Sunday, May 18, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008, Steven Spielberg)

After a nineteen year hiatus, everyone’s favorite whip-cracking archeologist is back in INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL. First things first- yes, Harrison Ford is just at home in the role as he ever was. The movie wisely moves the story into the 1950s, which allows Ford to play his age, making Indy older, wiser, and crankier than we’ve seen him before, but while he has lost a step or two he’s still a great action hero. Likewise, the new time setting for this adventure gives him a new group of villains to contend with- now, instead of Nazis they’re Soviets, headed by diabolical officer Irina Spalko, played by Cate Blanchett, who’s clearly having a ball. Spalko isn’t an especially complicated character- she’s basically there to chase Indy and go after the titular skull, but she certainly makes an impression, and is on par with the best previous Indy villains. The other important character is Mutt, a motorcycle-riding kid played by Shia LaBeouf, who ropes Indy into the quest without knowing who exactly he is. The rest of the film’s supporting characters aren’t so well-drawn, although it is nice to see Karen Allen again, looking surprisingly like she did in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. However, John Hurt’s character is given exactly one note to play (Crazy Crystal Skull guy), and Jim Broadbent, as Dr. Jones’ new boss, pales in comparison to his predecessor Marcus Brody, played by the late Denholm Elliott. Worst of all is Ray Winstone, typically so magnetic, whose largely gratuitous role consists of him switching allegiances at the drop of a hat.

CRYSTAL SKULL also suffers from a little too much story- not merely that unfortunate recent Spielberg tendency to cross all the t’s and dot all the i’s, but also too much exposition about the legend of the skull. While RAIDERS and LAST CRUSADE both had easily recognizable MacGuffins, the Crystal Skull mythology is obscure and convoluted, leading to too many scenes in which characters have to stand around and explain what it’s all about- TEMPLE OF DOOM, to its credit, more or less forgot its artifacts altogether. There’s also about two too many endings- pretty good by recent Spielberg standards- and a somewhat hit-and-miss deployment of references to previous installments in the series (my girlfriend enjoyed the Ark shout-out somewhat more than I did). However, I did like the similar motivations of a few of the characters during the climactic sequence- not only a nod to the climax of RAIDERS, but also the way another character’s downfall was caused by his greed, like Elsa in CRUSADE. And of course, the action scenes more than deliver. Spielberg still has a gift for classically-styled action scenes, and there a couple of doozies here, in particular a car chase/fight scene through the jungle, that are refreshing in the way he shoots them primarily in nice long takes that allow the action to play out before our eyes. INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL isn’t a classic like some of the previous Indy films, but it’s certainly worthy to stand beside them, and certainly worth the price of admission.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

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