Should I Watch..? Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull
What's the big deal?
Indiana Jones And The Kingdom of The Crystal Skull is an adventure sci-fi movie released in 2008 and is the fourth film in the Indiana Jones series created by George Lucas and director Steven Spielberg. Released nineteen years after the previous instalment Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, the film reflects on the passing of time with the film now set in the Fifties and reflects both Cold War tensions with the Soviet Union as well as being a homage to sci-fi B-movies of the era. Despite a mixed reaction, the film became the most successful in the franchise's history grossing $786 million worldwide and was the second most successful film of that year behind the juggernaut that was The Dark Knight. Plans remain for a possible fifth film but as yet, there has been little sign of any such film being released.
What's it about?
In the midst of the Cold War in 1957, Indiana Jones and his partner Mac are captured by Russian troops led by self-proclaimed psychic Dr Irina Spalko. They are escorted to Warehouse 51 in Nevada and told to locate an alien corpse with a crystal skull recovered ten years earlier. After failing to retrieve the skull from the Soviets, Indy escapes into a atomic bomb testing site and after a tense escape in a lead-lined fridge, is arrested by the FBI for colluding with the enemy. However, he is released but given a leave of absence by Marshall College.
Later meeting up with greaser Mutt, Indy is told of a old friend Harold Oxley who found one such crystal skull in Peru but later went mad as a result. Believing him and Mutt's mother to be in trouble, Indy reluctantly sets off to Peru to locate this crystal skull. Spalko, meanwhile, believes that the skulls hold enormous power and the key to winning the war against the US. Once again heading off on another adventure, Indy little realises the dangers that await him as well as some ghosts from his past...
Dr Henry "Indiana" Jones Jr.
Dr Irina Spalko
George "Mac" McHale
Harold "Ox" Oxley
David Koepp *
Release Date (UK)
22nd May, 2008
Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Worst Prequel, Remake, Rip-Off or Sequel
What's to like?
It's rare for a long-running film series to acknowledge the passing of time - I don't ever recall anyone mentioning the different faces of James Bond or how the world has changed from 1962's Dr No. So credit the film-makers for not trying to pull the wool over our eyes - setting Indy in the Fifties as opposed to the Thirties is the right thing to do as it opens up new avenues for the characters to explore and replaces the overused Nazi menace with the Soviets instead. I also liked how the film made references to legends and myths of the time such as the Roswell incident and the atomic bomb testing. The world of Raiders Of The Lost Ark suddenly feels quite old fashioned indeed.
The action doesn't quite use as much CG as it might but it uses the technology to enhance the old-school antics that were the hallmarks of the first three films. Ford, for his age, works hard to recapture some of the old magic but younger actors like LaBeouf get their chances to shine as well. And unlike the grim and dark second film Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom, the film wisely retains Indy's tongue-in-cheek humour as well as referencing previous adventures and characters. Die-hard fans of the character should get a real buzz out of this.
- Ford kept himself in such good shape over the years that his costume measurements had not changed since the last outing in 1989. Ford also performed many of his own stunts as he had before, claiming it helped his performance.
- The kung-fu fighting Aztecs in the graveyard might not be as idiotic as you might think. Pre-Spanish Incas actually did use a martial art called Rumi Maki which means 'hard hands'.
- Both John Hurt and Ray Winstone insisted on reading the script before signing on, both of whom had less than a day to read it before the courier took it back. Shia LaBeouf was so excited about doing an Indy movie that he didn't bother reading it.
What's not to like?
Firstly, the screenplay is awful as the film feels composed of several drafts clumsily stitched together. Even for a series with immortal knights guarding the Holy Grail, this feels so far-fetched that suspension of disbelief is impossible. Take Indy's gobsmacking escape from an imminent atomic bomb test by crawling inside a lead-lined fridge. Even if the fridge hadn't been melted from the blast, the impact on landing would probably have broken every bone in his body and yet Indy pops out as if nothing had happened, ready to slug a Commie. That's why the phrase "nuking the fridge" has replaced "jumping the shark" in Internet parlance but the meaning, sadly, is still the same.
The cast never really convince either, besides Ford who's probably just happy the costume still fits. LaBeouf is a thinly disguised plot device, Blanchett is pretty forgettable as Spalko and Winstone can only ever play East End hardmen anyway. The CG is not of a great standard and this is noticeable when entire sets become computer generated. Worse still, the 'interdimensional beings' (aliens to you and me) also look pretty poor and lack imagination. The film lurches horribly from one setting to another with little in the way of explanation - I cannot explain how Indy goes from a car chase in his hometown to fighting what look like Aztec warriors using kung-fu somewhere in South America. It simply isn't as much fun as the earlier movies - references are fine in small numbers but constantly harking back to the original trilogy only made me want to watch them instead.
Should I watch it?
If only to complete the set. Fans of the earlier films will find their patience tested by poor plotting and dodgy CG while newcomers will wonder what exactly the fuss is all about. Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull is easily the lowest point of the series which festered for too long to make a sequel feasible - in many ways it almost feels like a reboot, especially when the truth about Mutt is revealed (assuming you hadn't guessed it). It's not the worst film ever made but by the high standards of its stablemates, it is a massive disappointment.
Great For: nostalgic film directors and stars, fans who waited a long time for this sequel
Not So Great For: fans of the original trilogy, CG animators, screenwriters
What else should I watch?
Of the earlier trilogy, the original Raiders Of The Lost Ark and Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade are the best ones to watch - thrilling, fun, gripping, edge-of-your-seat stuff that audiences crave from a proper adventure movie. Although Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom still has its moments like the iconic mine-cart roller-coaster sequence, it is considerably darker with its depiction of human sacrifice and overall tone to make it suitable for very young viewers.
Of course, Ford is not short of an iconic role in his illustrious career. The recent Star Wars: The Force Awakens will give him a chance to relive his finest hour as Han Solo while as Rick Deckard in Blade Runner and the excellent follow-up Blade Runner 2049 alongside Ryan Gosling, he will always be the star of one of the greatest sci-fi films of all time.
© 2015 Benjamin Cox