Capone sees INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL at a midnight screening!
Published at: May 23, 2008, 1:15 a.m. CST by quint
Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.
By now you've probably read more than your share of reviews of the fourth installment of the Indiana Jones series. And unlike other films people either love or hate, IJATKOFCS seems to be inspiring a legion of lukewarm reactions. Because of my ridiculous travel schedule in the month of May, I missed the Chicago press screening of the film. As a result, this may be the only review you read that comes from a critic who saw the Spielberg-Lucas-Ford collaboration with a paying audience at midnight, early on a dark Thursday morning. These were the grizzled die-hards, sporting fedoras, fake bullwhips and rubber snakes. It was a slightly older crowd than the normal fare you might see at a midnight opening day screening; I'm including myself in that mix. This was an audience primed and ready to love this movie, and from the after-screening reactions, it seems like most of them did with some reservations. As for me, I thought IJATKOFCS was good, or at least good enough, but it's not the kind of movie experience that fills me with so much love that repeated viewings are required. I'll wait for the DVD before taking this one in for a second time.
Most of the 2- or 2.5-star reviews of IJATKOFCS have been right on the money. I might even bump it up to three when I watch it again. The film feels like a transition work. It reminded me more of the spirit of the "Young Indiana Jones" series, which is a very good thing. I liked the way that show placed Henry Jones Jr. in the context of the history he was a part of. There's a bit of that going on here. This story of CRYSTAL SKULL is set in 1957, during the height of the Cold War and the Atomic Scare. Although it's not specifically said, Indiana is blacklisted by the government. The music, hairstyles and clothes of his students are more "Happy Days" than anything else. His new sidekick, Mutt (Shia LeBeouf) has a black leather jacket and Brando-style white riding cap as he cruises around on his motorcycle. Jones lives in a 1950s that the government wanted us to be afraid of; here, all of the Red Scare paranoia is justified. A group Russians (led by Cate Blanchett's Irina Spalko) breaks into a familiar-looking enormous warehouse searching for something that may or may not be the key to not just a new weapon, but a new kind of weapon that only a communist could truly appreciate, those soul-sucking, mind-controlling bastards.
I know some people have come down on Blanchett's truly bizarre performance, but she adds the best kind of new blood and energy to the franchise. She's unbelievable beautiful, and the fetishist in me loves the jack boots, severe bob and shiny rapier. But she's also sometimes the only one who seems to react the way a normal person would react to the inconceivable events she's witnessing. And there is some crazy shit going down in this movie. I've grown to expect a certain level of Christian and other types of mysticism in this series, but what goes on in this movie would probably seem more at home in an episode of "The X Files" than a movie about an archeologist. I'm not complaining; it just requires an adjustment period. I'm undecided on my thoughts about LaBeouf in this movie. He certainly has the physical stamina to carry the series on if that's what Lucas decides he wants to do, and I've always enjoyed watching him work. He's maybe a little too much of a smart ass for my tastes here and needlessly rebellious, but if they can tone him down a bit, he'll rock as the heir apparent.
Indy has other sidekicks, played by John Hurt and Ray Winstone, both fine actors, both utterly wasted in this movie. Winstone's constant changing of sides (which he calls being a double agent) annoyed me; but his worse crime is the fault of the screenplay (one of many): he's a terrible foil for Harrison Ford. As for Hurt, playing the lost explorer who guides the group through the Amazon to their grand treasure, he's even worse. He's supposed to be crazy, but he's only as crazy as he needs to be in each scene. If they need him to be a babbling idiot, he is; if they need him to make sense for a scene, he straightens up a bit. A fine actor, Hurt is reduced to a totally inconsistent plot device rather than a real character. And what about the much-lauded Karen Allen's return as Marion Ravenwood? She's another one that must assume the role of plot device. And unlike her magnificent and heroic turn in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, here she's more or less a helpless victim.
I could pick apart the screenplay for days, but the core story is fairly solid. The set pieces are great, but if I had to criticize one thing, it's that there's too much CGI in this movie. Compared to other summer movies, there probably isn't that much, but for an Indiana Jones movie, it's everywhere and it's extremely easy to spot to the point of distraction. Aside from that, the structure and the pacing of the film are good if not great. Ford is still enough of a presence to carry this puppy home; there's a sequence involving ants that will give me nightmares for weeks; and the opening scenes in the warehouse are clever and exciting. At this point (or perhaps even before this point), you need to stop reading reviews and decide for yourself.