Monday, May 26, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

New rule: no more movie-going nostalgia. It's not that I hated Indy 4... I didn't. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it a lot. Walking out of the theater, I remarked, "Well, that was actually not too bad." The lesson of the Star Wars prequels burned into me, I had gone expecting disaster, expecting the entire beloved series to be tarnished by this curiously late-game entry into the series. But, hey, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull doesn't commit any serious infractions to the character or the legacy of films that precede it... certainly none more injurious than those found in Last Crusade. And it's pleasant enough, though it's plotting is weak (even for an Indiana Jones film) and Spielberg makes some bracingly stupid choices at times (usually marked by some really embarrassing CGI). But while it's pleasant and nice to see Harrison Ford reprise the role (and it really, really is... Ford is as charming as ever here and what affection I have for the film I lay almost entirely at his feet), the experience of the film is maddening and empty, and the thing really that kills me is how irrelevant it all feels. At this point, the Indiana Jones films have acted as a template for countless imitations and the patterns and rhythms of the formula have been played and re-played, so without any particular reason to revisit the character, the movie exists for arbitrary reasons. Like Spielberg et. al, called us up and said, "Hey guys, we decided to make another Indiana Jones movie, because we thought it would be fun. You wanna see?" At this point, Indiana Jones is too large, too mythic, to return to the series twenty years later with nothing more to say but the same ol' song and dance.

And so, the new rule. I gave this movie too much credit while watching it due to the power of the ever-rousing music and the familiar, appealing aesthetic of the film. Writing about it, I feel like it's necessary to include countless navel-gazing reflections of how Indiana Jones shaped my world view from a young age, how I'm not qualified to assess the film due to this. But it's just an irrelevant film, kind-of fun, kind-of cute, kind-of dumb. The magic just isn't there; the villains are weak, the set-pieces range from inexplicably stupid to mildly enthralling, and Indiana Jones spends nearly the last third of the film watching things happen around him. Pairing him up with Karen Allen again does nothing, particularly as Allen is shockingly bad in the movie, grinning instead of acting. In talking about the movie with friends, I kept almost saying "Nazis" instead of "Russians" or "Soviets," which tells me that the time period wasn't used to any good effect. Even the score uses too many cues from previous films (why is the Ark's theme from Raiders used here?). I give Spielberg credit for eliciting warmth and some degree of excitement from such a sloppy script. But there's no sweat, no dirt under the fingernails of this movie, and as it turns out, that was an essential part of the previous films' charm all along.


Q said...

Just seeing Indy's hat roll would have been enough. It was fun but not magical...

movies community said...

This movie is that it was just okay. I can forgive the ludicrous plot, the cheesy "family" dynamic of the film, the fact that Harrison Ford is old which is really nowhere near the worst part of this.