With the crack of the indomitable Dr. Jones’ whip, my hopes for a fun, memorable romp in another one of his adventures was dashed. Seriously, inalterably dashed. Oh, there is much to like about this latest installment brought to us by the seemingly invincible pair of George Lucas, Executive Producer, and Steven Spielberg, Director. With extremely high value production values, the film looks good, really good. The use of light, shadow and darkness as an interplay with character interaction within the broader cinematic perspective was quite stunning. Broad sweeping vistas steal the show, as do intricate minutiae. Harrison Ford is surprisingly energetic and on point. Once he dons his trademark hat and whip, he looks every bit the part which made him famous, until he cracks the whip and the narrative begins.
According to Fandango.com, “Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) races the Soviets — led by agent Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett) — to a lost city called Akakor in the Peruvian forest, in pursuit of a mystical crystal skull. Along for the adventure are old flame Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), long-time friend and competitor Mac (Ray Winstone) and new sidekick Mutt Williams (Shia LeBeouf).”
Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a cartoonish, even buffoonish, attempt to trade a flurry of action peril for any hope of including plausible story elements. The result is a breathless series of escalating scenes of peril and doom, but no real sense that our hero is truly in danger. It is kind of like Star Trek, where only the people in red shirts die. In Crystal Skull, only the bad guys (Soviet soldiers and KGB) and the indigenous tribal warriors die.
Without giving away the details of the plot, I would rather simply give my rating to the beginning, middle and end.
Beginning: Hopeful at first, with fun 50’s music and a car of high school kids wanting to race an army vehicle in a caravan. But then it became weak and cartoonish. Soviet agent Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett) comes across as a severe, cartoonish caricature lacking any subtlety. Totally unbelievable. An archetype of evil. In fact something you might have expected to see in a movie made during the cold war. Perhaps that was the point, although it didn’t work at all for me.
Middle: Good and bad. Interesting cinematography. However, the story as a whole flounders throughout. There is an attempt to recapture the fun interplay which occurred in the Last Crusade between Jones and his father, but it falls short, though not entirely. A new character is introduced, Mutt Williams (Shia LeBeouf), and very quickly the two are thrown together as unlikely counterparts, much like Jones and his now deceased father. The kid shows promise. Perhaps they intend him to be the next incarnation of the Jones legacy?
Denouement : Deplorable. Simply deplorable. I won’t spoil it for those of you who intend to watch it. However, I must say this was a dreadful and disappointing end to a terrible story. It felt like I was watching a dreadful UFO watchers type film.
My parting thoughts
I am not sure to what audience Lucas and Spielberg are trying to appeal in this film. It is rated PG-13, and rightly so, for the most part. In fact, at points it runs close to earning an R rating due to disturbing scenes of gross violent death. This movie is NOT appropriate for children under ANY circumstances. I caution adults as well, especially those susceptible to nightmares. There are funny moments in the film. There are some great action moments. But a good film is predicated on an engaging story and for this reason I give Crystal Skull an enthusiastic two thumbs and two big toes down, along with the rolling of my eyes and a lament that I will never have my wasted two hours returned to me, not to mention the price of admission. Hint: Do yourselves a favor. Stay home and watch the DVD of the Last Crusade, the predecessor to Crystal Skull.