Can you believe they're still trying to crank cash out of the Indiana Jones franchise? After three movies, a TV show, toys, games, and even an theme ride at Disneyland? The film opens today and surprise! it is totally boring. [I saw it last night and the meh outweighed the LOL. Two guys in the theater were dressed as Indy, poor things. — Dodai] The year is now 1957 and evil Germans have been replaced by evil Commie Russians, led by Irina Spalko (an Anna Wintour-resembling Cate Blanchett). The Russkies are after a crystal skull that only Indiana Jones and his sidekick, Mutt (Shia Laboeuf), know how to get. Hijinks ensue, wisecracks are made, and you can pretty much guess how it ends. The film critics sure could! The collected reviews, after the jump.
Dressed in gray coveralls, her hair bobbed and Slavic accent slipping and sliding as far south as Australia, Ms. Blanchett takes to her role with brio, snapping her black gloves and all but clicking her black boots like one of those cartoon Nazis that traipse through earlier Indy films. She's pretty much a hoot, the life of an otherwise drearily familiar party. Among the other invited guests are Ray Winstone, John Hurt and Shia LaBeouf, who plays Mutt, the young sidekick onboard to bring in those viewers whose parents were still in grade school when the first movie hit. Karen Allen, who played Indy's love interest in "Raiders," is here too, with a megawatt smile and a bit of the old spunk.
The good news is that Harrison Ford can still rock a fedora and a bullwhip like nobody's business as the globe-trotting archaeologist. The dark side is that after 19 years of wrangling between Spielberg and Lucas - in a mind-meld with writer David Koepp to craft just the right script for Indy 4 - they came up with this mess. Everything looks raided from the lost ark of the three previous Indy hits. What's worse is that after a smashing opener involving Indy getting captured by Russians in Nevada, circa 1957, the film starts piling on atomic subplots. It's a cliché overload. By midpoint, the movie starts to play like National Treasure meets The X-Files, with a touch of The Goonies, and I don't mean any of these comparisons as a compliment.
The problem in Crystal Skull is that too many of the set pieces lack heart or visual integrity. They feel random and piled on – witness the aforementioned monkeys – and, subsequently, safe and sterile. Hints of personality emerge in the banter between Mr. Ford, Mr. LaBeouf and Karen Allen, reprising her role as Indy's old love interest Marion, but the fallback pattern always kicks back in. Our heroes are trapped by Russians with guns. Our heroes escape. Our heroes are trapped again by Russians with guns. Mix. Stir. Repeat.
It's hard to say which audience will be better suited to this latest installment. Established Indy fans may find nostalgia clouding their ability to accurately judge The Crystal Skull in the context of the first films, but young viewers who are unfamiliar with the first three will miss a lot of the jokes and may wonder what the fuss is about, especially compared to more sophisticated fare. Like Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, Indy is still big; it's just that, in the new world of movie franchises, The Crystal Skull feels smaller.
The Indiana Jones movies were directed by Steven Spielberg and written by George Lucas and a small army of screenwriters, but they exist in a universe of their own. Hell, they created it. All you can do is compare one to the other three. And even then, what will it get you? If you eat four pounds of sausage, how do you choose which pound tasted the best? Well, the first one, of course, and then there's a steady drop-off of interest. That's why no Indy adventure can match Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). But if Crystal Skull (or Temple of Doom from 1984 or Last Crusade from 1989) had come first in the series, who knows how much fresher it might have seemed? True, Raiders of the Lost Ark stands alone as an action masterpiece, but after that the series is compelled to be, in the words of Indiana himself, "same old same old." Yes, but that's what I want it to be.
This film feels like work, whether it's poor Harrison Ford straining to keep pace with his younger self or Spielberg and writer David Koepp piling on the thrill-ride acrobatics that have only scant connection to the plot.
…Given its Saturday matinee genre nature and the fact that star Ford, creator Lucas, director Spielberg, composer John Williams and editor Michael Kahn, among others, have all returned, it was inevitable that this film was going to fall within a very narrow range in terms of quality. It was either going to be a worse- or better-than-average Indiana Jones film. It turns out it's one of the better ones and everyone involved can breathe a sigh of relief.
The skull may be transparent, but the plot is murky as hell.
I also believe that each of the Indiana Jones films are about different things at their core. Raiders is about BELIEVING. Temple Of Doom is about TRUST. Last Crusade is about abandoning obsessions and choosing to live. And that leads us to The Crystal Skull… What is it about? Well, that I'm literally just 40 minutes from having seen it at this point – I'm going to say I feel the film is about letting go of the past and choosing a happy future. It's LIFE. It's also… like the Indy's before it… A SHITLOAD OF FUCKING FUN! There's silly shit here – but it's FUN SHIT. But it's loaded with classic bits.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull opens today