In 2008, Indiana Jones fans thought they were in for a treat. After a 19 year absence, their favourite archaeological adventurer was coming back to the big screen in a movie directed by Steven Spielberg! But before you could say “nuking the fridge”, audiences expectations were shattered by the realities of Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull, and they turned on the pic. A black mark formed on the legacy of Henry Jones Jr.
It’s not a classic by any means, but it’s not as bad as you remember.
Skull kicks off with Indy (Harrison Ford) in one of his trademark tight spots, staring down the barrel of a Russian machine gun. The year is 1957, at the height of the Cold War, and he’s no longer the younger man that we knew from the previous movies. We’re in Nevada, at a mysterious building with a 51 painted on the roof. The Russians want something specific, and they want Indy to find it. Led by scientist Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett), they want to harness the power of the strange alien-like creature they find to rule the world with their comrades. Indy eventually escapes and finds himself caught in the middle of a nuclear test site. Enter the lead-lined fridge that earned so much derision. Yes, it’s idiotic, but it’s not the end of the world.Back in his classroom, Indy is informed that he’s being put on indefinite suspension for his ties to the Russians. In the midst of this turmoil, he crosses paths with Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf) a greaser with a chip on his shoulder who is looking for his mother and a mutual friend of Indy’s who went missing after finding a crystal skull. Swept up in the mystery, the two make their way to the Amazon to find their friend, save Mutt’s mother (who is well-known to the audience) and stop the Russian plot. That’s about all you need to know about the plot; there’s the trademark historical intrigue, finding clues and deciphering them, and the constantly getting into (and out of) trouble with the bad guys.
It’s these parts that the movie does right, and it’s great to see two old masters at work in these scenes. Harrison Ford wears the role like a glove, and even though he’s a fair bit older now, his Indy hasn’t lost of any of his trademark wit and sly humour. Spielberg too is in reliable form, staging some incredible set pieces, particularly the initial getaway by Indy in the Area 51 warehouse, and a jeep chase through the Amazon which for the most part is thrilling and just this side of ridiculous… until the monkeys come in.The monkeys are an oft-cited point of contention with the movie, but to me, they’re just symptomatic of where Crystal Skull falls short of being a classic Indiana Jones tale. There’s an over-reliance on CGI throughout the movie, which takes away from what I loved about the previous films and their lived in quality which had a lot to do with the practical effects used. No matter how good CGI gets, it tends to break you from the reality of the scene, and that’s what happens when the monkeys swoop in or in the film’s climax when the true origin of the crystal skull is revealed. In fact, the over-reliance on CGI basically kills the movie’s last 15 mins, along with a plotline that is a bit too out of this world for the good Dr Jones (in my humble opinion).
Shia LaBeouf garnered a lion’s share of the film’s blowback, and probably a bit too much on second viewing. His Mutt Williams isn’t a terrible character, he just isn’t given an awful lot to do besides posturing and acting bratty. I won’t miss him in the next Indy adventure, but he by no means kills the picture. Blanchett too is wasted in a stock Russian villain role that is mostly about garbling her words and strutting around.For the most part though, Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull is a fun ride that puts you back in the company of a terrific character and the actor who was born to play him. If the movie had given its secondary characters more to do, and possibly side-stepped the whole alien plotline, we might be thinking differently about it. As it is though, it’s definitely worth a second look.
What do you guys think? Keen to give Indy’s latest adventure another crack of the whip? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook!