Ken's Review: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull - A Welcome Addition to the Indiana Jones Saga
by Ken Evans
May 24, 2008
I can't believe it's here! After months of anticipation, news, trailers, pictures and an Indiana Jones marathon, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has finally arrived! So much of the success of this film rides on how well it compares to and compliments the previous Indy movies. Is Harrison Ford able to resurrect Indiana and play him again after all these years? Does it have an awesome opening, amazing chase scenes, fantastic tomb raiding, and fight sequences that only Indiana Jones can provide? Well, I have all the answers because I have seen it, and I'm happy to report that while perhaps it wasn't as perfect as I had hoped, it still delivers and doesn't bring any shame to the Indiana Jones universe.
It is now 1957, 20 years after the last time we saw Indiana. America is at the height of the Cold War and Indy seems to be caught in yet another hunt to find some ancient artifact that contains mystical powers. After a run-in with Soviet agent Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett), Indy returns home and realizes that he doesn't have much going for him. Feeling depressed and lonely, he runs into Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf) who explains that his mentor, Professor Oxley (John Hurt), has been kidnapped while looking for the Crystal Skull of Akator. Knowing Oxley personally and having an interest in finding the skull himself, he sets off to help Mutt, not realizing that Spalko and the Soviets are after the skull as well.
As in all of the films, Indiana grows and changes as time passes. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is no different. Harrison Ford plays Indy exactly how he would be after 20 years has passed. He is older, slower, and has lost some of his adventurous spirit. That isn't changing Indy, but instead is showing the reality of his character. Thankfully, even in his old age, Indiana still has quick comebacks, knows how to use his whip, and can still throw a punch. This new adventure seems to put a bit of spring back into his step. Even though you can tell he knows he is too old for the action, he does what he has to do for country, friends, and family.
Shia LaBeouf does a nice job and shows that he has some range in his acting. As much as I liked him in Transformers and Disturbia, I found his constant talking to be a bit annoying. He seems a lot more controlled in this and has found the maturity level I wanted to see. Cate Blanchett was solid as always, although she didn't have any one scene that was spectacular like I was hoping for. It was great to see Karen Allen reprising the role of Marion Ravenwood from Raider of the Lost Ark, too. Obviously she was the one female character every Indiana Jones fan wanted to see return.
Like I said above, the success of this film rests on how it compares to the previous films. So what about the opening? All of the other films had fantastic opening sequences that set the tone for the rest of the movie. My favorite was in Raiders of the Lost Ark, but following close behind were the other two. In Crystal Skull, I really enjoyed the opening and thought it fell in line with how the previous ones were done. There's five minutes before we ever see Indy, then he is finally revealed and we, the audience, realize that quite a bit has already happened leading up to the situation Indiana is in now. Some of the main characters are introduced and as always there is plenty of action. This opening is great up until the nuclear explosion, which was ridiculous. However, I understand their point of showing Indiana in the midst of a different part of history, times have changed from what we are used to seeing him in. All in all it was a nice opening, not as good as Raider of the Lost Ark, but a welcome addition to the others.
No Indiana Jones film would be complete without some amazing chase scenes. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is no different. I wasn't a big fan of the first chase in the town where Indy lives, mostly because it didn't focus on Indy as much as it introduced Mutt and the fact that he rides a motorcycle, which really has no relevance anywhere else in the film. However, as disappointing as that scene was, they made up for it with the jungle chase later in the movie. I absolutely loved it! It reminded me of the mine cart chase in Temple of Doom and the chase from Raiders of the Lost Ark combined. The camera work was top notch and it really just blew me away.
I was disappointed by the lack of puzzles or tomb raiding booby traps. To be honest, there really weren't any. Sure there is the part near the end where they are trying to find the entrance to the temple. Well, if that was a puzzle it was a lame one - no spiked ceilings, no darts coming out of the walls, and no tests of faith for Indiana to pass. This was pretty much just a race to get to the treasure before the Soviets could. Too bad, I always loved the puzzles from the others.
Overall, I really enjoyed this new chapter in the Indiana Jones saga. I really only had three complaints. The first problem I had was the introduction of Shia LaBeouf's character. LaBeouf did a fine job, but just the fact that his character was there detracted from the focus and attention given to Indy. A sidekick is the last thing Indiana Jones needs. My second problem was the alien based story. Sorry if that spoils anyone's idea of what they thought the movie was going to be about, but if you saw a poster I'm sure you saw the alien shaped skull. It was too much like X-Files meets Indiana Jones, not to mention the confusing ending which reminded me too much of the ending for Close Encounters of the Third Kind and The Abyss. The last complaint is in regards to a specific scene containing LaBeouf in the trees with some monkeys. I don't have much to say about that scene other than it was laughably horrid. I wonder if that scene was another one of Lucas' great ideas?
I enjoyed the crap out of this movie! Sure there were some things I would have changed or left out, but I am going to see it again, and I have no problem adding this to the trilogy that we all hold so dear. To me this is like Alien 3 or The Godfather 3, both good films but not quite as good as the first few. Die hard fans of Indiana Jones should focus on what it did right and enjoy it because they get to see Indy again. At the very least this might be the weakest Indy film, but is still a million times better then any other treasure hunting adventurer film out there.