Movie Review: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

A new movie continues a timeless tradition.

Director: Steven Spielberg (Indiana Jones trilogy)
What I Expected: Hopefully an Indiana Jones film that lives up to standards without overmodernization.
What I Got: An Indiana Jones film that lives up to standards and delivers to new viewers and old fans alike.
Appeals To:
Old Indiana Jones fans and anyone who absolutely has not yet seen Indiana Jones.

When talking about a loyal-to-source classic such as this film, the only bad thing about the Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is feeling like an old man talking about it. The last Indiana Jones film that was released was Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade back in 1989 when I was a kid, back when VHS tapes were the way to go. It might not be hard to fathom a generation that does not know about the Indiana Jones films now that it’s 19 years later. It’s hard to talk about the American Film Institutes’s #2 Movie Hero of All Time without feeling like an old man. That being said, for some things it’s worth showing your age, and the Indiana Jones films are some of them – because if you haven’t seen Indiana Jones in action, you haven’t seen the quintessential action-adventure film.

For the unfortunate population who might not know about Indiana Jones, he is a college professor of archeology who has, in the past three movies, excavated some seriously amazing artifacts like the Ark of the Covenant, split some Nazi skulls, and been one of the only men in existence who can successfully brandish a whip without degrading the integrity of his sexuality, all while attracting young college students to his class. Yet with all the previously mentioned, he comes off as entirely human and real – albeit somewhat campy at times. Watching him never gets old and there is an innate humor that goes with everything he does, from the one-liners and obvious observations to the action sequences. It’s almost hard to see why he didn’t make AFI’s #1 Movie Hero.

Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has everything it needs to be an Indiana Jones film. First and foremost, it has Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones. Sure, twenty years later, your first reaction – aside from cheering, if you’re as enthralled with Indy as I am – will be “wow, he got old.” That didn’t change much, as he is just as salty, intelligent, and adventurous as ever. Kingdom also sports the necessary exotic locales and essential action scenes, including a fight scene with vehicles, and a quirky team to go with him. The Nazis have since been replaced by the Soviets, but seeing as the new James Bond movies have spurned them altogether, I say welcome home.

What’s very appealing is that while Kindgom does keep to old traditions, it’s not a giant fanservice. There are two – maybe three – direct references to previous movies, and one is a major plot point; I argue that the second one is foreshadowing. In other words, you will enjoy this like a new Indiana Jones film, without too many times saying, “that was a reference to one of the three prior movies.”

Harrison Ford commands presence on the screen, and while that’s not hard for Harrison Ford, it’s impressive considering the cast he’s with. John Hurt plays a wonderful comic relief, and Ray Winstone’s role is both comical and pivotal. Shia LeBeouf, while typecast, plays his role well and does not seem like he’s there solely to pander to a younger audience. Karen Allen reprises her role from the first Indiana Jones film, and her presence is welcome and celebrated. However, the biggest surprise was Cate Blanchett’s role as a villain – with such a chilling screen presence and a cerebral performance, it’s hard to see why Cate Blanchett isn’t put in more roles like that; perhaps there aren’t enough written like that.

I worried at first that the innovations of technology may have ruined some of the charm that comes with Indiana Jones, back in the day when they had to actually drop giant foam stones and drop Indiana in a pit of snakes. Nowadays, you see stunts like that and you know when it’s done by a computer. Thankfully, CGI is used sparingly – in some scenes, it’s selected as the ideal way to implement the effect, while in other scenes, it was the only practical way to accomplish it. Either way, the use of CGI does not make you feel like they shot most of the movie against a blue screen, which makes the scenes feel as genuine as they should be.

So, where do I rank Kingdom of the Crystal Skull compared to the other films in the trilogy? It’s slightly below The Last Crusade and Raiders of the Lost Ark, which I find hard to decide which one I like better, but it’s definitely better than Temple of Doom.

For many treasure hunting action-adventures, I watched the scenes and said to myself, “this is like Indiana Jones, but different.” For this movie, I said, “this is Indiana Jones; why can’t the other films do that?” Indiana Jones is a cinematic experience not to be missed, because unlike other movies that attempt to emulate the experience pioneered by Indiana Jones, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is the real deal.

~ Setsuna Setsunai

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