea that is already solid in movie history and holds an important place in people’s hearts. It’s just plain risky to take a complete, socially accepted story and tear it open, add more dramatic happenings, and come to an altogether new conclusion, all while attempting to preserve the integrity of the original concept. The whole idea reeks of a creative deficiency and a terrible, dollar sign-eyed greed among those who serve us our motion picture entertainment. Even more problematic are the uncomfortably cute self-referential pokes and bits of humor that inevitably soak any project of this kind. But then again, are the original three Indiana Jones films not full of such moments, where the titular character slips through escapade after escapade with rakish-yet-professorial ease, all while the audience celebrates the naturally accepted humor of a man who despises snakes or cringes at being called “Junior?” As a fan of the series I can naysay all I want with an authority fed by an “I was there” dedication, but in the end I knew I’d be doomed by the power of curiosity. And so days before the film’s release, I had myself a nostalgia-tinged, box wine-fueled movie marathon in preparation for this momentous occasion.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a bad movie. The problem with a continuation that puts too much focus on the celebration of itself is that rather than existing as a distinctly respectable and whole artistic piece, it becomes a masturbatory revisiting that creates a strange rift between the fictional world of the film and the real world where we have a collective idea of the character of Indiana Jones. The action sequences in Crystal Skull are not boring or lacking in badassity – we’ve got our speeding vehicles, gnarly explosions, and squirmy creature infestations – but they’re weighed down by constant pokes of the “it’s funny because he’s older now” variety. Thusly, the film fails to create a satisfying end story for the man and hero Indiana Jones, or to contemplate how a character of his sort would move into old age and infuse this transition with life lessons. This movie is entertaining purely for its snazzy actions sequences but does not add to the overall myth, legend, or story.
But hey, how dare I expect artistic achievement from a series of great action movies from the 1980s? It’s far too lofty a hope, and an arguably inappropriate one given the nature of the originals, to search for cinematic greatness beyond kicking ass and wooing the ladies. But even the storyline in Crystal Skull is problematic. It begins in the right place by taking us to 1958 where we get to have fun with old-timey cars, cute pigtailed high school girls, and the doo-wop thrill of a packed malt shop of this era. Young heartthrob Shia LaBeouf dons an awesome poufy haircut and rides atop a slick motorcycle to dreamworthy effect, but the “long-lost son” thing only really holds for one good campus chase scene, one which sadly does not employ the use of a sidecar. From that point on the father/son relationship is murky and underdeveloped, attributes that later extend to Karen Allen’s character whose sudden yet predictable appearance brings nothing but cheap jokes and incentive for feminists everywhere to shudder in their seats.
Cate Blanchett vindicates the cast somewhat with her expertly portrayed Soviet she-spy, but her opportunity to shine is weighed down by the story’s unfortunate Twilight Zone plot twist. The supernatural element could be called appropriate since we know these films to thoroughly explore the myths and beliefs of ancient cultures, and the previous installments did in fact discover living proof of certain religious tales. However, the Crystal Skull doesn’t successfully convince the audience to get behind this new eerie undertaking in Indiana’s life, and so as he and his travel companions shake hands with the X-Files, I was left confused, angry, and tired (yes, I went to the midnight show). In conclusion, I’m no longer eight years old and so may be ill equipped to enjoy modern Spielberg/Lucas experiments.
Oops, I got through this whole spiel without one mention of Harrison Ford. Despite all, he’s super cool, and looks remarkably good for a 95 year old man.