I saw Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull at midnight last night. After the mixed reviews I was apprehensive—would it retain the feeling of the originals or would it be a blockbuster cash-in? I reflected that even if it were another of George Lucas’ pathetic grabs for money, I owe so much entertainment over the years to Indiana Jones that I’d gladly hand over my cash.
Thankfully it wasn’t that bad; in fact, it was about 2/3 good. What I loved about the first two films was the allegiance to old adventure serials and pulp novels. Watch Raiders or Temple of Doom again—there’s very little character development or even dialogue, just action set-piece after exotic locale after exhilarating gunfight. You can practically point to where the screen would freeze and the voiceover would ask “What will happen to Indy? Tune in next week to find out!” Last Crusade changed the formula, with more of an emphasis on comedic character interaction (the rather enjoyable Ford/Connery clowning), and Kingdom continues this tradition, with lots of funny business between Indy, Marion, and Shia LaBeouf (I can hardly bring myself to type Mutt, his character’s name). Some of it is actually funny and some of it falls flat.
There’s also an over-reliance on CG. Spielberg should have watched Live Free or Die Hard to see how an action franchise starring an aging male lead can still kick ass with a minimum of computer trickery (awful freeway chase scene excluded, of course). There are some truly embarrassing moments—Shia swinging on vines with CG monkeys, poorly-rendered groundhogs that show up pointlessly at least three times, and a climax that quickly becomes a boring blur of CG destruction.
Bad stuff out of the way, there’s a lot to like. Ford’s acting is sometimes uneven (he just didn’t feel like Indy in certain parts of the movie), but he looks pretty good for an old guy, and he does a fair number of his own stunts, including a rad fist-fight with an evil Soviet guy in an ocean of flesh-eating ants! The action scenes are good—better in the first half when they use less CG—and Shia isn’t as annoying as you’d think; in fact, he’s pretty entertaining. Also, Indy escapes a nuclear blast in a physically-impossible but incredibly bad-ass way. There’s enough good stuff going on in Kingdom to warrant a viewing or two, even if it’s not as good as the original trilogy and it loses steam about 2/3 of the way through.
Random observations: There’s a moment shot in soft-focus where Indy stares wistfully at a picture of Sean Connery for an inappropriate amount of time that had the whole theater laughing. Also, Neil Flynn, the guy who plays the janitor on Scrubs, shows up as an up-tight, toe-the-line, McCarthy-supporting FBI agent, but it’s hard to take him seriously. Also, at the end of the movie one character’s eyes burst into flames. Awesome!
Cate Blanchett, right, in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull