Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
By Matthew Huntley
May 27, 2008
In 1981, Raiders of the Lost Ark created a new genre of cinema unto which it would forever be compared. It was the new mythic adventure - gritty, magical and completely American. Even today, there's nothing quite like "Raiders" or its sequels, the success of which bore other franchises like Romancing the Stone, The Goonies, Tomb Raider and National Treasure.
Because the "Indiana Jones" pictures created this special genre, it's perfectly reasonable to judge the latest in the series, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, against the high standards those films set. Unfortunately, by doing that, it becomes clearer just how poorly made this fourth installment is. To be sure, even if it was a standalone picture, it still wouldn't warrant a recommendation, so the problem goes beyond the movie merely not meeting expectations. It's a bad film all its own, plain and simple.
Surely director Steven Spielberg, executive producer George Lucas, and star Harrison Ford believed they were making something of value. These are not entertainers known for letting us down. But it's not my job to criticize their good intentions, only the final result, which unfortunately is a major disappointment.
Nineteen years after his last adventure, both in real life and in the context of the saga, Indiana Jones (Ford) emerges from the trunk of a car. It's 1957 and he's being held captive by the Russian army and its strict colonel, Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett), who wants Jones and his partner Mac (Ray Winstone) to locate a crate within the warehouse of Area 51, Nevada. The Russians believe the artifact inside could lead them to infinite power and knowledge.
After dodging bullets, swinging through the air with his whip, and punching out a few Russian soldiers, Jones escapes and winds up in a nuclear testing town. Just before the bomb goes off, he takes cover in a lead-ringed refrigerator and is blown across the desert. When he emerges, a frightened prairie dog (computer generated with animated expressions), crawls back into its hole. At this point, we're approximately 15-20 minutes into the feature, and it already doesn't "feel" like an Indiana Jones movie. I'm not saying it has to fit into a certain category, but little touches like animated prairie dogs just don't seem right.
Without going into long-winded detail about the plot, Jones is investigated by the FBI, is forced to take a leave of absence from his job, and meets a cocky young motorcycle driver named Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf), who's sort of a cross between Henry Winkler's Fonzie and Marlon Brando's Johnny Strabler. Mutt tells him his mother and Jones' former colleague, Harold Oxley (John Hurt), are being held captive in South America because of Oxley's connection to the Russians' sought-after artifact.
Mutt's mother, as it turns out, is Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), Jones' love interest from Raiders, although that's not as significant a revelation as it should have been. As the movie proceeds, we sense the Marion character was re-written back into the story merely to bookend it. In fact, the entire movie feels more like a reunion instead of a full chapter, an exercise done to satiate fans begging for another sequel after nearly two decades. That's no reason to make a movie.