Article By: Dan Clark
After years of rumors and suspicions of an Indiana Jones return to the silver screen fans finally got their wish in 2008 when Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford finally teamed up once more for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Crystal Skull. When you have a franchise that has left such an indelible mark on pop culture like this one the pressure could not be any higher to live up to fan’s expectations. Perhaps that pressure was too great of a feat to overcome, because what we are left with is an installment that pales in comparison to what came before. The core of what made these films so memorable is replaced with overdone computer effects, a haphazard plot full of ludicrousness, and action scenes that go beyond any form of plausibility. After Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade Spielberg leaves you wanting more. After Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Crystal Skull Spielberg leaves you wanting your money back.
Both Jones and Ford are not quite the same men they were when we last saw them together in the Last Crusade. The gruff is more pronounced and the gray hairs a little thicker, but that ineffable charm is still ever present. To Ford’s credit even with his advanced age he is still able to pull off many of the action scenes, and the right hook sounds as crisp as ever. Obviously for the more complex stunts it is very evident he is getting an assist from a stunt double. It is reminiscent of Sean Connery’s last few films as Bond where they seemingly embrace the irony of the obvious student double. Overall Indy is a fraction of his former self, yet a fraction of Indy is still better than most.
The film rightfully recognizes the time change as it takes place 19 years after the events of The Last Crusade. As much as things change they remain the same. The Nazi threat has long been defeated, but the threat of the Soviet Union is as strong as ever. A group of Soviets led by Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett) have captured Indy and plans to use him to obtain a power artifact from a secret US military base. Though Indy is eventually able to break free from his captive state, they are able to obtain their sought after prized possession. Knowing the potential power this crystal skull holds Indy embarks on a mission to retrieve it before too much damage can be done. As the story progresses the plot becomes more and more elaborate. Indy travels to far off lands and gets into an endless amount of trouble, but the adventure is always muted. There is little sense of awe or wonder, which is largely due to a lack of mystery. The crystal skull mystery is so bluntly obvious it’s hard to get lost in the wonderment it attempts to create.
One aspect this franchise is known for is the ability to come out of the gate strong. The opening of Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of the most iconic moments in movie history, and the proceeding films have followed suit. Here we do start with might be the overall best action sequence, but it’s mostly due to the ineffectiveness of what follows. The tone and the atmosphere start off on the right foot. It has the combination of mystery, intrigue, and creativity that have made these films great. Watching Indy come up with a clever way to find this magnetic skull was very reminiscent of the character many of us have grown to love. The action scene that follows is also full of chaotic fun that has been so prevalent in past films. It was able to make a seemingly boring looking warehouse into quite the playpen of adventure.
However, most of the action that follows quickly loses its charm. This franchise has consistently been able to design over the top action sequences that still maintain a credible amount of believability. While Temple of Doom was guilty of pushing the envelope too far, Crystal Skull pushes the envelope inside a refrigerator and blows it up with a nuke. Obliviously this installment has a number of moments that have become iconic for the wrong reasons. ‘Nuking the Fridge’ has subsequently become the movie mantra version of ‘jumping the shark’. Besides the more notorious moments the action in general misses the mark. There are flashes that are certainly remarkable, and the intricacy involved in the complex choreography is impressive. The issue is these sequences never ring true. They become these cartoonish parades of crazy antics. What could have been a fun ride turn into a frenzied mess.
One of the biggest disconnects this film suffers from is a failure to create quality characters. When your title character is a shadow of his former self you need to surround him with other intriguing characters. Teaming him up with Shia LaBeouf is not a way to accomplish that goal. LaBeouf has skills as an actor, but his role in this just doesn’t suit his talents. His character Mutt Williams is clearly designed to be the new kid on the block. His bravado and physicality always feel false. He feels less like a character and more like a movie studio’s attempt to skew younger. On a positive note Karen Allen does reprise her role as Marion Ravenwood and she feels like her old rambunctious self. Her relationship with Indy is not quite what it used to be. Their chemistry has clearly waned through the years. It doesn’t help matters that very little time is spent on rekindling that flame. The one character that did stand above the rest was Cate Blanchett as Irina Spalko. She went all in with the craziness. Her portrayal would fit perfectly into the classic serials these films emulate.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Crystal Skull is proof that sometimes it is better to leave people wanting more. Trying to rehash past greatness will almost always lead to disappointment. Crystal Skull does nearly everything possible to tarnish what came before. These actors are not the same people they once were, and Spielberg is clearly not the same director. He ostensibly has lost sight of what made this franchise so great in the first place.