Published at: May 18, 2008, 11:18 p.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. After reading Harry’s review, why do I feel like I’m going to be the bad guy here? It’s not fair… mostly because I actually really liked the movie. There are moments in the film that are great and there are very few, if any, that stand out as being bad.
Is it a fun movie? Yeah, it is. Is Harrison Ford back? Yes, he is… the light’s behind the eyes, he gives a shit again. What about that LaBeouf kid all the talkbackers hate? He’s got a silly name in the movie, but other than that I thought he was actually one of the better parts of the film.
Is it Indiana Jones? That’s the most important question. Yes, it is. And I’d say it’s the third best sequel. That’s not a knock. Indy is back, Ben Burtt’s awesome punches and gunshots and whip cracks are back, John Williams is back. The Indy universe is still the same.
I love that we have an Indiana Jones movie out again, I love these characters.
But I think the blinders are put on if anyone thinks it’s on the same level as RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK.
I love all three previous Indiana Jones movies in different ways. RAIDERS is by far the best. It might not be your favorite, I can understand that, but in terms of filmmaking and capturing lightning in a bottle, it is one of the best films ever made. It’s a throwback without losing its own identity. It’s fun, without being fucking silly. The world is real. I believe that and have believed that since before I can remember.
Indy gets hurt. He’s a badass, a romantic, a giddy schoolboy, an adventurer all at once. That’s what I love about the character.
His relationship with Marion is the key relationship in any of the films. She’s a strong female character, someone that is Indy’s equal in temperment and ability. She’s a damsel without the distress.
TEMPLE OF DOOM is a different kind of film, going in a completely different direction. It’s a movie of opposites. Willie Scott is the opposite of Marion. The Thugee cult is a completely different baddie than the Nazis. The tone is at once much darker and much campier.
LAST CRUSADE is the most emotional film, without a doubt. It gets a little silly, but I loved it as a kid. I think it was smart making the central relationship in the third film a father/son relationship and not a romantic relationship. Up until CRYSTAL SKULL it felt the most removed from the original RAIDERS.
KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL is a fun movie, it is a good movie, it is Indiana Jones, but it feels more in spirit with LAST CRUSADE than RAIDERS despite the blatant nods and casting from the first film.
This film is very vulnerable to nitpicking, but I’m going to try to avoid that. There are some deep flaws I will mention, but I don’t want to start down the road of picking apart little things. You can do that with damn near any movie and to be honest I didn’t really focus on them when watching so it’d be a bit unfair to think them up now.
The biggest flaw is the script. I actually don’t have a hate-boner for David Koepp like a lot of people do. I think his work on STIR OF ECHOES, DEATH BECOMES HER and JURASSIC PARK was great. I think a lot of the trouble with KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL is that the MacGuffin forces Indy to be almost a complete observer for the last act of the movie. In fact, almost everybody involved in the climax does little besides stand around looking at things happening.
In that respect it feels more like a NATIONAL TREASURE movie. Indy does the figuring out like he’s always done, but there didn’t seem to be any follow-ups to that with action. He finds secret levers and solves riddles, but he doesn’t seem to do much after that.
That’s not to say there aren’t fight scenes. He punches and kicks a lot of Russian assholes in the movie. Ford’s still got the attitude and the moves. The big action set piece in the middle of the film (the jungle truck chase) is fantastic and multi-layered, different levels of action going on with multiple characters. It culminates in adding a new creepy-crawly menace to the series and it’s genuinely great.
My problem isn’t with the action, it’s some of the scriptwork.
There are a few subplots that start and don’t finish. Indy is essentially blacklisted and accused of being a Commie by the US Government at the beginning of the movie and that is completely dropped (and somehow resolved by the end of everything) as the actual adventure begins. It’s a fascinating place to put Indy, actually… blacklisted out of his job and pitted against his own Government or on a quest to prove himself, but none of that is followed through on.
I loved seeing Marion again and it was clear Karen Allen was having a blast being back. But other than a few “hey, remember these lines?” moments Marion as a character is not in the movie. If you don’t like what they did to Sallah or Marcus Brody in LAST CRUSADE I think you’ll be livid at how Marion is portrayed. She’s no longer a woman of action.
She has one moment in the film, behind the wheel of a truck, where she does something she isn’t told to do and yes, it’s a good moment, but it’s one instance in the film. For the entire second half of the movie she’s there to make googly eyes at Indy and be part of the background.
John Hurt (not Abner Ravenwood, by the way) is basically an insane colleague of Dr. Jones and I really liked his work here. In the hands of a lesser actor, the role would have been laughable… He’s a professor who Indy went to school with who first discovered the secret of the Crystal Skull, but its power drove him mad. He speaks simplistically and repeats riddles over and over again that Indy uses to follow in his footsteps.
Ray Winstone is a great addition as a character type, but at the end of the day his character is kind of useless in the film. I love Winstone's voice and character type, but I don't think he was used nearly enough in the film. Cate Blanchett isn't as overboard as she appears in the trailers, but I wouldn't say she's a particularly strong villain either. She's more Donovan than Mola Ram or Belloq. She's effective, but not all that exciting.
I might get laughed at for this, but I think Shia LaBeouf’s character, Mutt Williams, was probably the most consistent and worthwhile of the non-Indy characters in the film. He’s one of Indy’s best sidekicks, actually (outside of RAIDERS Brody and Sallah). He’s a good foil, but there’s a depth to him that was missing in the sequels, although I would argue Short Round’s importance in TEMPLE OF DOOM if you want to get in a geek fight.
John Williams… even with some of the films he’s scored that I’m no fan of, his music has always been strong. And I love hearing Marion’s theme coming out of theater speakers again. And the Raiders March. But I have to say… maybe I’m just overwhelmed by the experience and still need to sort it out in my head, but I can’t for the life of me think of any new cues in the film.
I recognized individual themes from RAIDERS and LAST CRUSADE, but I’ll be damned if I can remember hearing any unique and memorable CRYSTAL SKULL themes. Maybe with the Russians… but it didn’t stand out for me and that makes me a little sad.
All the Indy movies have very recognizable music. I love the scores to both TEMPLE OF DOOM and LAST CRUSADE and even though they reuse themes from the brilliant RAIDERS score, they each had their unique identity. On first watch, I didn’t recognize any singular identity to KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL. The score instead played like a greatest hits of the previous films.
I know, it feels like I’m doing nothing but bag on the movie. It’s difficult to write about the positive aspects because I’d like to keep as much a surprise as I can. There’s a fantastic moment involving Indy’s fear of snakes that really had me completely turned back into a kid again. Harrison Ford’s mannerisms, the editing, reactions… all felt classic Indiana Jones. There's also a note-perfect nod to the Ark in the warehouse sequence and a good tribute to Denholm Elliott in the school hallways.
KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL is very much an Indiana Jones movie and it’s a really hard movie to dislike. Everybody is having a ton of fun and it is really infectious. The film has its weaknesses, though. You might end up disagreeing with me on them, but they stood out to me.
A buddy of mine said he thought the film was like watching Lucas and Spielberg fight back and forth. There are moments clearly Spielberg (usually the less goofy stuff) and then moments clearly Lucas (Shia's Tarzan vine swing with the CG monkey army for instance... and that's only a slight exaggeration, believe it or not). But hell, I even liked the goofy stuff. That's not what has me at odds with the flick, it all goes back to the writing. It felt like Koepp needed another couple of drafts before things just stopped happening and were motivated by the characters or plot.
I am looking forward to seeing it again and can’t wait to see how it plays upon the second viewing. Will my gripes be assuaged? Will they be emboldened? I don’t know. I do know that if they want to continue pumping out these films, I’m game. I might not fully love this film, but I did enjoy it. It’s not perfect, but it ain’t bad either.