Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, 4/5

Rated PG-13. Click here to view the trailer.

When I was in second grade, my doting grandmother, in her infinite wisdom, gave me a bullwhip. While I was pretty good at cracking it (I did cut my eye brow with it when I cracked it a little too close to my face… just like the opening of Last Crusade, seriously), I could never master the art of wrapping the end around a tree limb and swinging to safety ala Raiders of the Lost Ark. Happily, I’m here to report that Henry Jones, Jr. and his whip still have the magic touch in their fourth film, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

It’s the 1950s and although good ole grizzled Indy (Harrison Ford) is 20 years older, he’s still teaching archaeology (Boredom 101) and is still of interest to nefarious characters. This time it’s the Communists, not to mention a few thickheaded McCarthy-era FBI agentsq. The Ruskies are led by Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett) and they believe Indy can guide them to an ancient temple in Peru, one that houses a weapon they’re desperate to get their little Commie hands on.

In between captures, escapes and extraordinarily choreographed car and motorcycle chases, he hooks up with wanna-be greaser, Mutt (Shia LeBeouf) and an old MI-6 agent and they head off to the Amazon to rescue Indy’s love interest from Raiders (Karen Allen). Once there, they find the titular crystal skull and Indy’s now insane mentor, Oxley (John Hurt).

By the way, there may or may not be aliens involved.

It’s a lot to pack into a movie and it has some risky story elements, especially for a new entry in a beloved series. Thankfully, Steven Speilberg and George Lucas didn’t succumb to whatever horrible disease plagued the new Star Wars films and hit the nail on its head.

The script’s tone is spot-on and the dialog, especially between Indy and Mutt, is hilarious. Things do get a little bit National Treasureish and goofy at times (what’s the deal with the prairie dogs?) and the George and Steven worked a little to hard to connect this movie to the original three (“Look, Mister! There’s a crucial prop from Raiders! Didya see it? Didya? Look! Isn’t that an amazing coincidence?”) Of course our heroes dodge a gazillion bullets, but it’s all in the name of good, old fashioned fun, and that’s enough for me. Indiana is, after all, a comic book hero.

Although Crystal Skull is a funny movie and does have a goofy moment or two, it also ups the creepiness factor. There were several times where I literally was on the edge of my seat waiting for some native with a terrifying face to jump out at me, screaming and baring those poorly kept teeth. I also had to look away during a sequence involving some really pissed off fire ants. Maybe I’m just used to the creepy moments in the original trilogy, but I found Crystal Skull to be a step up on the creepy scale.

The cast did a great job recapturing the Indy vibe. Ford tosses knowing one-liners around and is clearly having a great time back in the brown Fedora. LeBeouf just gets more and more likeable (even if he does remind me of Pony from The Outsiders) while Allen remains just as spunky and lovely as ever. Blanchett isn’t exactly the ubervillain you might expect from a rapier-wielding KGB agent, but she (and her accent) are acceptable.

So where does Crystal Skull rank among the original trilogy? Popular opinion has Raiders the clear No.1 and Temple of Doom the clear No. 3, with Last Crusade being neither loved nor hated at No. 2. Personally, I’ve always enjoyed the father-son dynamic between Indy and Henry Sr. (Sean Connery), so I actually rank them Last Crusade, Raiders, then Temple of Doom. I’ll have to see Crystal Skull again before I can make a judgment but right know, I’d say it ranks a very close second, just behind Last Crusade (largely because the two movies share the same father-son dynamic… HINT HINT).

The ending also hints at a possible fifth Jones movie, although something tells me it will be starring Shia LeBeouf and not Harrison Ford. If that movie is half as fun at Crystal Skull, I think I could be OK with that.

Oh, and if you’re wondering what to get me for my birthday…

Note: I know you’re supposed suspend some logic in movies like this, but one question keeps bothering me and that is Indy’s religious beliefs. He has the air of a scholarly agnostic and yet throughout his life he has seen first hand near absolute proof that the Judaism is the one true religion (Raiders). Then again, he also saw that some Hindu cult is the truth path (Temple of Doom), but that only before he saw that Christianity has it right (Last Crusade). Now, in Crystal Skull, it appears that _________ is the mighty power of the universe. Which does Indy believe? Is he politically correct enough to think they can all be true?


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