Written by: Ron Bricker
Indiana Fucking Jones.
After decades of development and years of waiting, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is finally here. The months, years even, of speculation all must come to an end (because, hey, even the hardest working blogger can’t spin a rumor mill on something that’s publicly available). All of the corporate bullshit it takes to make a summer blockbuster —all of the lunchboxes and the action figures, all of the contests and prize giveaways (“You could win your very own autographed whip and a trip to Indiana’s real life make believe house!”), all of the corporate tie-ins, the Indiana Jones sandwiches—now fade away. That feeling that every movie hound, every video game connoisseur, every music snob gets in their stomach pre-release—-that something will happen to impend or cancel that planned release date—-flutters away. It’s just you and Indiana Jones 4. George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. Indiana Fucking Jones.
As a superfan of the Indiana Jones series—a superfan of the historical/mythical plotlines, the action, the characters, the special effects and the fight scenes, the corniness and the telegraphed jokes. As a superfan of everything, top to bottom, that embodies the sprit of the Indiana Jones trilogy, I can honestly say: If you really, truly, love Indiana Jones then you will love the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. You will love the special effects and the fight scenes, the telegraphed jokes, the characters. You will love the plot. You will love the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull because it’s exactly what it’s supposed to be—Indiana Jones 4. It doesn’t follow the beaten path that most laden sequels take these days, the “This is what the movie can improve on” course. The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull doesn’t try to pass itself off as a new entity or a variation of the original idea. It’s nostalgia. It’s Indiana Fucking Jones.
On the other hand, if you don’t really, truly love Indiana Jones than I can’t tell you how you’ll feel about the movie. The responses are going to be all over the map. Critics will forget what the original Indiana films actually were and, only to be consumed by their own checklists, they will focus on what they think something that took over 20 years to make should be, the best of the four (absolutely impossible with the Ark and the Last Crusade in its way). Average moviegoers will enjoy the film. Ultra-fanboys will be disappointed, because they always are. Kids will absolutely love the film. I’m not, in any way, trying to say that if you don’t like this movie then you don’t like Indiana Jones—I’m just trying to say that if you don’t like this movie than I don’t think you really knew why you liked Indiana Jones in the first place and, therefore, were expecting something completely unrealistic. The film is not perfect in any version of the word, but it satisfies the hunger for an unshitty action film, something that the film industry has been lacking since Die Hard 3 (with maybe the exception of Transformers). This film succeeds not because its part of a brand name, but because it carries the spirit of what Indiana Jones has always been—a really really really fun time— exactly what every action films strives for, and few reach. So, all I’m saying is, if you’re looking for the Godfather or Crash or The Virgin Spring you’re not going to find it here. The film is clear on its identity and it knows what it is—it’s Indiana Fucking Jones.
The film’s good slices. The glow. It seems weird at first, but it gives the film a nice shine. The sound. Fan-fucking-tastic! The guy next to me spent half of his film covering his ears. Surely, he was a vajayjay, but the Lucas digital is legit. The suspense. Like always, Lucas and Spielberg take to molding the viewer, bringing suspense to unsuspenseful events, and you are left at the service of the film, wherever its actions and emotion go. Shia LaBeouf is good. His character isn’t perfect and neither is he, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is if he overshadows or takes anything from Indy—and he doesn’t. Huge plus. And last, the special effects—the kicker. It’s not the special effects themselves that blow me away; it’s the fact that the production team knew when and how often to use them—very little. To my surprise and to the fanatics’ relief, the Lucas/Spielberg team used the effects sparingly and effectively—and are barely worth a mention (A gigantic uber-crazy plus in an age where special effects take the place of absolutely everything).
To get it out of the way- Yes, Indiana looks old. And, yes, that causes immediate discomfort and panic. As I saw his sluggish frame fill the screen for the first time, I thought, “ Oh no. I don’t know if I can sit through this for two hours.” His plain look of indifference and his lethargic demeanor completely distracted me. But it got better. Soon (somewhere in the first 15 minutes), without realizing it, you get used to seeing Indy how he is. You start to accept him for having aged and your expectations seem to float down to Earth (my theory is that that was intentional by Lucas/Spielberg). After that initial phase, the only time you think about it is when the filmmakers want you to, through a joke (“What are you 80?”) or through an action (Indy riding on the back of the motorcycle). So, it’s not as bad as many of us feared it would be. It’s noticeable, but it’s not a killer.
I have to admit: at first, I was turned off by the plot. With all of the rumors over the years I had made a habit of covering my ears to block out all of the bullshit. So, when I saw where the film began (Area 51), I didn’t want to know where it ended. I didn’t wanted to be disappointed and frustrated with an egomaniacal Spielberg/Lucas combo that decided to tackle a plot just because everyone else said it wouldn’t work. But, it comes around. The plot isn’t perfect (as ones that deal with supernatural life rarely are), but it’s good (something else that supernatural-themed films rarely are).
The film starts out in 1957. After Indiana led a decorated Army life. After the development of the atomic bomb. After the rise of the Russian Federation. The cold war has begun and…that’s all I’m going to tell you. Why? Because you and I both know that I’m not going to do a story, 20 years in the making, justice. I know if I start trying to scribe the events (without giving away something that others have been waiting years to see) there is no possible way that I would give the film its due—I would only diminish a storyline that many have worked hard, for a long time, to try and perfect. It’s an Indiana Jones film: The plot gets from A (being one side of the Earth) to B (being the other side of the Earth) and you’re along for the ride.
I can see, as starry-eyed as I may be, the film has its flaws. One example. As with every Jones film, there is an “evil” anti-Jones force that is vying for the same relic/girl/power that Jones is chasing after, and I have to admit, the “bad guys” do kind of suck. This time they’re Russian (new war for the US, new war for Indy). The main “bad guy”, Cate Blanchett’s character (even more surprising considering Blanchett’s rep), lacks almost everything I had been expecting from an Indy villain. Neither her nor her cronies are menacing or threatening or scary in any sense (I doubt children will even be frightened). Where is the creepy invincible Nazi nerd guy? Where are the eternal lava kings? The villain doesn’t make you (relatively) doubt whether Indiana is going to survive or not. The best parts of the Indy trilogy force you to suspend your disbelief, no matter how many times you’ve seen it, that Indy is going to live.
The film is ridiculous….in a good way, in pure Indiana Jones style. From the start of the trilogy, Spielberg and the producers knew they wanted to make the unbelievable believable, but they also knew they couldn’t shove those moments down our throats throughout an entire film. So, they didn’t force those impractical events on the audience, they sprinkled them in, making them few and far between. They took purely ridiculous concepts and made them tolerable. No, they went further, they made them fun and satiable. So, if Spielberg and co had the ability to feed you with fantasy, yet left you with the feeling that you haven’t been tricked (the perfect combination), why would they ever give that up? Well, they haven’t. In terms of ridiculousness, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is somewhere in between the relatively insane Temple of Doom and the relatively rational Last Crusade. Early on, in a situation that is (actually) entirely possible, Indiana escapes as he normally does, unscathed and impossibly…by stuffing himself into a refrigerator. Now, I’m not going to reveal why or how Indiana escaped in a fridge (because I would be furious if I read a review that had), I just wanted to use it as proof that Indiana, despite being gone for 24 years, hasn’t changed a bit. Don’t worry, Indy’s still invincible, and he’s found new ways to prove it.
What got me, was the way that Spielberg and Lucas brought back the goodies, those Indiana Jonesisms—when you’re flipping through channels at 3 in the morning, only to see an Indy staple and immediately know what film it was. I melt. The Iconic Indy—his persona magnified by shadows to giant proportions. The inescapable “The legend says,” stories. A plane ride and the ever-so-helpful red trail that makes you realize you didn’t know where Chile was in South America. That comedy, oh that Indiana Jones comedy, telegraphed like a bad Rat Pack joke, but still (actually) funny because you’re watching a grown man act like a kid and you need to know when it’s ok to laugh. Those moments showed that Spielberg and Lucas put thought and effort into this film. They really cared about it and that means a lot more than judging the fourth installment of one idea on its successes and failures. It doesn’t matter if it scores a 78% on Rotten Tomatoes or that they brought in $300 million worldwide. What matters is that they are letting the Indy legacy live longer. In the You-Tube age of weekly turnover where classics are being buried by the overwhelming pile of shit coming in each year, and in the world where production value is all but forgotten, it’s important to revive classics to remind the next generation (and our own) that big scale production is important. Why? Because, when stories are continued, like this one, they live on. They can’t be buried by shit and forgotten. They’re kept alive. And the more people that see films like Indiana Jones 1-4, the better.
The film was good, but that doesn’t really matter. Like every delayed installment of a classic, this one has got to live up to its predecessors, and harshly so. It’s got Temple of Doom beat. But there’s no way it can stand up against the giants. It can’t touch Raiders of the Last Ark (because of its sheer brilliance) and it can’t touch The Last Crusade (because Crusade is arguably the best sequel ever made). All of that is irrelevant. Go see it in the theater. Go see it because you didn’t get to watch the first three on the big screen. Go because you’re bored. Go because you want to feel like you did when you watched them the first time. Go because you want to see the curtain call. Go because it’s Indiana Jones 4—-and exactly that. Go because it’s Indiana Fucking Jones.