No film in recent memory has received as divergent reviews from my friends as Indiana Jones and the [inhale] Kingdom of the Crystal [inhale] Skull, having been declared AWESOME or AWFUL, but rarely anything in between. And so, while I hadn’t intended on seeing it, it clearly fell to me to make a Definitive Ruling on the quality of the film.
Thus, having viewed and contemplated the film, I am ready to render judgment: Indiana Jones and the etc. etc. Skull is … AWESOME! Mostly. Except for the five minutes of every 20 that were apparently set aside for AWFUL.
I could recap the plot, but what’s the point? If you guessed that the film would contain ancient artifacts of purportedly mystic power, a multi-stage globe-spanning quest, boatloads of
nazis russkies, guns that fire an inexhaustible supply of bullets that never strike the protagonists, a big red line zig-zagging across a gargantuan map, a John Williams score, and lots and lots of leaping and punching and dodging and whipping and driving and running and wisecracking–well, then, nice guessing there, Tex.
Unfortunately, Crystal Skull also contains something that the previous films did not–scenes so beyond the realm of believability that they jar you completely out of the narrative flow. And I’m talking scenes that are incredible even by the standards of an Indiana Jones film, events that abuse your willing suspension of disbelief. A third of the way into the movie it is essentially established that Indiana Jones is invulnerable; two-thirds in it’s implied that his companions are likewise impervious to harm. By raising the dramatic stakes in these scenes (and then letting the characters walk away without adverse effect), Lucas robs subsequent events of their tension. You’re, like, “well, if he didn’t even sprain an ankle before, he sure as hell ain’t gonna die now …”
And while the Indiana Jones franchise has always been a homage to the Saturday morning serials, they go overboard in trying to honor them here. By throwing in elements from pretty much every adventure subgenre–from armpit slicks to war to science-fiction to the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs–the Crystal Skull sometimes feels like the “Scary Movie” of pulp, filching recognizable scenes from earlier works instead of minting new ones. (Lucas even manages to sneak in a fair amount of American Graffiti.)
So what’s good about the movie? Pretty much everything else–including, to my surprise, Shia LaBeouf as Indy’s protege. Lucas has a terrible track record of picking young actors (as the Star Wars prequels attest), but I quite enjoyed LaBeouf’s performance, and wouldn’t mind seeing him in future films as well.
And oh yes, there will be more installments in the series, a fact the film makes clear. Curiously, this has generated no end of grousing from the fanboys on Teh NetarWebs. The same people who popped a boner two years ago when Indiana Jones 4 was announced and held it until they attended the special 12:01 AM showing on opening day are the same ones bellyaching about the possibility of sequels–go figure. Apparently it is best to leave those films we enjoyed as children as pleasant memories rather than to mine them for OH SHIT DID YOU SAY GREMLINS III DUDE I AM SO THERE!!!!