Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Premise: Indiana Jones, now considerably older, teams with a brash, motorcycle riding youth (Shia LaBeouf) to discover the secrets of a South American pyramid while evading Soviet Russian spies.
What Works: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull continues the fun of the original films and respects its predecessors while staking out its own look. The casting of the film works very well. Harrison Ford returns as Dr. Jones but he’s older and plays the character as a man facing a new stage in his life. Shia LaBeouf plays Mutt Williams, Indiana’s sidekick, and he is a nice counterpoint to Ford; the film reverses the main character relationship of Last Crusade, placing Indiana as the conservative mentor and Mutt as the rebellious younger man. Overall the picture is lighthearted and out to have fun, and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull includes a lot of humor. The McGuffin, the sacred object of the film, takes the series in a science fiction direction, a place it has never gone before and this gives the picture a fresh approach to the franchise. The action scenes hold up with anything in the previous films and the chase scenes combine stunt work with physical comedy. Coming so many years after Last Crusade, the regard of this Indiana Jones film toward its subject represents a change in the series. Raiders of the Lost Ark was a deliberate act of nostalgia for the adventure films of the 1940s and Temple of Doom and Last Crusade deepened the characters and the mythology around them, carving out a place for the series as a cultural parenthetical of the 1980s. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is nostalgic, but for Raiders of the Lost Ark and the early films of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. There are lots of references to previous Indiana Jones adventures as well as other Spielberg and Lucas productions like American Graffiti and Star Wars, which are fun, but also give the sense that the filmmakers are in a reflective mode. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is the most direct sequel to Raiders and it follows the character work of Last Crusade, attempting to wrap up the Indiana Jones character and tie up some loose ends.
What Doesn’t: Although the film is fun, it does rank least among the Indiana Jones films. The iconic status of Raiders of the Lost Ark is untouchable and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull cannot compete with the intensity of Temple of Doom or the father-son relationship of Last Crusade. The film gets bogged down in some long exposition scenes and at times the dialogue is stilted and creaky, like an imitation of a Mickey Spillane noir thriller. The villains of the film are rather weak and underwritten, at least in comparison to other Indiana Jones heavies, and the story behind the sacred object is convoluted. Exactly why the crystal skull is precious and what the implications will be if it falls into the wrong hands are not concrete. The screenplay ought to have borrowed a page from Temple of Doom, substituting something equivalent to the plight of the slave children to provide Indiana’s adventures with something immediate at stake. This culminates in the ending which crams in a lot of action but it’s unclear what is happening or why.
Bottom Line: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is good but not great. It is a worthy addition to the franchise, even if it’s a little rusty. The film is certainly better than Indiana Jones imitators National Treasure or The DaVinci Code. Like resurrections of other 1980s franchise such as Rambo, Rocky Balboa, or Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a fun bit of nostalgia and an interesting reinterpretation of an iconic character.
Episode: #192 (June 1, 2008)