Ok, I’ll admit I’ve always been pretty ambivalent towards the Indiana Jones trilogy. I liked Raiders well enough, but loathed Temple of Doom – it’s completely un-watchable, while Last Crusade was meh. So when they announced that they were finally going to do Indy 4 I could not have cared less. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull returns the series to it’s Raiders glory. This is the film that should have followed the Raiders, it’s pretty much a direct sequel with many nods to the first film and in the final moments brings everything full circle. When this film works, it works really well, but there’s still that strange sense of deja-vu. It feels like you are watching the original again, only 20 years later with slightly different characters and plot. Maybe it’s because I watched Raiders the night before the screening so it was still fresh in my mind. But everything felt familiar instead of Nazi’s you had Russians, instead of Belloq we had Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett), instead of the Ark we had this goofy looking Crystal Skull which looked exactly like the head from one of the Alien films. I can see the crossover fan fiction already. This familiarity isn’t a bad thing – especially considering how completely out of sync Temple of Doom feels like when I watch it. It put a smile on my face the first time Indy (Harrison Ford) is re-introduced to the world in shadow with his hat and the first time you hear the classic John Williams theme again. It’s like I’m a kid again. I don’t care what anyone says John Williams is the greatest film composer of our times. You don’t have a soul if the Raiders theme doesn’t get your blood pumping. No many how many times it’s replayed it during the movie. The opening 30 minutes of Raiders is simply, brilliant is too strong a word, exhilarating is better. But then something happens that starts to derail things and it pains me to say it, because we love him here at EM and I’ve met him a couple of times, Shia LaBeouf brings everything to a screeching halt. Everything about his character is just horrible: from the stupid name – (Mutt Williams) to the greaser, bad boy attitude, to the playing with his pocket knife and his habit of combing his hair when he’s nervous. None of it works, it just doesn’t ring true. Shia isn’t the bad boy, James Dean type. He’s the normal kid who gets into trouble because he’s a smart ass.
Awhile ago, when I was yelling at people that Atonement wasn’t a “complex” plot (just stupid) and that there’s no such thing as “complex” plots just poorly scripted films, I may have to eat my words. I find myself on the fence as to whether this movie is overly complex or stupid. There’s a fine line between the two and I think David Koepp (screenplay), George Lucas (story) and Jeff Nathanson‘s script walks that fine line. This movie takes place right in the middle of the Cold War scare and in the opening there are several references to the witch hunt and how this isn’t “our America,” anymore. But then the next few scenes you have Russian agents speaking in heavy Russian accents in the middle of an Ice-Cream parlor and chasing Indy all over town. Not to mention they break into a top secret military base. The FBI would be completely incompetent if they didn’t investigate all the obvious Russian activity. The writers want to make a political statement, but this obviously isn’t the film for it. Even if it is set during that paranoid period in our history. They would have been better off just ignoring the subtext then trying to shoehorn one in. Just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean people aren’t out to get you. And politicians and government agencies are always out to capitalize on it, just look at our current situation.
All of the major action set pieces also feel like stuff that we’ve seen in the other three films only longer. There’s one chase sequence that’s fun for the first 5 minutes but 10 or 15 minutes in, I was like – I get the point, let’s move on already. This is a b to the w action film with little character development or progression. No one in this film has grown since Raiders. Which actually is a good thing, it’s what we’re comfortable with as an audience and really, why mess with a formula that works. But back to the plot, without giving anything away instead of chasing an ancient artifact, this time Indy gets caught up in a Russian Spy’s (Irina) quest for an object that promises untold knowledge and treasure. I won’t say more than that, but the film’s 3rd act feels like poorly constructed fan fiction. A great what if Indy discovered….It’s really nice special effects, but what happens in the end is almost exactly what happens at the end of Raiders. After the ride Steven Spielberg takes us on, I somehow expected something more, I don’t know, original. I can’t see Shia being able to carry an entire Indy film by himself, but it’s clear that’s where Spielberg and Lucas want to go. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull isn’t a perfect film, but it’s far more satisfying as a whole than the sum of it’s parts.
Final Grade B
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Originally Posted 5.22.08