Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Movie Review
Twenty years after his last adventure, Indy returns to save the world anew! But can this third sequel hold up with the quality of its predecessors?
Genre: Action / Adventure
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Harrison Ford, Shia LaBeouf, Cate Blanchett, Karen Allen, Ray Winston, John Hurt, Igor Jijikine, Jim Broadbent & Neil Flynn.
Run Time: 122 min.
US Release: 22 May 2008
UK Release: 22 May 2008
German Release: 22 May 2008
Welcome back to my Throwback Thursday review series for Indiana Jones! Today I will review the last instalment for this string of analyses: Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Being a huge fan of the franchise, since my uncle gifted us with the VHS trilogy at a very young age, I was very much looking forward to finally seeing an Indy adventure in cinemas. As such, I was in denial about my feelings towards this fourth part, when I left cinemas. Now, in all honesty, I don’t think this is a bad film, however, it also isn’t a great Indiana Jones chapter containing some terrible flaws. Are you ready? Then grab your fedora, as we embark on my review…
— WARNING, THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS! —
During the Cold War, Professor Henry "Indiana" Jones Jr. fights off Soviet agents led by Irina Spalko, who is on the hunt for a legendary skull. When young Mutt Williams brings him a coded message from a demented colleague, Professor Harold Oxley, Jones and the young greaser embark on a mission through the jungles of Peru. A race for power ensues, leading the ageing professor to join forces with a woman of his past; Marian Ravenwood.
Back in 1979, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg entered a five-picture Indiana Jones deal with Paramount. Following the success of The Last Crusade in 1989, Lucas couldn’t come up with a story for the next chapter, feeling that the third movie made for a perfect ending. Instead, he opted on producing a prequel TV show: The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles.
The idea to make an adventure, featuring a more seasoned Indy, came to Lucas in 1993 when Ford revisited his character in one of the episodes that played in the 50s. He thought of merging the serials on which the first three features were modelled, with the sci-fi B-movie genre from the 50s, using aliens as a narrative device. Unfortunately, Ford and Spielberg disliked the pitch. In 2000, the trio met up during an American Film Institute tribute to Ford, deciding that they wanted to make another sequel. Lucas convinced Spielberg to use the alien plot.
Many were hired to write a script, among others M. Night Shyamalan and Frank Darabont, yet in the end, Lucas opted to develop the screenplay himself, together with David Koepp. Using 50s B-movies as the basis, as well as that era’s Cold War setting, the Soviets were the only plausible choice as the villains. Learning that Joseph Stalin was interested in psychic warfare, Lucas gave the aliens psychic powers, turning them into interdimensional beings to appease Spielberg, who did not want to make another extraterrestrial flick.
The idea of using interdimensional travellers never bothered me, after all, it is an Indiana Jones feature, which automatically encompasses the supernatural. It also embraces its B-movie roots perfectly, not taking itself too seriously. The opening sequence is entertaining, containing a fun nudge to the period it plays in, a smart method of finding the magnetic skull, just like a short chase sequence that resembled the classic Indiana Jones. It also holds the best ending for the character, which sees him marry Marian, the love of his life.
That said, the story included a lot of bad ideas! Among the stupidest sequences is the survival of an atomic blast, by hiding in a lead-covered fridge. The setup is fantastically eerie, though the outcome should have ended in the protagonist's death. The “Tarzan” car chase scene in the jungle, which apart from being ridiculous, had no tension whatsoever. Finally, the third act-reveal of the aliens themselves, which was a big let-down.
Harrison Ford as the titular character, is hands-down the best part about this instalment! He sold a lot of the action, doing a lot of the stunts himself, and kept his charm as the grouchy archaeologist. Sadly, the character's vulnerability, which is what made him so relatable to audiences, is severely downplayed to the point that Indiana becomes near invulnerable, resulting in an absence of suspense.
Ray Winston portrays Mac, a sleazy friend of Dr. Jones. He is an incredibly underdeveloped persona, strictly motivated by money. A lazily written character, without any depth, as viewers don’t get any insight into his personality. Fundamentally, his “redemption” arc does not work because it is unearned.
Irina Spalko, the Soviet agent, is played by Cate Blanchett. Spalko is a good enough villain, though not as memorable as Belloq or Donovan.
Shia LaBeouf has been miscast as Mutt Williams, who turns out to be Indy’s son. I am not a big fan of LaBeouf, he is a little too eccentric for me, which culminated in his portrayal of Mutt, a dislikeable character. Karen Allen returns as Marian Ravenwood, being once again brilliant. The dialogues between her and Ford were scripted by Koepp, with a little help from Lawrence Kasdan, re-capturing their chemistry. Sadly, she has barely anything to do.
Unusual for Spielberg is the fact that the picture quality is not great. The mid-to-late 00s saw the rise of high definition, with a lot of productions smoothing over their films with additional filters. As such, this third sequel has the unfortunate effect of looking aggressively artificial, killing any sense of realism, while being also harshly overlit! Gone is the grimy camera, with everything looking pedantically clean. That said, there are specific memorable segments, using intriguing angles or constellations that are sprinkled throughout the run time.
The special effects are among the worst! Why Spielberg was so vehement to use a recurring joke, using CGI gophers during the introduction is beyond me, especially when they looked as bad as they did. The monkeys as well as the extraterrestrials themselves, aren't any better. The crystal skull was a practical prop, yet looked like cheap plastic.
One of the better parts is the John Williams score. The return of the Raiders march is iconic, the soundtrack for the crystal skull itself induces goosebumps, plus Mutt’s theme itself is energetically loaded.
Verdict: All in all, this fourth instalment isn’t really as bad as people make it out to be but it also isn’t great, especially when you consider who directed and wrote the script. It is incomprehensible to me how the duo that gave us the original trilogy could fall this low! The story has its upbeat moments; I like the shift from serials to sci-fi B-flicks to suit the era it plays in. The change of villains from Nazis to Soviets also suits the timeline. I never had an issue with the introduction of interdimensional beings. However, it is the lacklustre execution of the narrative that makes this adventure so forgettable! Harrison Ford is great as the lead and his chemistry with Karen Allen does resurface, but her character Marian has little to do. The cinematography is too sterile, the lighting is aggressively bright, making the whole picture look artificial. The CGI is inexcusable, while the MacGuffin itself looks like a cheap plastic object. John Williams' music is once again great. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a very mediocre adventure, yet it still has its moments. I give it a 6.0 out of 10.
Which Indiana Jones flick is your favourite? Do you agree with my review? Thank you for reading & if you like the content, don’t forget to share & subscribe!