Sequels aren't easy.
Especially when they come like 20 too late!
A lot has been said about this delayed installment of the Indiana Jones franchise which came after years and years of rejected scripts and on-and-off shenanigans. George Lucas and Steven Spielberg eventually brought us an Indiana Jones flick which, from its release onward, has received all sorts of criticisms, most of them absolutely understandable. This movie has problems, for sure. But for me, it all comes down to one simple flaw: The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull doesn't feel like a genuine Indy movie. It feels more like clunky fan-fiction with the odd spot-on moment that works made by completely different filmmakers. Yes, strangely, this movie doesn't even feel like a Spielberg film, it feels like someone trying to imitate Spielberg's style: lots of smoky, backlit set-ups, playful stylistic nods but there's just something missing.
The plot of this one is all over the place.
We start with Cate Blanchett rocking a Willy Wonka haircut and an impossible accent, showing up at the warehouse where the Lost Ark was stored in the original film and uncovering, with the help of a double-crossed, aged Indy, a box containing something not human and highly magnetic. I'd say I was spoiling the movie for you by saying the "not human" thing is an alien but you see the darn thing 5 minutes in, making the twist it's trying to establish completely irrelevant. There are NO surprises in this movie. Things kinda happen and you're left sitting there, waiting for them to happen. It's a different time for Jones so cue tons of obvious musical winks to the era, a nuclear bomb test, Commies... the whole shebang. This leads us to the infamous fridge scene where our hero hides in a refrigerator and is propelled miles and miles away from a nuclear blast after which he exits the fridge completely unharmed. Now, the whole thing is dumb, for sure, but it isn't the fact he survived the blast at ground zero in a fridge that pisses me off so much, it's having to buy that PLUS the fact the fridge was knocked out so conveniently out of danger and the fact that the epic knocks it received on the way didn't K.O. the old man or completely turn him into Indiana Jam. I know the other films did random stuff too but it didn't feel so forced and as silly as it does here.
The supporting cast is decent, you've got John Hurt playing a nutty guy possessed by the Crystal Skull, Karen Allen back on board as Marion (though, heart-breakingly, she is given NOTHING useful to do), Ray Winstone as a... quadruple agent whom everybody seems to trust for some reason, and Shia Labeouf as Mutt Williams, a walking cliché who enjoys having unmotivated Tarzan moments with his monkey friends and sword fighting on top of jeeps while they're in motion. Unlike many, I'd say Labeouf is the least of this movie's problems. Sure, he's a bit grating as a character but he didn't ruin the movie for me. Harrison Ford is frankly too old to pull off some of these stunts and seeing him (and his obvious stunt-double) running and jumping around like he's in a Tomb Raider game or something just looks weird. His performance, otherwise, is very solid: he does a good job on that level, bringing back the Indy swagger we so sorely missed. The look of the film is also an issue and adds to the "it looks weird" and "it doesn't feel like a Spielberg film" complaints: the use of the CGI in this movie is really over the top. At times, you're on an obvious, fake-looking set with ballet dancers parading around acting like villains and at other times, it feels like you're watching a cartoon. The whole jeep chase scene in the jungle feels about as real as The Grid in the original Tron.
The whole alien thing, I don't have a problem with.
This is clearly a different time for Indiana Jones, this is clearly a different genre they were going for. We've gone from religious artifacts with mysterious, vaguely magical properties to something more sci-fi but still an unknown item with unknown, inhuman powers. I could buy Indy in such a setting. After all, Tintin had a similar adventure in Flight 714 and that worked. Actually, Crystal Skull does rip that Tintin book off more than a little, check it out. Why the sci-fi stuff doesn't really work in this particular movie is mostly due to the clumsy way in which it's handled. The aliens are all CGI, the ending is the exact same ending we got in Raiders Of The Lost Ark, the potential twist is ruined early on, there's no build-up and no mystery. There was a good movie in there somewhere, it just needed a more unique plot with a more retro approach to its look and feel. Like I said, I do like parts of this movie: Ford is good, some of the action sequences are fun, you've got a couple of decent jokes and one-liners in there, the B-movie stuff (killer ants etc.) fits in well with the UFO plot, and it's just enjoyable to see Indy on a new adventure complete with John Williams' classic theme.
All that to say: Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull is a flawed mess.
Visually, it's completely uneven, in terms of the writing it's all over the place and far from being as tight and as sharp as it should be, some characters are either unnecessary or not given much to do and the whole thing feels more like a cheap attempt at Spielberging a new Indy flick last minute than the genuine article. That said, as a piece of modern nostalgia, if you're just there to see an Indiana Jones movie that's not the original trilogy, then you'll find some little things to enjoy, plus the film is entertaining enough so it could have been worse.
Not good but hey, you get to see Indy use a snake as a rope...
That's something, right?