Review: Indy 4
PLOT: Indiana Jones is brought back into a new adventure by a young teen, greaser Mutt Williams, who says his mother and an old colleague of Jones' have been kidnapped. They're in pursuit of a crystal skull, an ancient artifact that holds mystical powers and entices the villainous Irina Spalko who wants to harness its powers for the Russian empire. Whip cracking ensues.
INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL is perhaps the most anticipated movie follow-up this side of the Skywalker family, so it's with high expectations that we all enter the theater. The original trilogy of INDIANA JONES films are classics and prove to be a tough task to live up to for a fourth installment.
The movie begins in a very traditional way with the Paramount logo fading into a real life stand-in. Indiana Jones is already in peril as the film begins, captured at the hands of Spalko (Cate Blanchett) who has taken him to the warehouse from RAIDERS (yes there is a cameo by the Ark of the Covenant) to find a highly magnetic object. Indy reluctantly helps only to beat foot when the opportunity presents itself. Spalko makes off with the goods, but Indy survives with his life. His run-in with the Feds though (who are none-too-pleased he helped out the Russkies), leads to his termination at the university and he's about to leave when he's approached by greaser Mutt Williams who says his mother and friend John Oxley have been kidnapped and need his assistance.
It's not long before Dr. Jones is now Indiana and decoding ancient text and visiting mythical ruins tracking down ancient artifacts. It all sounds very INDIANA JONES-ish but this installment felt strikingly different from the original trilogy. While there are certainly some moments that work, there are far too many that don't and leave us wanting more. They're so close in many parts and seem to miss the mark.
One of the biggest problems with the film is the script. While Harrison Ford, Shia LaBeouf and Karen Allen were especially on top of their game, David Keopp's script falls flat. The jokes never made me laugh (you've seen almost all of them in the trailers), the pacing is off and some scenes are outright laughable. Just wait until you see Shia LaBeouf swinging on vines with CGI monkeys or the repeat appearances of a prairie dog.
Most importantly though, the central MacGuffin is flawed. The INDIANA JONES movies have always dealt strongly in the mystical and spiritual but this film takes a couple steps too far into the paranormal. The bits in the original films could all be traced back to the power of God (or a god anyway) but the crux of CRYSTAL SKULL felt like something that would have been more in place in the X-FILES movie than an INDIANA JONES movie. I kept telling myself, "this can't be where they're going with this..." but sure enough that's exactly where they are going.
On a technical note that may sound nitpicky to some, the lighting by Janusz Kaminski (Spielberg's DP going back to SCHINDLER'S LIST) is all wrong for an INDIANA JONES movie. I know Spielberg tried to coach him on how an INDIANA JONES movie should look, but Kaminski couldn't leave his trademarks (seeping window light, outer glows) behind. This was one of the most frustrating aspects of the movie as it felt less and less like an INDIANA JONES movie it was also looking less and less like one as well.
All that aside, I didn't hate the movie. There are some things I really liked about it. Despite what you might think from movies like FIREWALL and his otherwise cranky public persona, he's still got that Indy charm and it beams. Just seeing Karen Allen back on screen and having Indy and Marion bickering again was a delight. And LaBeouf and Ford have a sharp chemistry together that I feared wouldn't exist (the scene between the two at the very end of the film is perhaps the only classic moment to come out of the movie). The cliffside chase was great stuff as was the quicksand, which featured Indy's face-off with a snake.
INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL isn't a bad movie. But you should certainly not watch the original trilogy before heading out to the theaters because it will become readily apparent that while it's not a bad movie, it's a wholly unnecessary one.