Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (review)

The Movie: Part II

To me, Raiders of the Lost Ark will always be The Movie. The ultimate movie, the movie that is synonymous with the word movie. Even more so than Star Wars, this is the movie that made me sit up and take notice and realize, Oh my god, I love movies. Oh my god, I wanna do something with my life that is all about movies.
So, you know, it was with a particular kind of dread that I approached Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. I was afraid it would be like going to your high-school reunion and finding out that that cool guy you were madly in love with in ninth grade was now an accountant with a passionate interest in golf. Or like going to see Star Wars Episode I and discovering it was about an annoying little kid and a Rastafarian reptile.

But it isn’t. It’s… Indiana Jones. Even as off-the-track as Harrison Ford (Hollywood Homicide, What Lies Beneath) has been for the last decade and a half — really, he hasn’t had a decent role since 1993’s The Fugitive — he’s suddenly Indiana Jones again. A little older, a little rougher, a little more mileage, honey, but… yeah. It’s kinda like you scratched that golf-loving accountant and discovered that, hey, maybe he’s still got it after all.

All I know is this: I sat through two hours of Crystal Skull and when it was over, my jaw was aching, because I hadn’t stopped grinning like a little kid the whole time. I love this movie. I love it.

Look: Steven Spielberg and George Lucas are not attempting to break new cinematic ground here, like could be arguably said about Raiders, in that it was its own kind of accidental metacommentary on movie history — if nothing else, Raiders certainly had just the right impact at just the right time to influence an entire generation’s taste in pop culture. That’s not gonna happen with Crystal Skull — we’re just revisiting an old friend. Raiders was the asteroid crashing into the old entertainment world, making room for the fantasy action movie (as distinct from the sci-fi blockbuster, even if the two subgenres have since meshed). Crystal Skull couldn’t hope to have that same kind of impact… no pun intended. I can’t imagine why anyone would have imagined it would.

So, yes, there’s a lot of little nods to all sorts of things we remember dearly from Raiders and Last Crusade (though not so much that middle movie that is probably better left alone), things that are here purely for nostalgia’s sake, because it’s a secret language we all speak, as dear old friends do. The movie opens with the old Paramount logo, the one that melted into the mountain in the opening of Raiders, and here it melts into, well, something else, and it’s very funny. The movie is set in 1957 amidst the Cold War and Red scares and all things Soviet, and though Indy never once says, “Russians: I hate these guys,” even though they keep showing up at inconvenient moments, you know he’s thinking it. You know that the screenwriters (David Koepp and Jeff Nathanson and George Lucas) and director Spielberg (War of the Worlds, Catch Me If You Can) left a little dead air hanging there in one scene so that we all in the audience could fill it in. And I love that.

When someone here yells, “Those darts are poison!” you can’t help but go, Well, of course they are. This is where we are, in Indy’s world. And yet the situations Indy finds himself in here have moved with their times, too: it wasn’t just Reds we were afraid of in the 1950s, but flying saucers, too, and government conspiracies covering them up. So how cool is it that Indy finds himself at Area 51 as the movie opens, kidnapped by Soviet dominatrix-scientist Irina Spalko (the always awesome Cate Blanchett: Elizabeth: The Golden Age, I’m Not There), who smacks Indy around some and yells at him in that intimidating accent until he agrees to help them find something very special and unique in a big secret government warehouse? (Yes, it’s that big secret government warehouse where the Ark of the Covenant got tucked away. Not that the Soviets know that.) If Raiders was a 1930 adventure serial, then Crystal Skull is a 1950s sci-fi movie. Of course it is. What else would it be?

Oh, and there’s this: You thought a big rock rolling out a cave constitutes peril? Oh man, just wait till you see Crystal Skull’s big-rock-rolling-out-of-the-cave. It’s, well… there was something else we were all terrified of in the 1950s, too, and Indy gets it right in the face.

There seems to be a bit of a nudging toward a new movie series here with Indy’s hanger-on and reluctant assistant, Mutt Williams, who all but picks up Indy’s hat by the end of the film. But it might be best if Spielberg and Lucas left that alone. Shia LaBeouf (Transformers, Disturbia) is unquestionably adorable and very funny as Mutt, but while it’s awfully nice to visit Indy’s world again, we don’t want to get tired of it. Better if we parted ways after this, while we all still have pleasant memories of our time together.

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