Review: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

By Sean Collier

June 22, 2008

Harrison is too expensive to be used in actual pictures.

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Batting cleanup in the old guy nostalgia trip lineup after Live Free or Die Hard, Rocky Balboa, and Rambo, the early summer brings a juggernaut in the form of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Steven Spielberg and company are swinging for box-office fences, if not artistic ones; the film is a guaranteed cash cow, combining a still-loyal fan base with an unavoidable marketing campaign. The Crystal Skull desperately seeks to capture the charm and crowd-pleasing adventure of the original trilogy; unfortunately, it misses the mark by a wide margin.

Quite simply, The Crystal Skull is a film where nothing clicks. The easy target for finger-pointing is George Lucas and his utterly bewildering story work, which dips pretty far into the fantastic and ridiculous - even for Lucas, and even for this franchise. Certain plot points in The Crystal Skull make the heart extractions of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom look downright plausible. However, to purely blame Lucas (and, to be fair, the producers knew what they were getting with his ideas,) is to overlook several other culprits, Harrison Ford himself not least among them. Whoever this character is, it's not Indiana Jones; to call it a caricature wouldn't be correct, and it's not Indy grown up either. Perhaps just Indy grown bored.


Spielberg, much closer to War of the Worlds form than, well, Raiders of the Lost Ark form, is able to pack several of the key action sequences with intensity and fun, if not suspense: a collegiate bar fight turns into a motorcycle chase through a library, and a race to the finish line through the jungle provides the best scene in the film. However, these bits of delight are small consolation for a film overwhelmingly lacking in intrigue. The supporting cast is mostly game, particularly Shia LaBeouf and Ray Winstone; Cate Blanchett's earnestness is lost in the shuffle, and Karen Allen's nostalgia-packed performance, like Ford's, bears no resemblance to the original character.

Viewed in a vacuum, The Crystal Skull would be an acceptable-if-forgettable popcorn flick, in the vein of The Mummy or National Treasure, two films that wouldn't exist without Indy. However, this one's impossible to take on its own merits. It exists simply because the original films are so beloved; it's an extension of those, and as such, owes something more to the franchise. Temple of Doom and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade were variations on a theme, with changes and advancements; The Crystal Skull plays more like Indy's Greatest Hits, jumping roughly from Indy back in the classroom to Indy versus snake to Marion being dragged out of a tent, and - hey! A shot of the ark! Perhaps if further adventures, with LaBeouf as the rumored heir to the throne, depart a little more from the classics, the franchise can breathe again; if not, it's about time for Dr. Jones to retire.



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