Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

“What does God need with a starship?”

The film opens at the height of the Red Scare as Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) fights off Soviet agents, led by Cate Blanchett, who show up to steal a crystal skull from a secret government warehouse. Indy’s failure to stop the theft brings up questions of his loyalty and he finds himself on forced sabbatical from the university.

Indy quickly finds a new outlet when a kid named Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf) asks Indy for help in retrieving another crystal skull found by one of Indy’s colleagues (John Hurt) to save his mother Marion (Karen Allen) from the Nazi’s.

So far so good. The adventure is in high gear, and even if the crystal skulls themselves are a bit of a letdown after Arks and Grails, at least they’re better than magic rocks which…glow.

However, the film begins to loose steam as the trek through the jungle infuses many themes not present in other Indy adventures which take over the film’s final act. These include increased mysticism, psychic powers, and even the included mention of Roswell and possibility of extra-terrestrial life. Now, I know these themes can be found in many of the serials George Lucas enjoyed as a kid, but they are glaringly out of place in a adventure series with strong historical ties like Indiana Jones.

The script is okay, though not great, but has one glaring miscalculation - the crystal skulls themselves. I can’t tell you the secret of the skulls without giving away a huge plot piece of the film, but I will tell you the truth behind them will leave you dumbfounded. It’s this miscalculation that takes over the film’s final act and moves you further and further away from the world of Indiana Jones into something else completely until you can barely recognize what you are looking at.

If the plot lacks punch, the film is filled with some nostalgic fun, which it rides through most of the film’s running time. We get Indy, we get the return of Marion, we get the reveal of Mutt’s parentage, and we get car chases, tombs, an hidden puzzles aplenty. Ford is terrific as an older Indy and LaBeouf holds his own on screen (too bad about the character name, though). There are some nice touches thrown out to longtime fans including a mention of Indy’s time with Pancho Villa, and a brief glimpse of the Ark of the Covenant.

After a near 20 year wait, this newest addtiion to the franchise is no Phantom Menace (and, no, I don’t mean that in a positive way). In the end Indiana Jones will give you a fun nostalgic ride, but deliver little of its own worth remembering. The crystal skull plot is something which you would expect the likes of the The Mummy and Tomb Raider to throw out as too outrageous, but somehow Lucas and Spielberg decided this was the adventure they wanted for Indy’s return. I enjoyed the film, mostly for the nostalgia and the stunts (if I hadn’t seen the other films and been an Indy fan going in my rating of this film would no doubt be even lower than it is), but the plot left me confused and the end left me cold. Move over Temple of Doom, you are no longer the weakest link in the franchise.

The quote which I used to begin the review is from Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. The reason I include it here is it became stuck in my head during the film’s arrival in Crazywackofuntown during its final moments. Much like Star Trek V this film derails the franchise in an attempt to do something different, and fails in a spectacular, but amusing, way. Star Trek was able to right the ship in future films, but we’ll have to wait and see if Indy gets the same chance.

No comments: