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Movie Review: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

This review is going to be difficult. I am a fan of the Star Wars prequels, much to the lament of all the cool kids, and I defend my position vehemently, though I’ve learned to leave Jar Jar out of it. Additionally, I think Steven Spielberg is one of the greatest filmmakers alive, and all three of the previous Indiana Jones movies (including the second one) are given special attention in my DVD library.

But unfortunately, no matter how hard I try to like it, I can’t give Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull a glowing review. To put it simply, the movie is ridiculous. I keep trying to convince myself that it is fun, that the character development is interesting, and that the switch from 30’s and 40’s serial archetypes to those of the 50’s and 60’s is wholly appropriate.

I can’t shake the feeling, though, that were it not an Indiana Jones movie, I wouldn’t hesitate to call it what it is: dumb.

Look, if you’re a fan of movies like The Mummy Returns or National Treasure 2: The Book of Secrets, you’ll no doubt find things worth liking about this latest Indiana Jones flick. And I can go along with you on many things. The plotting and pacing are good, the dynamic developed between Indy, Marion, and newcomer “Mutt” is excellent (I especially like the nods to Henry Jones, Sr.), the nostalgic look at the 1950’s with all its cheesy clichés and paranoid underpinnings is really something, and there are a few nice action beats and one-liners.

At least Shia doesn't have that silly stache in the movie
At least Shia doesn't have that silly stache in the movie

But that’s as far as I can go. Location shooting and intricately designed sets have been replaced with blatant and lazy CG, well-choreographed and ground-breaking stunt sequences have morphed into ludicrously over-the-top spectacle, and that cute Nazi monkey from Raiders of the Lost Ark has somehow become a family of running gag prairie dogs that do not serve the plot in any way whatsoever.

It’s not that I dislike CG. In fact, I embrace it, and to be fair, I thought Live Free or Die Hard was awesome, even though it too took some extreme leaps of action logic thanks to the possibilities of computer-enhanced effects. But here, it serves as a disconnect between the gritty surrealism that defined the first three Indiana Jones films and the overblown madness that defines the modern-day popcorn flick.

We’ve reached a breaking point with action/adventure movies and CG, and this movie should make that abundantly obvious. In the race to show something never seen before and with the endless possibilities of computer graphics whispering their siren song into the ears of screenwriters and directors everywhere, modern action/adventure movies have quickly gone from gritty to silly to just plain stupid. It is now possible, for example, to watch somebody survive ground zero of a nuclear explosion by hiding in a lead-lined refrigerator. The atomic blast may be breathtaking on screen, but there is no possible way to suspend disbelief—even for the sake of a good laugh—when the hero steps out of the refrigerator, brushes himself off, and walks away.

As you can see by the cobwebs, that is definitely old, just like those ruins
As you can see by the cobwebs, that is definitely old, just like those ruins

Yes, that actually happens within the first twenty minutes of the movie. Did I mention this all takes place outside Area 51?

This kind of nuttiness might work for a comic book movie. I thought Iron Man was pretty good, even though the hero survives a similar flight in an iron cage during the first act of that movie. And I know Indiana Jones has never been a completely serious franchise, nor has it shied away from magic, voodoo, or implausible weirdness. But this time, the Indiana Jones formula is strained way too much for my taste, to an obtuse degree that far exceeds the sum of the last three movies. For all the bizarreness that surrounds and follows him, Indiana Jones has never been an indestructable superhero, but in this film, he not only survives by the skin of his teeth, but he lives through the completely and utterly impossible (the aforementioned nuclear blast is not the sole example).

Also, for the record, I did not go into this movie with overblown expectations. I even had a strong notion of what this movie was going to be about and how silly it was going to be; the previews were clear enough on these points. But no amount of lowered expectations could save this movie for me; it was that disappointing. My recommendation: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is worth a rental, but not much more.

-e. magill 05/22/2008

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