Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Baffling Fourth Installment

All right after a slight delay due to a brownout situation I was finally able to see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Now, I have been ruminating over this fourth installment in the saga for the last two days, running over the events in the film, and of course comparing it to the original three. I think what I'm going to do is write this review like a compliment sandwich: first I'll say something I liked, then something I didn't like, followed by (you guessed it) something I liked. What you can infer from this is that I have mixed emotions about the film and that I am devilishly handsome. You can also infer that there will be spoilers aplenty. Well maybe you can't infer it, but I'm telling you anyway.

First of all we will explore the goodness. What really struck me were some of the action scenes. There were some classic, honest to goodness, plain old-fashioned Indy action scenes. Take, for example, the opening scene in the Area 51 bunker. Even though Indiana is obviously older my suspension of disbelief (and I will be using this term quite frequently) allowed me to enjoy him climbing over crates, swinging from rafters, and just generally raising hell with the Russians. That whole scene was awesome. And then the big Russian dude with the chain beating the shit out of the aging archeaologist only to have the tables turned on him: classic. When the movie started off this way I thought "Okay. This could still be good." I was pumped. I was excited.

And then Indy escaped to the atomic testing site and (hold on to your fedoras) SURVIVED A NUCLEAR BLAST! The only thing that didn't survive was my suspension of disbelief. But wait. He was in a lead-lined fridge, and the bomb wasn't dropped directly on the city, and the fridge was blown far away. Okay. Suspension of disbelief might be ressurected if Indy doesn't do anything like that again. Anyway, as I was saying, excellent old-school Indy action. The motorcycle chase: great. Indy fighting crazy mask-wearing natives: great. Dr. Jones in a classic fist-fight against a big guy with a foreign accent whilst surrounded by flesh-eating ants: priceless. The old guy still knows how to rumble. I thought it was great how Indiana Jones was basically this force of nature that was unleashed on the bad guys (see: Indy jumping onto a vehicle full of Russians and knocking them all over like a bunch of bowling pins. Evil communist bowling pins.).

OK now for something I didn't like. Special effects. Yeah, I had the sneaking suspicion that Lucas would want to fuck up the movie with crazy special effects but I figured Spielberg would have kept him in line. How wrong I was. The best example (and by best I mean worst) is Mutt swinging through the jungle with his new monkey friends. Computer animated monkey friends. My question is: Why? Why would they want to subject us to this level of shititude? There are several other examples of this throughout the film (SURVIVED A NUCLEAR FUCKING BLAST!) but the creme de la creme, the cherry on the shit-cake was the final scene of the movie (not counting the wedding which felt so tacked-on). First of all they show us the alien, then the crazy ship which lays waste to the entire place. But it looked so... un-Indiana Jones-like. And I'm not trying to be a wet blanket here. If you look back at the first three movies there is always some kind of supernatural power, although the other ones were spiritual. So honestly aliens aren't that far of a stretch, and fuck you if you think that it is. The special effects just seemed so out of place and you just knew that the actors were just standing in front of a green screen. Even in some of the action sequences (see jungle chase scene) the in-your-face special effects really made it tough for me to enjoy what I was watching.

Okay now for something good. There were a bunch of nods to the other movies. The picture of Sean Connery as Henry Jones Sr. (now deceased), the Ark in the warehouse, and the statue of Brody really invoked that sense of nostalgia for the originals. Of course the flip side to this is that it felt like the movie was trying too hard to connect itself to the originals, like it needed to prove it was an Indiana Jones movie. It was kind of like a teenager with a fake I.D. trying to convince the bartender to give him a drink, and then the bartender looks down and says "Sorry, no Crystal Skulls allowed in here" and he goes into the corner and cries.

The acting was good, and there were some memorable scenes, but overall it was just good. Not great. I was surprised and relieved to find that Shia LaBeouf did not ruin the entire movie. I don't know why but I just have a hate-on for this kid. I've only ever seen him in Transformers and he had a solid performance and I know there's no reason for me to dislike him, but everytime I see him I just want to punch him square in the face. Just fucking unleash on the kid. I don't know why. Maybe I'm just an angry person. But he did a pretty good job. Karen Allen was a little less entertaining. Was it just me or was she smiling the whole time? I mean even when they go over the giant waterfall ("Drop three times." Suspension of disbelief fading... fading...) and she's sitting on the shore holding the wheel from the crazy communist car-boat she's still smiling like she's wearing a pair of vibrating underwear. I could have swallowed a lot more of the movie a lot easier if the actors had sold it a bit more. Even in the most dangerous moments a lot of the main characters didn't seem all that concerned (see: Karen Allen smiling like she's high on crack).

John Hurt was impeccable as always. It doesn't matter what he does he does a great job. Cate Blanchett was a good choice. She did a good job as the bad guy and it looked like she was having some fun with the role. Now I've loved Ray Winstone ever since I saw him in Sexy Beast ("Oh, yeah. Bloody hell. I'm sweating in here. Roasting. Boiling. Baking. Sweltering.") but his character didn't seem all that fleshed out. This is not Ray's fault. Ray did a great job. But for a main antagonist I just didn't get a good feel for the character or his motivation, or why Indiana kept him around until the very end! Is he a triple agent? It must be the senility kicking in.

Last but not least was the Big Whip himself, Harrison Ford. Now there were some times in the movie when it felt like old times, but then there were times when it felt less like Indiana Jones and more like Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones. There was some good work on Ford's part as we saw into Henry Jones Jr.'s professional life and to see the kind of lonely, old professor he had become. Although he had the Dean who resigned to protect him (and with barely a word of thanks from Indy. Or a promise to help him and his wife financially. For god's sake man, this guy was willing to quit his job for you, at least buy him a coke or get him a hooker or something.). While not quite up to par, I think Ford still gave a solid performance.

I'm just about to wrap this up because I realize that I've been going on for some time. The reason is I think I'm so torn about this movie. There was so much that I liked (I hope when I travel I can get the magic Red Line of Power to trace my path) and so much that I wanted to like because it was Indiana jones, but there was also so much that tested my faith. I mean I could forgive SURVIVING A NUCLEAR BLAST!, the crazy Mummy-style antics (Bugs that eat people whole? You can't tell me that you didn't think of Brendan Fraser during that whole scene. Or Ray Winstone trying to steal all that stuff at the end just like the douche bag Beni in the Mummy. Yeah, who cares what his real name is.) the selective magnetism of the Crystal Skull, and the over the top humour, and the whole lack of follow-up on the CIA investigating Indy thread, but on the other hand I shouldn't have to do all this forgiving to enjoy a movie.

This is the kind of movie that I think I'm going to enjoy a lot more the second time I see it. As far as twenty-year-later sequels go, it is definitely better than that piece of crap Live Fee or Die Hard but not quite as poignant as Rocky Balboa. I mean the last scene of The Last Crusade was this iconic riding off into the sunset and this sort of reconciliation between father and son. Now the series leaves off with a cheesy wedding scene? This fourth movie just seemed to lack the scope of the first three. Would I recommend seeing this movie? Yes. It is still Indiana Jones, and although it is definitely the worst of the series, the worst Indiana Jones movie is still better than most of the crap that comes out these days. Rating: 7/10 = Glowing Crystal Skull


  1. 7/10!

    You're more generous than I expected.

  2. Yeah, I know. I was torn between a 6 and a 7.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. See my blog posting @ http://matthagenah.blogspot.com/

  5. Correcting your spelling has nothing to do with the movie at all. And I applaud you for recognizing that. No, that was simply to illustrate your very ability to properly write a movie review. If you can’t even spell correctly, how do you ever expect anyone to ever take your opinion seriously? Secondly, I am seriously dumbfounded how YOU can sit there and continue to defend this movie, which contains one of the most bizarre and backwards plots I’ve ever witnessed. Aliens do not belong in Indiana Jones and that’s the bottom line. And for the record, my spelling is perfectly fine.

  6. And it wasn’t so much a movie review as it was a review of a movie review, in which case spelling should be considered. I was simply reviewing your review, as you would have realized had you read more closely. Also, have you seen the Incredible Hulk yet? I believe I’ll go this Friday, and we’ll see if we can agree on a movie once more.