Search View Archive

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones.
Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Dir: Steven Spielberg, Now Playing

There are two types of people who went to see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull on opening weekend. There are those who love the trilogy, and those who love action movies. If you possess unconditional love for Indy that surpasses that a mother feels for her child, you will like Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. You will laugh. You will reminisce. You’ll feel warm and fuzzy.

But if you came to see a gripping, innovative action movie, those feelings of tenderness won’t hide the thing you’re not feeling: any sense of suspense. The movie is a bit too self-conscious to provide any real tension or dramatic intrigue.

There are a few worthy sequences. The 17-year-old Mutt, Shia LaBeouf, takes Indy on a daredevil motorcycle ride through an idyllic college campus. There’s a haphazard truck chase/shooting match/sword fight through the jungle of the Amazon—standard Indiana Jones fare. The characters crack a few jokes about how they are living out standard Indiana Jones fare. In fact, if the film itself were an artifact, Indy might be wrestling it from the hands of a money-hungry villain and snarling, “It belongs in a museum!”

Shia LeBeouf as Mutt and Indiana Jones  explores.  Photos courtesy of LucasFilms.
Shia LeBeouf as Mutt and Indiana Jones explores. Photos courtesy of LucasFilms.

Indy addicts have memorized the response to that assertion: “No, Dr. Jones, you do.” It turns out to be a more appropriate jab in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull than when first uttered in The Last Crusade. We heard that line and were indignant. Indiana Jones isn’t old! He’s ripe. He’s virile. In Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, our defense is more muted. What’s so bad about museums, anyway? I try to go to a museum once a month. Why not fully embrace this living monument to the hero of my youth?

And there is no good reason why you can’t enjoy the film, as long you don’t expect the real thing, and are willing to overlook the flaws. If you’re in the group of people hankering for the best action movie of the season, one flaw in particular is hard to overlook. The movie has a whiff of parody about it. Indiana Jones was based on a cartoon, but in the first three films, Ford sheds blood, sweat and tears to prove that he is the real deal.

The Indy we know takes his quests very seriously. He’s usually hunting down an artifact for personal or intellectual reasons. In Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, he accidentally falls into someone else’s mess. The Russians, led by mad scientist Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett), really want to find a crystal skull and get it back to its Kingdom. When they do, Spalko believes they will be able to control people’s minds and get the whole world seeing “red”. For the first time, Indy doesn’t have extensive knowledge about the artifact in question. He’s happy to fight the Russians as long as they’re trying to kill him, but ever since the FBI accused him of being a comrade, he’s a bit absent of Patriotism. He’d like to rescue his friend Ox, make out with Marion and escape from the jungle, but he lacks a convincing raison d’etre, and his uncertainty seeps into the plot.

Cate Blanchett as Irina Spalko confronts Indiana Jones.
Cate Blanchett as Irina Spalko confronts Indiana Jones.

The only actor who takes herself seriously is Blanchett. Unfortunately, her devotion to the literal (not to mention her stunningly mediocre Russian accent) makes her the most cartoonish element of the film. She’s mirrored by Karen Allen, who revives her role as Marion Ravenwood. Those content with a nostalgic interpretation will find themselves basking in the rays of her exuberant smile and unmitigated joy. But if Blanchett is a little too fake, Allen is a bit too real. Her performance makes us question whether Marion is happy to see Indy or Allen is happy to see Ford—and her first paycheck in, like, decades.

Maybe closure isn’t what we wanted from our favorite adventure hero, but Kingdom provides it. It also gives us permission to move on and accept that we’re in a different time. We have fancy computers and half of our heroes are animated bugs. It’s not cool to like the government anymore, and the fact that the FBI is willing to lump Indy in with the Russkies is no accident. It’s hard to imagine audiences enthralled by archaeological expeditions when Grand Theft Auto IV seems to be the only product keeping the economy afloat.

In a way, the film’s half-heartedness is just a subtle cue that we’ve moved on from the kind of entertainment Indiana Jones can provide. But, there’s a flip side: The truly great legends of history do make their ways into museums. Even though there’s no place for Indy today, he’ll always make an awe-inspiring artifact.


Rachel Balik

Rachel Balik is not a mommy blogger, but aspires to be a posh 20-something.


The Brooklyn Rail

JUN 2008

All Issues