Steven Spielberg and George Lucas should have just left Indiana Jones literally riding off into the sunset in The Last Crusade… after all, isn’t how all the best adventures end? But I can understand how all involved were tempted with the unique opportunity to pick up a character almost 20 years after we left him, with the same actor, many of the same supporting characters, and much of the original production team. Heck, Harrison Ford still looks pretty good. What would his alter-ego Indiana Jones be doing in his 60s in 1957?
Apparently he is crossing paths with E.T. Um…. what?
Having very carefully avoided the media onslaught preceding the mega-release of The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, I managed to keep myself in the dark even more than Spielberg & Co. had even hoped. Heck, I was even under the impression beforehand that Cate Blanchett was going to be a Nazi… that is until her Irina Spalko opened her mouth and started chewing through her rubbery Russian “W”s. With her severe brunette pageboy, sheathed sword on her hip, and steel gray/blue eyes perfectly matching her crisp, fitted uniform, Blanchett’s “bad guy” character will, I’m sure, conjure up many a dominatrix fantasy. At the beginning of the film, she and her commie henchmen have captured Indiana Jones and brought him to the top secret American military Hangar 51. Does this hangar, full of unlabeled crates stacked as far as the eye can see, look familiar? Ahh… yes (with a knowing chuckle), it is the first of many references to the previous Indiana Jones movies that will keep audiences on their toes.
The Soviets want… well… this thing that Indy apparently himself saw 10 years earlier. “Find the box, Indy!” they demand of our hero. Thus begins the first of many, many moments where the story requires you to suspend disbelief. The box contains what looks like a leftover prop from The X-Files, and it is very magnetic (or at least selectively magnetic). And it is powerful. No more of that pithy religious mumbo-jumbo; Spielberg and Lucas are now talkin’ Close Encounters of the Third Kind, see? Now, I love me some sci-fi, but this development had me scratching my head a bit. Part of the charm of the Indiana Jones movies is that they champion history and books and crafty clues. In this movie, we are dealing with something that no one can even start to explain. Apparently, not even the filmmakers
But who needs explanations when there is action to be had? After a ridiculously miraculous (and yes, funny) escape, Indy finds himself teamed up with Marlon Brando from The Wild One. OK, so not quite Marlon… actually not quite at all, since it is Shia LaBeouf as knife-wielding, leather-jacketed, motorcycle-riding “Mutt” Williams who needs Indy’s help finding his mom. Mom sent the kid a message to specifically get Indy’s help, since mom is… Marion (Karen Allen) from Raiders of the Lost Ark! And she is captured in South America! Karen Allen is a welcome sight when they finally come across her in the jungle, but alas, she doesn’t get a whole lot to do other than grin and look happy to be there.
Now, what’s with the “crystal skull” of the title, you may ask? Well, supposedly the quest in this film involves finding a mysterious, oddly shaped crystal skull that was worshipped hundreds of years ago. The skull’s power supposedly can give you the knowledge of life, the universe, everything (so over course the Soviets want it, too). The thing is, Indy & Co. find it pretty darn fast, and I was left struggling to remember what they THEN had to look for. I found myself muttering to myself, “Now, what’s the title? Indiana Jones and the… something something Crystal Skull…” There’s a little problem when the action and car chases and swordfights and killer ants overwhelm the singular quest of the characters. I knew they were looking for something, but for the life of me I had apparently not been paying attention. And when they finally find “it”, I started confusing even more by blurring it with a curious parallel (at least in my head) to Battlestar Galactica (which is a show that I happen to be obsessed with right now).
You may guess from my wandering concentration that I wasn’t entirely gripped by the plot or the characters in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. And that is really too bad. Shia LaBeouf does his best with what is essentially the sidekick role, and Karen Allen, despite being game, is just along for the ride. Ray Winstone plays an under-developed “is he good or is he bad?” character, and John Hurt staggers around as Indy’s professor pal Oxley, whose only task, apparently, is to hold on to that darn crystal skull. Even Indiana Jones himself gets the short shrift, kept so busy that we never get much of a chance (except some snippets at the beginning) to find out what he has been doing with himself all this time.
When the closing credits rolled, there was a singular clap in the audience, and otherwise just some low murmurs as people lurched out of their seats and shuffled towards the aisles. Entertaining and clever at times, baffling at others, and overall a bit mind-numbing, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is as perplexing and exhausting as its long title. I’m sure I won’t be the only one who will remember this chapter of the beloved adventure series with an ambivalent shrug.
The 2-disc DVD edition of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (wiping brow after saying that mouthful again) is chock full of goodies. There are tons of featurettes, which explain again how the idea of aliens was entirely George Lucas’ fault (unsurprising, really), and how the movie is basically a love letter to the fans who have been demanding another sequel for years and years. Featurettes include: “The Return of a Legend,” “Pre-Production,” “The Crystal Skulls,” “Iconic Props,” “The Effects of Indy,” “Adventures in Post-Production,” and a slew more. There are also “Pre-Visualization Sequences,” a gallery, and trailers, among other tidbits.