|Directed by:||Steven Spielberg|
|Written by:||Jeff Nathanson|
|Cast:||Harrison Ford, Shia LaBeouf, Cate Blanchett, John Hurt, Ray Winstone|
Is it the surfeit of thrills, the glorious action sequences, the mysterious and intriguing plots, the quaint nostalgia, or the sheer fun of it all that has made Indiana Jones one cinema’s most beloved creations? After a near twenty year absence from the silver screen, one can easily and justifiably expect a triumphant return that recaptures all of those assets and delivers the goods that we all know and enjoy, be it within a plentiful amount of colorful characters or as many thrills can be mustered from a surefire plot. Does “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” disappoint? If one is expecting more than a silly good time, then yes, it painfully does so.
Set in 1959, the fourth Indy chapter has our now venerable hero going up against not the Nazis but, you guessed it, the Russians in the search for a mystical artifact known as the “crystal skull”, which of course can only grant great omnipotence to whomever collects all six of the skulls that are known to exist. As a group of hostile KGB soldiers led by Cate Blanchett’s compelling Agent Spalko hunt down try to hunt down Indiana Jones for answers and guidance in their power-hungry search, Jones finds himself pulled into the fast lane once again with a newfound sidekick in a greaser named Mutt and a rediscovered old flame in Marion Ravenwood. While this plot rundown does initially resonate along the lines of the pulp comic-book/Saturday-morning serial inspired spirit of the previous three Indy ventures, the film’s central and biggest flaw undeniably comes within its floppy, lazily executed plot. In fact, there is one question in particular that still boggles my mind, and that is how, after twenty years of brainstorming, such creative minds as George Lucas and Steven Spielberg could come up with such a weak crux to their gloriously anticipated return to one of the most vital projects of their careers.
In a sense I could see where Lucas and Spielberg were coming from. With their first three outings coming from the pulpy B-grade adventure serials of their childhoods, they this time set their foray strictly on their new timer period: the 1950’s; a decade riddled with a surplus of cheesy science fiction pictures suffused with invading extraterrestrials, government conspiracies, and journeys into the unknown. It’s all very kitsch and for the sole sake of entertainment, which is what Indiana Jones has always been about in the first place, and yet, one can’t help but feel that by having Kingdom of the Crystal Skull model its foray after this cheesy, implausible, and admittedly silly genre, it simply detaches the film from its predecessors by lacking in their grand sense of wonder and intelligence. With such excellent, intriguing, and even thought-provoking utilizations of the Arc of the Covenant and the Holy Grail, the gist of a crystal skull with, spoilers aside, boring and predictable capabilities just falls flat on its face and adds barely any extra layers and themes to the story like the previous “MacGuffins” did so splendidly.
Choosing the Russians as the film’s villains this time around is another utilization of the film’s setting that works on a very hit-or-miss level. On one hand, Agent Spalko and her group of KGB agents do fill in for the Nazi’s mercilessness quite well, but are far from delivering on the same freight train. Cate Blanchett’s Agent Spalko, while compelling, just isn’t as formidable as she had the potential of being. She barely shows any passion in her power-hungry pursuit and her only mark as a villain seems to only come from her accent and the sword she carries at her hip. Is Spalko at all formidable against the whip-wielding archeologist? Barely.
But what Crystal Skull lacks in the sharpness we would expect to find in an Indy movie it makes up for in its wit and lightheartedness, and once one comes to accept those two assets as the film’s central intentions one can certainly appreciate its efforts by some margin. Everyone involved clearly had a hell of a time while making the film. Great talents in the likes of Ray Winstone, Cate Blanchett, and John Hurt, while wasted in their weak and limited roles, do make the most of David Koepp’s poorly written script with all of the fun one would expect to find on the globe-trotting set of an Indy picture. With Harrison Ford delivering once again to pitch-perfection and Karen Allen as radiant as ever, the true surprise performance came from Shia LaBeouf. With character that could have easily been rubbed as annoying, LaBeouf succeeds in the same way he carried last summer’s Transformers by just igniting his performance with his natural charm, wit, and charisma.
Watching Crystal Skull was definitely one of the most fickle film experiences I’ve ever had. I just couldn’t help but be simultaneously entertained and disappointed – as odd as that sounds. There are a numerous amount of things that sets the film apart from the original trilogy – David Koepp’s debacle of a screenplay, the nearly devoid sense of the character development I was hoping to see, and even Janusz Kaminski’s unfitting
cinematography that fails to capture the pulpy, comic book-like essence of the previous films. Creative qualms aside, this is a very fun film that does have its share of thrills and action sequences that do manage to capture the awesome experience of its predecessors, if only limitedly.