Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) — An internet fan favorite

“I like Ike.”

Al’s rating: Back in the saddle again.

Al’s review: Every movie comes with hype. Billboards, trailers, action figures — whatever. Only a very few come with history. Not just “number-four-in-a-franchise” history, either, but actual “part of my childhood” history. And even out of those very few, Indiana Jones is in a class all his own.

I admit that I can’t remember the first time I ever saw Indiana Jones, so there was no ‘love at first sight’ and no instant connection I’ll remember forever. What I do remember, though, is that he was the hero I called on at night when I was eight years old and scared of the dark. I remember that Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was the first movie I ever saved up my allowance to go see in the theaters. I remember Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis was the first computer game to ever consume my life for a summer and the first difficult game that I stuck with until I beat it. Like I said, me and him have history, and I’m sure there’s a good chance that you do, too.

So, as amazed as I was at the news that Indy 4 was actually in production and was really going to happen, I think I always sort of knew he’d come walking back through my door. This time, though, we’re in 1957, and through that door is a world that has become a very different place since Indy, his father, and his friends galloped off into the sunset. World War II is over. No more Nazis. No more Hitler. No more biplanes and zeppelins and riding on horseback. Gone is the warmth of Marcus Brody and the stubborn optimism of Henry Jones, Sr. Instead, the Cold War is rising and the CIA and the FBI hold court in the shadow of McCarthy. There are atom bombs and jet engines and the rise of the teenager and the birth of rock and roll.

But there’s also a white-haired professor of archaeology in Barnett College, who still wears a bow tie to class and is still telling his students to read chapters in Michaelson. And he still keeps a whip handy. Just in case.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a very different kind of Indy movie. Our hero is a little slower and a little grayer than we remember, never quite out of his element and but always seeming a stranger in a strange land amidst all the technology and espionage. But he’s still Indiana Jones, and he can still punch harder, shoot straighter, and whip it better than anyone else in the business.

After a desert encounter with the KGB, headed by Colonel Doctor Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett), Indy meets a greaser named Mutt Williams (Shia LeBeouf), who asks for help finding his mother, rescuing an old friend, and retrieving a lost crystal skull from the hidden city of Akator. Of course, the Russians also want that skull, and it soon becomes clear that what they’re combing the Earth for may not be all that Earthly to begin with.

The plot moves briskly, the action is fun and funny, and I enjoyed watching Lucas and the screenwriters connect the dots between every South American legend this side of the Chupacabra. I can’t say I’m expecting to commit any of the dialogue to memory, but it serves its purpose and made me laugh in the theater, so I’m pretty okay with it.

Harrison Ford is in top form for the first time in years. In the classroom, he embodies every world-weary, out-of-touch, bookworm professor you’ve ever had. Decked out in his Indy Gear, he looks like could’ve just outrun a careening boulder last week. Karen Allen is fun to have back onscreen even if she doesn’t have a ton to do, and Shia LeBeouf and Cate Blanchett are welcome additions, both fitting more snugly in Indy’s world than I would have ever expected. Of course, Denholm Elliott and Sean Connery are missed, as is Pat Roach, who is replaced by Igor Jijikine as the requisite Really Tough Guy.

I feel like I’m approaching the part of the review where I should start talking about everything that’s wrong with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The plot is thin. There’s too much CGI. The monkeys were stupid. All that jazz. But, you know, I’m gonna give it a pass instead. I’m just not concerned enough about what went wrong.

While I watching The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, I had an epiphany. I mean an honest-to-goodness moment where the light bulb flickered and I finally came to terms with my feelings about all these old franchises that they have rebooted in recent years. I don’t expect to ever see Indy 5. Or Rambo 5. I doubt there will be another Die Hard or seventh Rocky. The actors are getting older, believable plots are tougher to come by, and this franchise revival fad is destined to run its course and fade away. For those memories of mine that find their way back to the big screen, I don’t really feel compelled to wax on about what they ought to have been about or harp on a choice I don’t agree with. I’m happy to see them again and I’m content to celebrate the fact that I get to watch them do their thing one more time. Probably the last time. These movies aren’t last gasps, they’re victory laps.

With Indy, I’m sure there are problems. The stuff I mentioned above plus other assorted flotsam and jetsam will drive some people bonkers and send them into frothing-at-the-mouth anti-Lucas tirades. But me? I’m content knowing that I get to watch Indiana Jones again and they didn’t screw it up. That makes everything else gravy.

Justin’s rating: Sequels. Why’d it have to be sequels?

Justin’s review: He’s old. He’s aged. It’s not the years, honey, it’s the mileage and the years. And now, 19 years after one last crusade, Indiana Jones picks up the whip again to show the world that even Social Security-collecting action heroes are capable of simple fun and adventure. Yeah, Indy — and by extension, Harrison Ford — has heard all the grandpa jokes and snide hip replacement remarks, and there’s a large chunk of fans absolutely biting their nails to the bone over how Crystal Skull will deface a near-perfect series (in the same ironic fashion that Indy goes hardcore archeology on sacred dig sites).

Yet unlike others, I’m not one to decry filmmakers and action stars from fighting hard to pull off a pony trick one final time, just because they love doing what they do. You could argue that, yes, Spielberg and Lucas and Ford and Allen are collecting an easy paycheck, but I choose to be less cynical, because I love sequels, and I adore nostalgia. I think “nostalgia” is a key word for Indy 4, because as the gang romps through a last hurrah in a beloved series, it had to have been an absolute blast for those four to return to their old roots and take us along as honored guests. So what if Ford is looking a bit more grizzled? Seriously, if I look that good at his age, I will be thanking my fairy godmother! So what if it doesn’t take the series to any new depth? So what if Marcus and Henry Sr. are mentioned as invisible cameos to get us to nudge each other and say, “Oh yeah! Those guys!”? Who would’ve thought, in 1981, that we’d get to see this series continue over the course of the next three decades?

It’s a dang fun flick. And as the Indiana Jones series was built off of old ’30s-style pulp fiction that was often long on action and short on thought, I can’t ask more than a bullwhip and a star to crack it by.

It’s 1957 in movie-time, which brings us well out of the Nazi era and straight into CommieFest. Evil Ruskies with comical accents (were there any other kind?) kidnap Jones, drag him to Area 51, and force him to find an artifact that has a connection to an ancient city of gold. GOOOOOLD! It’s an ugly crayon color, yet people really dig the metal for some reason! (Pun by Polished Puns Partnership)

After an extremely implausible (yet exciting) escape, Indy teams up with greaser Mutt to suss out what’s happening down in wacky South America, and what the Soviets want with a tacky paperweight skull. Along the way they hook back up with some old friends, including (very minor spoiler) Marion from Raiders of the Lost Ark, and spend time alternating between helping and hindering the bad guys in the race to the treasure.

I’ll admit it, the story is probably one of the most lackluster in the series. We have MacGuffin A (crystal skull) that leads us to MacGuffin B (mysterious city), yet only have the sketchiest idea of why it’s all so important. Psychic power is suggested, as is infinite knowledge. Both of which, by the way, don’t show up well as visual effects. By the end, Indy’s dipped deep into the well of science fiction, which will most likely send series’ purists off on several poorly-lettered Internet forum rants. I’m not going to spend a lot of time defending the scifi angle, except to say that it’s not as far out of place here as you might expect — pulp fiction and scifi go way back together, being college roomies and all, and scifi isn’t too far removed from the supernatural elements of Indy 1-3. If you can accept God and power stones and magic cups as plot points, then why not aliens?

Where the movie in on firmer ground is with trademark Indy staples — the hat, the whip, the soundtrack, the in-jokes, the wiry smile and witty comebacks. Even better is Spielberg’s excellent hand in guiding rollicking action and chase scenes (although not so much fighting — fights have less to do in this film, probably due to the frail bones of all involved). The opening segment, a motorcycle romp through a university town, a deep jungle car chase. In a cinematic world where everything is super-slick computer assisted action, throwing this movie’s adrenaline scenes back to the days of “old school” yesteryore gives it a weight and authenticity that’s almost been lost. The action here has to be earned, not just assumed.

I could pick on a lot of the little things in this film that hold it back from its series brethren, like how the Soviet Psychic was one shade away from being a James Bond villainess (or parody thereof), or how Marion looks completely hopped up on goofballs and looks far too happy even when she’s being shot at, or how Indy and Mutt certainly do not have the spark of Henry Sr. and Indy. I could, but I won’t, and you know why? Because certain movies deserve the right to be liked even despite their flaws, and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’s sum total outweighs nitpicks.

Heck, I’d even go so far as to say “Bring on Indy 5!”, if I knew that Pooly wouldn’t smother me with a pillow in my sleep for such blasphemy.

Kyle’s rating: Gorgeous girls: we found my weakness

Kyle’s review: Perhaps it’s more indicative of my weakness for beautiful women than any actual artistic value to be found in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but I actually enjoyed myself during the fourth and easily weakest installment of the Indiana Jones adventures. If I had seen the film with my work friends as planned, I have no doubt that their absolute seething hate would have infected me and left me too ranting against the ‘execrable’ faux-Indiana Jones sequel. But come the midnight premiere I ended up at the hometown theater with a bunch of female friends and a bag of delicious Sour Patch Kids, and amongst the innocent happiness and enthusiastic enjoyment of really, really hot girls, I found myself smiling way more often than not.

Yes, even at Shia LaBeouf swinging with monkeys and getting hit in the privates by plants while fencing on moving vehicles. I love that dude!

That said, it is much easier for me to empathize with those who deplore it than with those who profess to love it unconditionally. It’s best described as goofy, and instead of moments eliciting great fanfare you’re more likely to exclaim “Hey, that’s the janitor from Scrubs! And the grandpa from The OC!” Which probably is not the effect all involved were going for. Well, oops!

Honestly, struggling yet again to find anything profound to say about this long-awaited and long-feared sequel, I return to Roger Ebert’s grand review of the film, where he basically adjusted his critical eye around its more implausible elements, and ultimately concluded that all that really mattered is that this is an Indiana Jones movie. If that isn’t enough to enjoy, why do you care anyway? (I’m paraphrasing, of course)

That is really the best tact to take. It’s quite tempting, and surely quite easy, to bring the comparison to the Star Wars prequels, and slap that internet classic “Epic Fail” stamp over all these George Lucas-infected products as things best excised from your memory lest your childhood (or whenever) happy memories of the original be corrupted. But then you should realize you have better things to think about, and bring in a little chill-out angst retardant in the form of that whole intellectual property idea that these movies don’t really belong to us, and if their creators want to cheapen prior great works with tweaking and inferior sequels, that’s up to the creators and not us.

Wow! I guess critically, I’m more firmly on the side of “What is this crap?” But when there is enough magic, either up on that screen or brought into the theater within me, to keep me happy in my seat from opening credits to lights up, it’s quite hard to say that Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a total failure. I’m in absolutely no hurry to ever see it again, and I smile and laugh at friends who are full of hate and bile towards it. I can’t quite say I’m torn between loving and hating it, nor am I particularly enthusiastic about revisiting it for debate. I had a good time with good friends seeing it, and free of hype or more than a debate of build-up, I think that is all I was really looking for. Or, as that’s all I really got, I think that I’m more happy than disappointed.

Not quite the complete fulfillment I was hoping for, to be sure. But then again, it is an Indiana Jones movie. In the grand scheme of things, you’re pretty much going to get what you’re looking for!

Lissa’s rating: I can fence, too, but I doubt I could do it on the back of a moving car.

Lissa’s review: “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”

At seven o’clock, Ducklet was just finishing watching Empire Strikes Back, his new favorite movie of all time. At ten o’clock, Duckie and I were watching Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. That’s right — in three hours, Harrison Ford aged thirty years and he was still spouting the same line.

Fortunately, we were amused.

I’ve been avoiding reading the other Mutant reviews on the latest (and hopefully last) installment of the Indiana Jones franchise, just because this is one of those movies where I was going to see it no matter what, and reading a lot of negative reviews beforehand would make me very cynical and almost certainly not enjoy it. Because, see, Indiana Jones is not about thinking for me. It’s brain candy, and all I expect from my Indiana Jones movies is to have fun watching it. I mean, come on. The favorite villains in the first few were Nazis. When you want someone to be indisputably evil with no shades of gray whatsoever, who do you draw on? Nazis. It’s why Godwin’s Law exists, y’know.

Despite the fact I knew I would see — good Lord, is there a shorter version of this freaking title? Let’s call it Skulls – despite the fact I knew I would see Skulls, I elected not to see it in the movie theater. I get out to the theaters rarely, and I prefer to spend my money either on a.) films that I know Duckie won’t see with me, or b.) films that I know won’t suck. It’s best if a movie combines both, but hey — we all know how often that happens. And Skulls didn’t fit either criteria.

It didn’t suck nearly as bad as I was fearing. In fact, there were parts of it I really enjoyed, and like I said before, that’s all I need in an Indy movie. The setup was just as simplistic as any of the others: weird crystal skull needs to be either replaced/put in a museum/rescued from the hands of the Russians, whatever the movie calls for at the moment. Coming along for the ride are Indy’s ex Marion and her son Mutt, which, DUH. Anyone with half a brain can figure THAT one out. (Which says a lot about Mutt and Indy that it takes them over half the movie.) That’s pretty much the whole plot summation of the movie, or at least as much as I’m going to give you.

There are some great lines and some great action, the latter as pleasantly unbelievable as the action usually is in Indy movies. Okay, at times it totally stretches into the absurd, but at least it’s really pretty. I’ve got to give Ford a lot of credit for the shape he’s in (and I mean that in a completely non-sarcastic, wow-he’s-still-awfully-hot sort of way), and the kid subplot was nowhere near as annoying as it could have been. I liked the way they just rolled with it. Indy is still Indy, and Marion was always my absolute favorite of his love interests. And it was kind of nice that the villain was played by a very attractive woman and he didn’t sleep with her. (Of course, she was a crazy dominatrix type, but that’s never stopped a man in Hollywood.) The way they explained the non-presence of Indy’s dad and Marcus was classy, perfectly done, and seamless.

My main criticism is that the movie was too easy. The thing I always liked about Indy was that, even though he was an action hero, there were always puzzles in his way. True, they might not have been the most profound or anything, but there was a reason to make this whip-swinging, Fedora-wearing adventurer a college professor. (Oh, also? The tenure joke CRACKED ME UP.) And given that our adventurer IS getting older, a few more puzzles wouldn’t have hurt, y’know? I’m not talking Mensa level or anything — just the equivalent to what used to be in the movies. Cunning traps. Snares that could be avoided by understanding the culture. Anything more complicated than holding up an artifact and winning the day just by raising your arms over your head.

Either way, the Indy movies are an era unto themselves, and it was pretty cool to get a last installment. Or hopefully a last installment, anyway. Sometimes it’s a good thing to let something end, and I think we’re at that point now. And no, George, Mutt Jones just does not have the same sort of ring.

Now give back the Fedora.

Didja notice?

  • Drag racing the military? Those crazy kids…
  • “Russians.” You can almost hear the “I hate these guys…”
  • Indy tracking the warehouse crate MacGuyver-style?
  • Howdy Doody on TV?
  • Fake towns never get any less creepy, do they?
  • Indy is still telling his students to read Michaelson twenty years later?
  • Little Shia LaBeouf in the black and white picture?
  • The stage business with Mutt, Indy, and the beer?
  • Indy giving Mutt the Henry Jones, Sr. ‘This isn’t funny.’ look during the car chase?
  • The Marcus Brody statue says he was dean of students from 1939 to 1944?
  • Indy spitting at the name of Victoriano Huerta?
  • Mutt’s not-so-subtle mention of being great at fencing?
  • The reverse blowdart?
  • Shia LeBouf getting attacked by scorpions? I’m alright with that.
  • Saucer Men from Mars?
  • So, you’ve found the Ark of the Covenant, been paralyzed by a voodoo doll, and drank from the Holy Grail. But aliens and psychics? Bah! A bedtime story!
  • Okay, the Tarzan bit is a little much.
  • Quicksand vs Dry Sand?
  • The S-bomb! Is that a first for an Indy movie?
  • Why are there two parallel paths through the jungle, anyway?
  • How many times can you bust a guy’s nose in 48 hours?
  • So the skull can find your car keys *and* keep away insects? Neat.
  • OMG Mutt’s gonna be the new Ind–syke!
  • My wife was absurdly pleased with the amount of “fluffies” present in this movie, including some comical prarie dogs and attack monkeys
  • Indy seems to lose his hat quite a bit
  • “Janitor” from Scrubs as one of the FBI interrogators
  • The ending is a gallon of “Huh?”
  • It’s the Ark of the Covenant! Still melting faces, Ark?
  • Man-eating ants! Now, I’m happy.

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