Can anyone remember a more eagerly awaited film? (Star Wars: Episode I is perhaps the only other example, and we all know how that turned out.) It’s very hard to go into a film like this without any expectations. I had my doubts – Ford’s so old, and it’s been 19 years, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade did wrap things up pretty nicely; but then again I had my hopes too – surely Spielberg, Lucas and Ford wouldn’t go ahead with it if the script wasn’t up to scratch?
For better or worse, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull comes somewhere in between fantastic and terrible. Indiana is looking pretty haggard, and the screenplay doesn’t ignore this. We have Shia LaBeouf as a kind of ‘next gen’ character, Mutt Williams, a confident kid who thinks he has the answers. We have Cate Blanchett as Irina Spalko, a fantastic villain if ever there was one. And we have Ray Winstone as Indy’s sidekick. It’s a great setup. And the opening scenes of the film certainly feel right. There are a few too many action moments where Indy’s in shadow (read: played by a stunt double), but on the whole it’s pretty good.
From there the film gets better and better. We have new characters, references to old characters, new exotic locales, great action scenes, the promise of treasure and most importantly… quiet moments. I was so worried that this film would be cram filled with explosion after explosion, but Spielberg hasn’t forgotten that exposition a: is important, and b: should be interesting.
The action is great, even if it can’t compare with the classic moments of the trilogy. There isn’t an over-reliance on CGI per se, but it comes damn close. One moment that flirts with the whole ‘dino-stampede’ scene from King Kong, and probably could have been pared back a little. In case you’re wondering, Indy doesn’t jump the shark, which is good… though someone else does.
The main failure of the film is the final act. I know many people will be annoyed at the direction the treasure hunting narrative takes, but this didn’t bother me. What does bother me was the way in which the script suddenly forgets that this film is populated by characters. Good ones. With conflicting personalities.
Once we get this far it’s suddenly all about the big picture. The characters are forgotten. This is a major flaw, and so disappointing considering how well things were going. This kind of simplicity was apparent in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, though that film didn’t set its sights quite as high as this one. In some ways it’s a mish-mash of those previous two (very different) sequels, starting out complex, then getting simpler the more time passes. And what of Indy? This film doesn’t really have anything to say about him. It could have dealt with his mistakes, his regrets, perhaps a little loneliness… I’m not asking for a morality play, but he really seems devoid of any true emotion. The Last Crusade really challenged Indy, not just physically but emotionally. Here he seems kind of detached from it all, and there’s no chance for any real (or believable) growth.
Does it take us back to our childhood (he says, assuming we’re all the same age)? Yes. Does it ruin the franchise? No. Could it have been better? Definitely.
PS: To be honest, I kind of enjoyed ‘The Fate of Atlantis’ more…many happy hours of clicking…
Review by Stuart Wilson, 25th May 2008
Stuart talked about Raiders of the Lost Ark on Chatflixpodcast
and wrote an article about the upcoming Indy V on Den of Geek
As many will have already alluded to in the multitude of online reviews that must surely exist by now, the decision to revive this franchise so many love and so long after its last outing was probably the wrong one. Whether Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull really adds anything to the Indiana Jones legacy is debatable, other than a sense that Spielberg and co. have no self control.
It’s 1957 and Professor Henry ‘Indiana’ Jones Jr is much older, more battle scarred – he was an American hero during WWII, of course – but still teaching and seemingly still exploring old tombs and dodging booby traps. When Indy and war buddy Mac (Ray Winstone) are captured by Russian spies led by psychic Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett), they must choose whether to assist them in their mission to recover an incredible ancient power for the Soviet regime, or fight back Indiana Jones style. Along the way Indy will be reacquainted with an old flame and perhaps find another to take over his mantle.
There is much that is enjoyable in this last (one hopes) film in the Indiana Jones series. The sense of revisiting with old friends generally works well – it is just so damn great to have another two hours with Indy – and the return of Karen Allen as Marion confirms her as the most successful female character in the series. Winstone adds little to proceedings, but familiar faces like Denholm Elliott and Sean Connery also appear. The major addition is Shia LaBeouf as Mutt. LaBeouf has charm to burn, and much of what he is asked to do he can manage in his sleep. The comedy that develops in the relationship between Mutt and Indy is useful, encouraging Indy to wisecrack as he did in the best of his outings, Raiders of the Lost Ark.
There are many, many flaws to the film, however, and it is hard to watch it without really questioning whether this was even necessary. First, one strength of the three previous films was their insistence on placing Indy in danger that he must really struggle to survive, but to not cross the line into making him an immortal superhero. The booby traps, fight scenes and close escapes were all sequences that were believably survivable, given what is known of Indy’s mental strength and ingenuity. Unfortunately, there are multiple occasions in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull when characters survive in incredible and unbelievable circumstances, and the film far too frequently crosses over into the frankly absurd.
The progression of technology in the years since Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade obviously allows Spielberg to aim higher with special effects, and unfortunately this has exposed a tendency to ignore the limitations that still exist with CGI. There are several sequences in which the imagery is noticeably fake, and as usual this draws the viewer out of the story momentarily to think ‘that’s not real’. The development of visual effects for films has benefitted greatly from filmmakers’ desires to try always to achieve more, but this also means audiences must suffer through their growing pains.
Stuart has already covered the final act in his review above, but it can’t go unmentioned that the film really goes off the rails in its last quarter. While it is incumbent on the audience watching any Indiana Jones film to accept a degree of supernatural power and treasure hunting mystique, the degree to which credulity is stretched coupled with the loss of character at the hands of big action scene artificial imagery means the heart of the film is lost. That an enjoyable film can go so bad so quickly is not news to anyone, but it continues to be disappointing when it happens.
Perhaps the best quality of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is its self-awareness (at times, which unfortunately doesn’t always translate to self control). The film often points out that it knows some of this is silly, but that it also knows the audience will just love being part of the return of some of the characters and subplots. Spielberg has fun with the audience, engendering the sense that we’re all together in the experience of revisiting our old friends and catching up on the long years that have passed, while cheekily playing with audience expectations and desires. That my favourite scene of the film comes in its epilogue is testament to this sense of being in on the same inside joke.
While Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull ticks the boxes of action scenes and chase sequences, puzzle solving and booby trap dismantling, it fails to maintain the strengths of Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Last Crusade, nor learn from the failings of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Everyone who loves cinema is likely to get out and see the film once but it seems doubtful the same number will rush to purchase the dvd.
Review by Mark Lavercombe, 25th May 2008Hoopla Factor: