Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

(or, Indy IV) 2008 Dir Steven Spielberg


It’s a bit difficult to know what to say. It’s not like we really, really all WANTED another one, is it? George Lucas and Spielberg have been promising this for years – but inbetween 1989 and, er, now, they’ve been getting on with more important things. Like, the Star Wars prequels (oh gawd) or remaking War of the Worlds. There have been other projects, other franchises, and yet Indy has been left to hang by his bullwhip in development hell since The Last Crusade – and that film kinda wrapped it all up already. Hearing there was a new one – the hype is inescapable – and apparently, this time, there would be aliens and it would be set in the 1950s. Hmmm.

So, I went to the cinema so I could review it fairly. And when I got back, I realised – you know what people are going to say after this? “Oh yeah, there’s a new X-Files movie out soon, isn’t there, I wonder what that’s going to be like?”

To put the new Indiana Jones flick into context – the X-Files has had 10 seasons and a movie since The Last Crusade. Since MacGyver visited Atlantis, the aliens and archaeology angle has been COVERED to DEATH and in a far more interesting way. in almost every Indiana Jones ripoff particularly STARGATE (again, ten seasons! It wasn’t amazing but that’s hardly the point). This has been happening all the way up to Indy’s spiritual granddaughter, Lara Croft. To stand out from a saturated crowd, Indy’s creators needed to make this pretty special to out-derive its derivatives.

Gratuitous Lara Croft picture – Indy’s spiritual granddaughter – any attempt to use a girl in the movie would probably have backfired, and remember, Spielberg hates guns these days.

After sitting through Indy IV, I’ve come to the conclusion that they needed to have a slightly smaller tongue in their cheek, perhaps allow their stars a few more takes to get the ACTING back to standard, and sort out that bloody mess of CGI that pollutes the entire flick. It’s a well-meaning effort but suffers badly from half-a-good-movie syndrome.

(L-R) Professor Harold Oxley (John Hurt), Marion Ravenwood/Oxley (Karen Allen),
‘Mutt’ Oxley (Shia LeBoueff) and…y’know…Indy has a large number of sidekicks…

The problem we have here is that Indy gets seriously bogged down, picking up sidekicks and getting thrown into one action scene to the next. It’s a jarring narrative, a story with nothing really at stake. On the plus side, Indy’s not looking as craggy as I’d feared, and give Harrison Ford his due, he stands up to the considerable punishment they put him through. In the first scene I did feel a little uneasy that this bolshy Russian was slapping around a much older man – this isn’t the muscle-ripped masochist Indy from Temple of Doom anymore, guys.

In fact, we’re in 1957, Marty McFly’s accidental era, and Indy is now getting into scrapes with a bunch of dodgy Russian Communists. We start where the very first film ended – in the big warehouse of anonymous crates (also borrowed by the X-Files and Citizen Kane, yes there’s a theme). The dastardly Commies want a secret box that Indy helped to recover from a crash site in 1947. Yes, it was Roswell. I want to say ‘snore’ – however, this is Indy IV’s best sequence. There are crowd pleasing bits where we see the Ark again – pretty inevitably, as they play Raider Of the Lost Ark’s Map Room music to remind you ABOUT THE ARK. It seems like a dumb idea to bring up the brilliant first movie, really. I can’t help feeling that showing Indy getting involved in the Roswell coverup would’ve been the smart way to open this.

Boooooo! Cate Blanchett as the evil psychic (apparently) Russian Communist mission leader who manages to invade Area 51 witha buch of Russian soldiers, and threatens our Indy in the process. Tighten up the old security, eh America? Wait a minute…uh oh.

Anyway, Indy wriggles out of this mess and after a pretty good chase sequence, gets into a creepy nuclear test site town and survives a nuclear explosion by hiding in the fridge, which I could just about take, despite the cute CGI prairie dogs that were there for, er, no reason at all. These are the best parts of the film – the first 20 minutes – then the seriously blah Maguffin plot finally kicks in.

Don’t mess with Indy – he may have inexplicably stopped using a gun, but he still has his whip and has done a serious amount of push-ups.
Lookin’ pretty good, Harrison!!

In a poorly developed twist, our Indy is accused of treason after his Area 51 escapade, They kick him out of his University and soon he’s on a train to nowhere, until a ‘plucky biker-boy sidekick’ named Mutt (Shia LeBeouff) comes to get him.

Indy plays father-figure to Mutt, whose Mum is Marion Ravenwood,
so who could his Daddy-O possibly be….??

The boy’s mother has been kidnapped, and who else does this turn out to be but Indy’s ex-girlfriend, Marion from the very first movie (Karen Allen – what happened?!). They investigate leads from a cryptic note – and travel the world until they reach a grave site where they’re attacked by a creepy guy in a skull mask. This isn’t really explained. Anyway, Indy decks creepy guy with a shovel – let’s swing on…

Indy and his new pal are being tracked by his traitorous OLD pal from the war – George ‘Mac’ McHale, played by Ray Winstone in full ‘what the bleedin’ ‘ell’s all this ‘ere bleedin’ archaeology bollocks?’ mode. Most of the unwieldy aspects of the story tend to be explained via his hurried dialogue and the occasional punch to the face. Still, at least the amazing Denholm Elliott returns in a cameo as a statue – good going, given that he died away from the franchise a few years back.

The annoying thing is, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull can’t be written off as entirely bad. There are great moments – clearly these came up when they were running with the ‘concepts’ stage of the movie’s development hell. Top of this has to be in the sequence when Indiana Jones escapes a nuclear explosion, the radiation-proof fridge is blasted clear, and he staggers out, looking directly up at the mushroom cloud. It’s a wonderful shot, where our Indy meets the nuclear age.

The next best scene garnered some giggles of recognition from the audience. After Indy’s been scrubbed clean of nuclear fallout by the government scientists, he comes face to face with Neil Flynn – the psychotic janitor from Scrubs. This is mainly funny due to Neil Flynn being outed as the cop who very briefly tries to catch Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford) in The Fugitive, and they devoted an episode of Scrubs to this (Christ knows what happened when they watched Platoon…Doctor Cox flashbacks to Vietnam maybe?).

In Indy IV, Janitor/Flynn plays an uptight FBI agent complete with MIB suit, slicked back hair and horn-rimmed glasses, having a go at Indy for being a commie. Then Jim from Neighbours shows up. Alarm bells were starting to go off.

The crowd-pleasing lines aren’t quite delivered with enough panache – they seemed to lack energy and belief. Then the pacing is slow in some places (talky-talky-talk), and rushed in others. This kind of attitude especially damages the point of bringing back Marion, and we learn so little about ‘Mac’ you wonder why the hell he’s there. Even John Hurt is utterly wasted as the Professor that aliens have driven loony. Overall it’s very unsatisfying. Add in the hokiest aliens imaginable – and a bad guy with psychic powers that SHE NEVER USES, and I think Lucas – and this franchise – got left out in the desert sun for too long. With the best will in the world – this movie is an overcooked mess.

And what kind of an action movie has a nuclear blast happen right at the START rather than in the FINALÉ? Post-apocalyptic flicks aside… For crying out loud, it would be much more satisfying to end it near this iconic image, than with a naff flying saucer and some unoriginal aliens blowing up Cate Blanchett’s head with, er, knowledge.

Despite the exploding heads – and heads eaten alive by ants (I’m either getting old, or more squeamish, but the ant scene was icky) Indy is panting several miles behind Iron Man. Iron Man is the blockbuster of the summer – at least til Dark Knight. Sorry for the déjà vu, but anyway, it may still be a lot better than Hulk.

Don’t write Indy off just yet – he can still throw a mean punch,
just can’t say the same for the damn script…

All this isn’t entirely Indy’s fault. Our intrepid archaeologist carries a lot of baggage – he’s been around for so long, there are too many ideas of who he is and what he ought to do. Very little could live up to this weight of expectation. On the scale of good movies and awful movies, Indy just scrapes by til the end on goodwill alone – but I still wouldn’t recommend rushing out to see it. Many people will, out of curiosity, and it’ll be treated as a major success. Most people also seem to WANT to like it – because we love Indy and would dearly like Harrison Ford to lose the earring already. But a big movie with this long to prepare ought to be able to deliver far more, and not require defending by those who wanted it to be loved. Instead, we are sticking up for the old guy, and wondering nervously if Shia LeBoueff is really going to be a decent replacement for our beloved, whip-toting archaeologist.

But until then – Lucas, Spielberg, Chris Carter…make an Indiana Jones Crossover with Mulder and Scully? Please? Guys? C’mon, it’d solve all our problems…

Until then – and not suitable for sensitive souls – here’s a link to Peepshow’s take on Crystal Skull theory, eerily well-timed for the movie’s release.

The reference is about 1.54mins into the clip.

And I know – I watch far too much Scrubs…


8 thoughts on “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

  1. Awww, you mean we get Spielberg AND Lucas and STILL no cameo from ET? Gah. 😉Brilliant post. I wish I could say I was surprised at how this movie turned out, but I’m really not. Lucas and Spielberg both lost their edge many years ago. How long is it since Spielberg turned out a movie with an actual plot? Or at least, one interesting enough to want to sit through. I’m a big fan of Harrison and Indy, but I am not so sure I even want to see this movie. Although I probably will, just to “complete the set,” so to speak. Shia LeBoueff a replacement for Harrison Ford? In his dreams. 🙂

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