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INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL

 



STARRING:
Harrison Ford, Shia LaBeouf, Cate Blanchett, Ray Winstone, Karen Allen, John Hurt, Jim Broadbent

2008, 124 Minutes, Directed by:
Steven Spielberg


Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is everything you’d expect from an installment in the franchise. It fits in perfectly with the previous three movies, namely Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989).

In look and feel it is as if the movie was made only a few years after Last Crusade instead of nineteen years later. (Scarily enough not even Harrison Ford has seemed to have aged that much!) This makes Kingdom of the Crystal Skull a lot different to George Lucas’ other famous series which he revived for the new millennium. Unlike the Star Wars prequels, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull hasn’t had its soul sucked from it by bland characters, dull screenplays and an overdose of CGI.

Well, not quite. That’s the good news: the special effects, photography and sets remind one most of Raiders of the Lost Ark whilst the action and banter is more reminiscent of Last Crusade’s leisurely pace as opposed to Temple of Doom’s everything goes mentality and Raiders’ gritty realism. The bad news is that a huge chunk of the screenplay is however Attack of the Clones: clumsily written and put together, it is a huge lump of dull, talky exposition that almost threatens to sink the entire movie altogether.

That all this follows a fantastic opening action sequence just makes it so much worse. In said opening sequence Indiana Jones is trying to prevent some Russian secret agents masquerading as U.S. military troops from some stealing a remnant of the Roswell UFO crash site from a top secret government warehouse (which also stores the Ark of the Covenant in an in-joke aside). It will leave you with a silly grin as, yes, Indiana Jones does in fact actually survive even a nuclear blast like we always knew he would one day. The rather dry bit that follows is all talk and audience members will be fidgeting in their seats, impatiently waiting for the next action sequence to come along. When Shia le Beouf’s character exclaims that “it’s about time somebody did something!” and attempts a botched rescue attempt, it is as if you can hear the screenwriter becoming bored and frustrated with his own endless talk and dull exposition.

"Better than Temple of Doom, but not as good as Raiders or Last Crusade. . ."

The story as you probably know by now takes place nineteen years after the events in Last Crusade. It is 1957 as the Elvis song playing over the opening titles along with the fashions forcibly reminds the audience. The plot involves a now older Indiana Jones becoming involved in a scheme by Communist agents led by the frosty Irina Spalko played by Cate Blanchett (Lord of the Rings) to return a so-called crystal skull to a temple in Peru. Legend has it that (you guessed it) whoever returns the crystal skull to its home will receive unlimited power and the race is on for Jones to stop the Soviets. Along the way he is helped by Mutt (Shia LaBeouf, Transformers), a young switchblade-wielding, Harley-driving “greaser” who seems to have just cat-walked in from Marlon Brando’s The Wild Ones. In for the ride is also old flame Marion (Karen Allen) from the first Raiders flick, a sidekick who might not be who he says he is (Ray Winstone) and John Hurt as an eccentric academic.

During these exposition sequences - which (again!) stresses just how darned important the crystal skull is to the communists – it is as if producer George Lucas has forgotten what the Indiana Jones movies are all about. This latest movie isn’t about the crystal skull, just in the same way that dull meetings about trade embargoes aren’t what the Star Wars movies are all about. The skull is merely a McGuffin, a plot device to get the action rolling – something which Lucas seems to have forgotten. It is hard to believe that they have dallied about for nineteen years and countless for this particular screenplay as it is rather awkwardly put together in general. It feels as if it needed another rewrite to streamline things better.

The key word is however almost. The dull patch almost derails proceedings and audiences will sigh a collective sigh of relief as the action picks up again with a great car/truck/amphibian vehicle chase through the Peruvian jungles. The sequence might as well have come from Last Crusade! But it does not of course compare to the famed truck chase in Raiders of the Lost Ark. And that is the problem with Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: it will never come close to the sheer visceral thrill and excitement one felt watching Raiders of the Lost Ark back in 1981 when all of this was still fresh and new.

Make no mistake: Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is still hugely entertaining and loads of fun despite its flaws – as long as you keep your expectations low. But it is luckily hardly the train smash that Phantom Menace was back in 1999. Unlike that particular effort, the screenplay has some wit and actually makes one care for the main characters. Harrison Ford proves that - like the Rolling Stones - he still has what it takes at age 64. Despite Ford’s age one never doubts him as action hero. Shia le Beouf also shows why exactly he is attracting the sort roles he is getting as of late. As far as looks go he may not be the next Tom Cruise, but he has a likeable screen presence. The rest of the cast does admirably, but Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood is criminally underutilized. Her spunky presence hugely contributed to Raiders’ success. In fact the movie could have given her more screen time instead of Blanchett’s villain.

Better than Temple of Doom, but not as good as Raiders or Last Crusade, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is still worth seeing and serves as a timely reminder why this franchise is so beloved whereas other contenders such as The Mummy movies and Tomb Raider simply seem dull in comparison. It isn’t about CGI overkill, dummy, it’s about the humanity of the characters. And the action of course . . .

MAJOR PLOT SPOILERS: Some niggles (only read this if you have already seen the movie): bringing in your typical “grey” aliens and a lot of Erich von Daniken-type nonsense about aliens teaching the Mayans how to irrigate their fields never sits quite comfortably in the Indiana Jones universe. Seeing an actual alien right at the end – I wanted to croak “E.T. phone home” aloud, but decided that my fellow audience members will probably hate me for it – also somehow feels wrong. Even more wrong is the typical Earth vs. the Flying Saucers / Mars Attacks silver flying saucer towards the end. It is a misstep. I know this is set in the 1950’s – but come on! Speaking of which, how the movie constantly reminds one that is indeed the 1950’s by bringing up issues from the era such as nuclear testing and Red Scare paranoia also feels forced. The whole “Mutt is Indy’s son” bit is incongruous, but deftly handled. What could have been a groan-worthy bit about Mutt, er, putting on Indy’s hat is cleverly deflected in a nice humorous touch. END SPOILERS!
 


 



 

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