Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
In the latest Indiana Jones adventure, Indy finds himself caught up in a Communist plan to acquire a mind-control weapon of alien origin. Believe it or not, there was a bigger gap between this movie and the last Indy movie than there was between Return of the Jedi and The Phantom Menace. As viewers we are faced with the dilemma that we've changed just as much or more than the character we came to know and love. A gap that big can take the luster off of anyone, so you have to consider, "Do I still like this person who has changed so much since I last saw him? Have I changed so much that I don't find this person appealing?"
Indy's an old friend, in my opinion, and despite how much we've both changed in the intermediate years since we've seen each other, I'm glad to have him around.
If I need to write up a disclaimer, it's this: I admit that I drink the Kool-Aid from the Fountain of Lucasfilm, so the grade that I'm giving this movie was preordained before I even saw the first trailer. Does it deserve the grade? That is, of course, a matter of opinion, so here's my opinion of the most anticipate adventure of the season.
I really enjoyed this film. From the kids joy-riding in a roadster that I'm willing to bet is currently parked in George Lucas' garage, to Mutt's (Shia LaBeouf) final swipe of his comb, I was satisfied with what I saw, overall.
Lucas warned us in Vanity Fair several months ago that this latest adventure was going to be based on alien-themed B-movies from the 1950s, and they made sure we got the point right away by taking us to the nearly mythical Area 51 in the opening segment. It is also here where we're introduced to Cate Blanchett's fantastic performance as Irina Spalko, Russia's top psychic scientist. Every move Blanchett makes, every heavily-accented word she speaks seems so studied and perfect it's amazing. And it works! While her plans for the crystal skull are hard to understand (and I'll get into more of that later), Blanchett turns Spalko into an enjoyable character, although not quite one you would love to hate.
I'm a little surprised that I enjoyed Shia's performace as Mutt as much as I did. While you can probably credit his ode-to-Marlon-Brando introduction to director Steven Spielberg and the other creative minds behind the film, Shia turns the potentially annoying character into an enjoyable kid. While Mutt could probably be written off by most people as the prototypical greaser with a fascination for motorcycles, we find out that he has some actual smarts that didn't all come from the streets. It is pretty handy that the prep-school you dropped out of taught fencing, especially when your facing-off against a rapier weilding villainess.
Those were the big things that I liked, so here are a few little things I enjoyed.
-The glimpse of the Ark. I'm pretty sure there weren't a whole lot of people thinking that the government warehouse shown at the end of Raiders was actually in Area 51.
-The fight at Arnie's Diner and the subsequent chase. If I read the credits right, I think that was Spielberg's daughter who punched Mutt!
-The music. I never thought that Elvis' "Hound Dog" could create such tension in a scene. I was almost sure something was going to happen to those kids. And then there's "Shake, Rattle, and Roll" which punctuated the beginning of the fight at the diner, which seemed so appropriate that I laugh every time I see it. Don't think I forgot John Williams' score, which is some of his best work since The Phantom Menace
-The scenes at Indy's house. Now there isn't anything really amazing about this set, but we rarely see him at home and what he's like when he's not in the field, so these scenes helped to expand the character a little. Plus it was cool seeing an old photo of Harrison in Indy's passport, and although it took me a couple of viewings, I finally spotted the full-length photo of Miss Willie Scott in the dress she wore during the opening song in Temple of Doom.
-The Pancho Villa reference. Which is also a reference to a Young Indy adventure available in volume one of the DVD collection. This is the Indy-fan equivalent of the "Master Vos" reference in Revenge of the Sith for Star Wars comic book fans.
-The sand pit. Or what the soundtrack calls, "The Snake Pit." I hate to say it, but this seemed like the only scene in the movie that really captured the relationship between Indy and Marion (Karen Allen) that we became familiar with in Raiders. It also has a couple of the best moments in the film, like Indy's teachings on the difference between a sand pit and quicksand, and Mutt's "There's no Sears & Roebuck out here" line.
-Indy in Doom Town. "What am I being accused of besides surviving a nuclear blast?"
-X marks the spot. As Indy and gang are rushing out of one pyramid, you can see their destination atop another pyramid, the obelisk, marked with an X.
-"I have a bad feeling about this." That was a line I didn't see coming. :)
-The final fate of Akator. As the alien ship blasts into the "space between spaces" (honestly, I admit, that's a wince-inducing line), the rubble cuts into the Amazon and turns Akator into a lake "like a broom to their footsteps" (which is only a slightly less painful line than the one previously mentioned).
-Indy's World War II adventures. The FBI questions whether Indy deserved the metals he earned during the war. I would like hear more about those actions so I can decide for myself. ;)
I don't quite have as many issues with the film as much as most people do. The "Mutt the Monkey King" segment was groan-inducing for my adult sensibilities, but I notice laughter from the few children in the theater, so I can accept it as something targeted to the less-than-PG-13 audience. The killer ants seemed a bit too much and too obviously CGI, but I really wouldn't want to see what it looks like when those "big damn ants" are really on the march. Some may say that there is too much exposition, but Indy is not only teaching the audience, but he's teaching his new sidekick as well. I had no problems with Mutt being Indy's son, although I'm certain the alienation of a large percent of the Indy fan-base was adverted when Indy prevented Mutt from putting Indy's fedora on his greasy head.
EDIT: I forgot to mention the severity of the threat. In Raiders we have "an army with the Ark before it would be invincible," so Indy has to keep it out of Nazi hands. In Temple of Doom, the villain threatens to bring down "the Muslim God" "the Hebrew God" [dramatic pause] "and then the Christian God will fall", so Indy has to keep the sacred stones out of his heart-grabbing hands. If the Nazis get the Holy Grail, "the armies of darkness will march all over the face of the Earth," so it would be best if Indy makes sure they don't get it, either. The danger in Crystal Skull is a little harder to contemplate, and maybe this could be the chink in Blanchett's performance, or maybe Spielberg's direction. Mind-control? Having some one else think my thoughts for me? While it is horrific to imagine, the urgency just doesn't seem to be there. It's an elusive and hard to grasp concept.
Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, a movie I've seen four times, gets an A in my book.