Awfully Good: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Let's see if the 10 years since its release has been any kinder to…

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Harrison Ford, Shia LeBeouf, Karen Allen

Dr. Henry Jones Jr. sets out on a quest to get some alien head.

I was originally prepared to write this as a kinder review, one considering nostalgia and expectation. But then I rewatched this movie for the first time since its opening night and it was even more painful than I remembered. (Dare I say worse than re-watching PHANTOM MENACE 20 years later.) Ignoring all the wistful anticipation surrounding its release, INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL is a flat-out terrible film, especially coming from someone like Steven Spielberg. If this was a movie about a new character named Wisconsin Johnson and not a cinematic icon you love from your childhood, this movie would be Razzie-winning trash.

Cate Blanchett: Reigning "Smell My Finger" champion since 2005.

On many levels, it's great to see Harrison Ford back in the fedora and any part of CRYSTAL SKULL that works is thanks to him. I love the idea that when the movie starts, Indy has had decades of adventures we never get to see. And to his credit, Ford hasn't lost a step with the whip, still boasting enough charisma to sell an older more experienced version of the character while still being the Indy we know and love.

Although tantamount to a cruel tease, the first part of the film isn't bad at all. It opens with a little fan service in a visit to the warehouse from the end of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. There's an exciting chase scene full of practical stunts and plenty of Indy one-liners. You even get a fun, goofy sequence with a nuclear test site ghost town full of creepy mannequins. And then Harrison Ford hops in the refrigerator to escape an atomic bomb and the movie gets blown up along with him.

I know the acting in this movie is wooden, but this is ridiculous.

I don't even really hate the idea of the much-maligned "nuke the fridge" moment. This is the same series that had its hero survive falling out of a plane in nothing but a raft. (Plus, it leads to that killer shot of Indy's silhouette against the ensuing mushroom cloud.) What makes it terrible is showing said fridge bouncing and tumbling for MILES across the desert and Indy coming out of it without a scratch. It's like it goes out of its way to make it absolutely unbelievable and stupid…which is a great metaphor for the remaining two hours. The film continually stretches out every bad instinct it has, as if George Lucas and Steven Spielberg are trolling you on purpose. By the third act, when the heroes fall down not one, not two, but THREE giant deadly waterfalls in a floating car, it begins to feel like a parody of an actual INDIANA JONES movie.

Another good metaphor for this film.

It's all symptom of a script that clearly needed many more revisions. Working off two decades worth of screenplays from various writers (including a solid draft by Frank Darabount you can probably still find online), Spielberg's go-to writer David Koepp admitted to Frankensteining together bits and pieces of previous drafts that he liked. The result is what you would expect. Characters wander aimlessly throughout the story with motivations and behavior that changes scene to scene. (One supporting character betrays Indy multiple times with zero emotional effect.) Attempts at comedy are frequent and often embarrassing. And the plot—which is flimsy to begin with—has no tension or bite to it. Everything just feels off and watered down. This isn't the Indiana Jones who would shoot a man to avoid a swordfight.

Worst of all, for a series that's given us so many iconic images, lines and scenes, CRYSTAL SKULL is full of sequences that are at best unmemorable. Like a slow-moving car chase through the jungle where people sword fight on top of the vehicles. Or having to fight multiple sets of generic native tribes protecting various sacred landmarks with kung fu. (Blink and you'll miss a cameo from TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLE's Ernie Reyes Jr.!) And at worst… well, at worst it's Shia LeBeouf swinging through the jungle Tarzan-style with a bunch of CG monkeys.

No matter where he went, Indy always kept a little piece of Short Round with him for good luck.

Usually you can at least count on Spielberg to deliver a good-looking film. So don't ask me to explain why everything in this movie, which cost nearly $200 million, looks so cheap and ugly. Longtime Spielberg cinematographer Janusz Kaminski does what is arguably his worst work, replacing the series' beautiful international location shots with obvious soundstages and some of the least convincing greenscreen in a movie of this caliber. The amount of CGI is disappointing and seemingly unnecessary. (You couldn't get real scorpions, monkeys or gophers on set?) The movie's biggest action sequence, the jungle car chase, is so fake-looking you won't believe the man who made dinosaurs come alive in JURASSIC PARK ever allowed it to be released.

For a brief moment after Edgar Wright dropped out, David Cronenberg was considered to direct ANT MAN.

I was at Comic Con in 2007 when they announced that Karen Allen was returning as Marion Ravenwood and in a day that also showed the first footage from IRON MAN and STAR TREK, it was the most exciting news for fans by far. While Allen and Ford's chemistry is as strong as ever and their brief moments of bickering are delightful for anyone who loves RAIDERS, their relationship (and Marion's role in the story) is sadly an afterthought. I know Karen Allen was excited to be there, but I'd rather have no Marion than a two-dimensional version of her just there as damsel-in-distress fan service.

The same disappointment goes for the poorly-used Cate Blanchett, whose Russian accent goes in and out more than actors on a porn set. Plus, she's a complete nothing of a villain. Is she psychic with supernatural powers? I don't know and the movie doesn't care. And along those lines, you could completely cut Ray Winstone and John Hurt's characters out and nothing about the film would change.

But what really sinks this barely-afloat ship is the inclusion of Shia LeBeouf as Indy's estranged son Mutt. Like everyone else, it's not LeBeouf's fault per se, but the writing, which turns burdens him with being an annoying, inconsistent character reminiscent of Willie from TEMPLE OF DOOM. I don't know who first posed the question, "Wouldn't it be cool if Shia showed up for the first time on a motorcycle wearing Marlon Brando's outfit from THE WILD ONES?" but I hope they no longer have gainful employment. LeBeouf and Ford share a couple of worthwhile moments, but overall his fake tough guy schtick ("That's my mother you're talking about!") sticks out like a sore thumb.

Maybe if they remake it as… THE MILD ONES. [rimshot]

The film's final act is a big disappointment both as a conclusion to the adventure story and just visually as it gets lost in a hurricane of bad CGI. It's just utter nonsense, with aliens showing up at El Doraldo, people getting sucked in to a portal to another dimension, and some jaw-droppingly bad greenscreen. (If you asked me to explain exactly what happened at the end of this movie and why it happened, I don't think I could.) Much like the nuclear blast, the inclusion of aliens fits the 50s sci-fi vibe and isn't the problem. It's the script's reason for having aliens in the first place is never clear, as they don't bother to explain anything about them before they show up and start lighting people's eyes on fire. And for a film whose big reveal is that interdimensional beings helped study and guide human civilization, it ends as a big… "So what?" The best vague explanation I can offer comes in the form of a line that Harrison Ford is clearly embarrassed to have to say: "Their treasure wasn't gold. It was knowledge. Knowledge was their treasure."

Interdimensional Alien is watching you poop.

As much as I would love for Spielberg, Ford and everyone else to redeem themselves with the proposed INDY 5, I think I'd rather just go back to pretending this was a trilogy.

Harrison Ford does his best.

Nuclear refrigerators, car chase swordfights, CGI monkeys, and other completely unbelievable things.

The aliens show you everything.

Whip it real good! Buy this movie here!

Take a shot or drink every time:
  • A joke is made about Indy's age
  • There's bad greenscreen or CGI
  • Mac says, "Jonesy"
  • Mac gets punched
  • A character blatantly spouts off exposition
  • Something gets squished or splashed on the camera lens
Double shot if:
  • A CG gopher is onscreen

Thanks to Walker and Dustin D. for suggesting this week's movie!

Seen a movie that should be featured on this column? Shoot Jason an email or follow him on Twitter and give him an excuse to drink.

Extra Tidbit: Anyone remember the old computer game INDIANA JONES AND THE FATE OF ATLANTIS? Now that was a good Indy sequel.
Source: JoBlo.com



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