Movie Review: "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" (2008)
DISCLAIMER: This review may contain spoilers.
When it comes to making a sequel to a franchise with a 10-20 year gap in between the originals and the newer film, the latter has a lot to live up to. In the case for "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull", that gap is 19 years since the previous film. At the end of "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade", we saw Indy and his friends riding off into the sunset. It felt like the perfect conclusion to the trilogy, but they had to go and make this.
This isn't to say that fourth entires have no chance of being any good. They can be, but it's difficult to accomplish. And, as I've mentioned in many of my reviews, transition is very important in a film series. 'Crystal Skull' almost gets the transition between the third and fourth films right.
It presents us with the '50s during the atomic bomb era. There's a group of teenagers on the road, listening to Elvis, and attempting to goof around with a Russian convoy passing through. This opening sequence is very fitting and natural, it establishes the setting and atmosphere. When the convoy stops, we learn that they were carrying Indiana Jones prisoner in the trunk of one of their vehicles.
Not long after that, the transition goes downhill with some very awkward dialogue spoken by our characters (i.e. Indy: "Judging by the way you're pronouncing your wouble-u's..."). It's enough to make you cringe. There's actually a lot more than that to make you cringe all throughout "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull", but it does have a few redeeming bits about it.
There's an awesomely executed '50s cafe scene between Indy and his son, Mutt, which is then followed by a fun car/motorbike chase on his college campus. There's also an interesting sequence where Indy finds himself trapped in a town full of mannequins only to discover it's a testing site for nuclear weapons. Plus the fact that the father/son conflict from 'The Last Crusade' is now reversed whereas Indy now has a son himself.
Take all that away and what do you have left? "Indiana Jones and the Giant Turd".
The lead villain this time is a female, Dr. Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett), who has an annoyingly fake-sounding Russian accent. She is neither memorable nor interesting. Furthermore, her motivation behind obtaining the crystal skull is rather stupid compared to the villains of the previous films. Mack (Ray Winstone) plays a secondary villain as well as Indy's traitorous friend, his character is as useless as ever.
Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) is brought back this time around. Why? I don't know. Usually, Indy has a pretty hot love interest in each film. There's nothing hot about Karen Allen at 50-something years old.
But these problems are only the beginning of several other problems in the film. And so the adventure begins...
This is the most important part of any 'Indiana Jones' film, it is the main plot device that drives the story. They had already used the Ark of the Covenant, ancient stones, and the Holy Grail. This fourth film deals with the Crystal Skull, otherwise known as some stupid-looking alien's head.
See, somehow one of the aliens lost their head and somebody buried it somewhere far away. So Indy and his buddies have to dig it out and return the head to its rightful alien remains. In return, the alien with its head connects with all the other alien remains in the room, activating their spaceship and they take off. The end.
What was the point of all that again? Good question.
See, the problem with this MacGuffin is that it lacks any purpose or meaning unlike the previous three which are pretty straight-forward.
Indiana Jones and How Not To Do Action Scenes
Ah yes, one of the best things about the 'Indiana Jones' series is the action. In the first three films, everything was done with as much practicality as possible. Now, in 'Crystal Skull', they've brought some CGI into the mix.
Unfortunately, none of the action in "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" is either memorable or nitty-gritty. There's a ridiculously long jungle chase sequence involving Indy and his friends retrieving the Crystal Skull from a Russian convoy. Throughout this sequence, there's an obvious lack of connection between the action and its environment that is quite noticeable. Much of this has to do with CGI usage.
To top it all off, they even go to the extreme and unnecessary lengths of having Mutt and Ivana engage in a sword fight while standing on two separate jeeps that moving at high speed. The end result is pretty laughable. You can pick a lightsaber fight from any of the 'Star Wars' prequels and it will look better than this.
As if that wasn't enough, Mutt ends up swinging from the trees with a group of monkeys!? Is this an 'Indiana Jones' film or a Disney film? I'm confused.
In addition, we have Indy fighting with the muscle bad guy (as in every Indy film) in a cool environment. In "Raiders of the Lost Ark", Indy battled the bald Nazi mechanic near some revolving plane propellers on an airstrip; in "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom", Indy battled a Thuggee slave driver on top of a conveyor belt in an underground mine; in "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade", Indy fought it out with Colonel Vogel on top of a moving tank in the desert.
Well, there's nothing cool about it this time. Indiana Jones and a tall Russian villain are on a patch of rock and sand in the middle of the jungle, surrounded by flesh-eating CGI ants. Does that sound as exciting and memorable as the previous three fights? You would have to be either very easy to please or you haven't seen too many action and adventure films pre-2000.
The killer ants look completely unbelievable and cartoonish. They might as well be shoved into one of those 'Alvin and the Chipmunks' movies, they would fit right in there. And just to think, Steven Spielberg was dealing with real insects and bugs back in 'Temple of Doom'. I'm not suggesting that he should have gotten real fire ants and cover the actors in them, of course not, but with all the technology there is nowadays compared to 1984, I'm pretty sure there was a way to combine practicality and minimal CGI when it came to the bugs in this scene.
With that said, the only likable action scene in 'Crystal Skull' would have to be the college campus chase with the car and motorbike, as I mentioned earlier. Other than that, this film has nothing to work with in terms of action sequences.
Who can forget the truck convoy chase from 'Raiders'? 'Temple of Doom' had the club scene, the mine cart chase, and the finale on the rope bridge to name a few. 'The Last Crusade' had the train chase with Young Indy in the beginning, the motorcycle chase with the Nazis, Indy and Dad escaping a burning room, the boat sequence in Venice, the big desert battle towards the end... The originals just had so much going for them.
Unfortunately, there is nothing in 'Crystal Skull' which can top or let alone stand toe-to-toe with any of the scenes that I've mentioned above.
Keep The Parents Happy
The first three 'Indiana Jones' films contained plenty of on-screen violence. To name a few scenes... 'Raiders' had people getting ran over, shot up, and people's faces getting gruesomely melted; 'Temple of Doom' had a guy getting killed by a flaming shishbob, someone's heart getting ripped out of their chest, child slavery and abuse, alligators eating people, and people eating bugs; 'The Last Crusade' showed Indy laying waste to plenty of nazis, Colonel Vogel fell to his death while inside of a tank, and the lead villain had his face rotted away.
The list goes on...
Don't get me wrong, the 'Indiana Jones' films were never designed to be "RoboCop" or "Total Recall", but there was always a sense of grittiness and edge when it came to the action and violence. Unfortunately, in "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull", the violence has been toned down in order to keep in line with soccer moms and little children.
In 'Crystal Skull', just about all of the violence and deaths happen off-screen. People get shot and killed off-screen, bullet wounds and bloodshed are minimized down to unrealistically small pin-pricks. All of this just to keep the parents happy. What a waste. This is the same problem that ruined the 'Batman' films back in the '90s.
Random Things That Make No Sense
- There is one scene where Mutt asks Indy, "You're a teacher?", to which Indy responds, "Part-time". However, the take used in the film is different than the one used in the trailers. Let me be more specific, they used the BAD take in the film (where he delivers the line in an awkward fashion) as opposed to the acceptable take in the previews. Was somebody on drugs in the editing room?
- Mack keeps betraying everybody yet Indy keeps chucking him along for the whole adventure.
- What was the point of introducing the government agents in the beginning if there's no payoff with them later on? They inform Indy that he is of great interest to the bureau due to his involvement with the Russians, but nothing is ever followed up.
- In one scene where Indy, Mutt, and Marion are tied up in the back of a truck -- Mutt throws Indy a knife which lands on his shoulder, Indy shoves it off and it lands in his hand behind him. We then hear a strange ripping sound, to which Mutt replies "Oh (CENSORED)". The next minute, they are free. Okay... what was that all about?
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