It’s been a few days now since I saw “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” with some friends, and it’s time for a little review. I’ve thought about my initial disappointed reaction – and, well, it still stands. Here are a few more thoughts (and, yes, I wrote them when I should have been doing research. Shhhhhhhh – don’t tell the Nerd Lords!).
Maybe this movie should actually be titled “Indiana Jones and the Weight of Completely Impossible Expectations.” There was no way that this movie could possibly meet the hype, hopes, and expectations that surrounded it (even if it just raked in $100 million over the holiday weekend). The original Indiana Jones trilogy of movies has become pop culture icons and – more than that – a temple of affectionate nostalgia visited by an entire generation of people like me, the “children of the 80s.” “Raiders of the Lost Ark” came out when we were small, and we basically grew up with the trilogy. By the time Sean Connery and Harrison Ford rode into the sunset at the end of “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” we too were riding off – into young adulthood. The original Indy became, for me anyway, inextricably tied with all those life memories and experiences of a particular span of time; those movies became more than mere movies – they were the touchstone for a generation as it grew up.
All that nostalgia is both good and bad for seeing the new, fourth Indy film, released years after the originals. The nostalgia is bad in that it raises expectations sky-high for the new movie. At the same time, though, the nostalgia is good in that it creates a wave of goodwill that drives people to the cinema and lets them (or at least, me) gloss over the new movie’s flaws. I ended up liking the film rather a bit more than I probably should have – because of the nostalgia factor alone, not because of the movie’s own merits. I went into the theater nervously hoping, “Please don’t suck, please don’t suck, please don’t suck,” and I’m pleased to report that the movie does not, in point of fact, suck.
“Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” isn’t a bad movie. But it’s not a great movie, either. If anything, it left me feeling unsatisfied and antsy. Something was missing. It took me a while to figure this out, because the movie is full of action sequences and set-pieces and references/homages to the other Indy films. It has mystical objects! Car chases! Dangerous exotic locations! Scary flesh-eating insects! A host of bad guys out to get Indy! CGI mayhem on a grand scale! HARRISON FORD AS INDIANA JONES, for goodness sake! Yet . . . Why wasn’t I happy? What more could I possibly want?
The answer is “fun.” Pure popcorn movie fun. The missing ingredient was the sense of adventure and fantasy, of letting yourself go on a thrilling ride of imagination. There really is such a thing as movie magic. When it works, it sweeps the audience away to totally different places – while making the enchanted audience forget that all that fun is the product of filmmaking. The trouble with the fourth Indy film was a sense that it was trying – and trying really, really hard. The sense of exhilarating, effortless FUN was missing, along with the sense of zestful, energetic filmmaking that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The jokes in this film seemed to fall short; the (admittedly impressive) panoramas seemed to be art without emotion. I kept waiting for the film to hit its stride and give me an iconic moment – like the famous “fight” between a weary Indy and the showboating kung fu assassin. I kept waiting for a scene that would hit that high note. It never came.
The movie gave off a distinct sense of being too self-conscious. It reminded me of (uh-oh) George Lucas’ latter-day Star Wars movies. They too had struggled mightily to deal with the iconic status of their predecessors – and failed miserably. They’d also forgotten about the fun factor in their titanic effort to match expectations. Relax: Indy 4 is not the flaming chunk of worthless space debris that the new Star Wars trilogy is. Still, it shows a few of the same symptoms and the same feeling of overworked contrivance. I found myself thinking that maybe this film needed less George Lucas and Steven Spielberg; maybe what it needed was a touch of
This review sounds as though I’m damning the Indy movie with faint praise. The movie has flaws aplenty, but it does have a few great moments too. When you first see
In terms of setting and plot, the movie is set during the 1950s. Indy’s enemies now are not the Nazis, but the Soviets, led by the campy, kitschy, gun-slinging pseudo-scientist Irina Spalko, played by a spastically energetic Cate Blanchett. (By the way, what’s the deal with that terrible haircut? Maybe Spalko pretends to pay her hairdressers, and they pretend to give her a coiffure. I’m thinking that hm, capitalists have better hair.) The goal for everybody is an artifact shaped like a crystal skull, rumored to possess (what else?) mystical powers. The final revelation about the true nature of the artifact is pretty much preposterous, even compared with the Ark of the Covenant and the Holy Grail from previous flicks. You’ll see why – and then you’ll wonder if George Lucas had sneaked into the movie.
Aside from Spalko, Indy is joined by various others. Marion Ravenwood I’ve mentioned, and though she and Indy start arguing and bickering as though no time had passed at all, the chemistry seemed just a tad off.
The final analysis? Despite its flaws, I really think you should go see this movie, especially if you’re a “child of the 80s.” Go and watch Indy take up his fedora one more time. Go and spend two hours of nostalgia-fueled entertainment. Go and see what might be the redeeming theme of the film: the idea that age is only a number and that at any point of life, the hardy hero is ever ready and willing to do what he should and must. Add too that the choice of Karen Allen as the love interest, not some dewy, doe-eyed young starlet, was very astute. After all, courage, adventure, and love are not only the province of the young, and that’s a nice thought for all of us “children of the 80s” as we live our own, now-grown lives.
“Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” runs for 124 minutes and is rated PG-13 for action sequences and some scary images.
Mad Minerva gives this movie a grade of B-.
My friend and fellow movie fan Alessandra D’Ambrosio gives it a grade of 85 out of 100, a solid B.
Rotten Tomatoes gives “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” a very respectable rating of 78%.
This is the official website for the film. Nerd Note 1: This made me laugh: in one scene, a professor says that it’s time to retire if people start hunting Communists in academia. Well, Indy 4 is set in the mid-1950s. In 2008, practically the only hard-core, unrepentant Communists left in
Nerd Note 1: This made me laugh: in one scene, a professor says that it’s time to retire if people start hunting Communists in academia. Well, Indy 4 is set in the mid-1950s. In 2008, practically the only hard-core, unrepentant Communists left in
Nerd Note 2: Look for one action-chase sequence in which Indy skids into the library. An undergrad, oblivious to the obvious fact that Jones is otherwise occupied, walks up and asks about homework! And Jones actually replies. Hey, in real campus life this sort of thing happens all the time! A grad school friend said the same thing when she saw the scene. Some undergrads will just walk up to you as if you’re a vending machine for information, and they won’t have any clue that maybe you the instructor are busy and that maybe you’re not holding office hours right then! Listen, this past semester, this happened to me IN THE BATHROOM. A student walked up and asked me about an assignment right there at the sinks and mirrors. Can’t I even visit the bathroom in peace? Well, at least I wasn’t also being chased by a bunch of artifact-seeking crazy Commies. (And, yes, I answered the student’s question.)