Everyone seems pre-occupied with whether or not the 66-year-old Harrison Ford can still pull off the role of Indiana Jones at his age, but the real question should be whether or not this movie can live up to the legacy of fun, cinematic adventure that comes with the Indiana Jones name. From the opening scene where the Paramount logo turns into a gopher hill, complete with CGI gophers, I was a bit worried that Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was going to feel like a send-up of the franchise rather than a continuation. (I started to fear that they might rename it “National Lampoon’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” when it went to DVD.) Thankfully, once the movie passed midpoint, the trademark Indy stunts and fanciful archaeological hokem all came out and good ol’ Dr. Jones was up to his old tricks again.
As for Ford’s physical prowess, I think no one can shake a stick at how well he can still carry out the whip-cracking and fist-fights on moving vehicles. Shia LeBeouf (remember him from last summer’s Transformers?) tries to take on the mantle as Jones’s new protege Mutt Williams. In one scene Mutt straddles two vehicles while fencing with Cate Blanchett’s Soviet villainess — I guess getting hit repeatedly in the crotch is one joke that never gets old! Unfortunately, for all the scenes that do play out pretty well, there are an equal number of scenes and shots that just don’t live up to the scale and vigor of Raiders (which I recently re-watched). It often seems like the camera cuts in very closely, as if panning out would reveal that they couldn’t afford to hire enough extras for a crowd scene, or that they couldn’t afford to film on location, so they’re actually on a dressed up soundstage. I find it hard to believe that this movie had any budget problems, but maybe all the big honchos involved (Ford, Lucas, Spielberg) commanded too much salary to afford some of those touches — all I know is what I saw on screen. They also seemed to have a smaller cast of bad guys: it’s just Blanchett’s cartoonish Irina Spalko and her dozen henchmen over and over (oh, and a bunch of Peruvian jungle warriors).
The story of Crystal Skull does not live up to a Raiders, but it is better than a Last Crusade (though equally preposterous). It’s got a touch of X-Files in it and there are almost no surprises (in fact, as a kid, I read a Choose Your Own Adventure book with the exact same premise). Once I got past holding the movie up to the light of Raiders and the other predecessors, it was just a fun movie to watch. If this were the first and only Indiana Jones movie, it would have to go alongside such B-level franchises as The Mummy, and maybe even National Treasure. But because of the other movies, it’s a nice comeback for a dearly-loved character and series. I would even be excited for any new installments to come. (3.5 out of 5)
What if I’d made Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull?
First off, I would have shortened the title. There wasn’t really a “kingdom” involved (more of a temple, but I guess they’d used that already), so calling it “Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull” would have sufficed. I smell the scent of Lucas in that (after all, he’s the one who gave us those horribly overwrought Star Wars titles like “Phantom Menace” and “Attack of the Clones”). Second, John Hurt’s character was too annoying. He played another archaeology professor and friend who’d gone ahead of Indy and Mutt, but he also went a little crazy. I would have just kept him sane. He could have played the same role in the plot without having all the other characters baby-sitting him.
Another problem was that there lacked any real sense of peril. I would have had Ford tone down his cockiness and maybe appear a bit worried sometimes. The closest we get to that is a scene involving a snake — which is kind of funny — but even in the midst of his ophidiophobia, he takes charge, so I didn’t really feel any suspense. I would have had him rely more on those around him. If Indiana Jones has become too much of a super-hero for the audience to believe that he might fail, then we’ve lost something. With this movie, there’s more that I could beat up on, but I don’t want to. It’s like an old uncle doing one last magic trick. Now that you’re older you can see the card up his sleeve, but it’s simply more enjoyable to play along.