Friday, May 23, 2008
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
SPOILERS BELOW. Lots and lots of SPOILERS. I'm serious. Don't read this unless you've seen the movie or don't care if you know everything about it before you go.
It was a good thing I knew about the aliens. It was a good thing I knew that George Lucas has gone absolutely insane and decided to make the new Indy movie a scifi flick. I had it spoiled for me a couple of weeks ago by thoughtless bloggers who made references to aliens in their freaking post titles. I was ticked at the time, but now I'm glad. I'm glad that I had a couple of weeks to get used to the idea.
My brother-in-law Dave had managed to avoid just about every spoiler, so the aliens completely blindsided him. I think he had a tougher time with the movie than I did.
I try to rationalize the aliens. The first three films were set in the '30s and were homages to the cliffhanger serials of those days. This one's set in the '50s, so a scifi theme makes some sort of thematic sense. What it doesn't make though is an Indiana Jones movie, and that's where my rationalization fails.
And unfortunately, the scifi plot isn't the only problem. There are tons of plot holes and other dropped or unexplored elements in this thing. The movie opens with Indy's having been captured by Russian spies who are looking for the body of one of the Roswell aliens. Indy escapes, but he's betrayed by a friend who's now working for the Soviets. Later, the FBI questions Indy, not just about what happened, but also about his loyalty to the country. Indy's friend's betrayal has cast a suspicious light on Indy too and the university where he teaches forces him into early retirement.
I know this is all trying to ground the movie in its historical setting during the McCarthy era of the Cold War, and that's fine (especially the Janitor from Scrubs playing one of the FBI men). What's dumb is everyone's attitude towards Indy at the end of the movie. The movie's plot is about a young greaser named Mutt (Shia LaBeouf) who asks Indy to help rescue a mutual friend of theirs. There's no world-saving going on. National security isn't in jeopardy. Yet once Indy returns from the mission, everyone's forgotten that he's a suspected communist. They even make him a dean at the university.
Then there's the problem with the central plot. We're supposed to believe that somewhere in a hidden temple in Peru are twelve alien skeletons, one of which is missing a skull. When the skull is returned, the aliens will impart great power and knowledge to whomever wants to listen. What's never explained is how the skull went missing in the first place. If these aliens are that powerful, how did a Spanish conquistador and his pals manage to take one of their heads, depowering them until it was returned?
But really, that's not the biggest problem. The biggest problem is the whole focus on aliens as ancient benefactors of human civilization. And not because it's silly, but because it's so unoriginal. Yeah, sure, Indy and friends may not have run across that theory yet in the '50s, but anyone who's seen Stargate sure has. Yet, it's played up as the big, central mystery in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. When someone holds the crystal skull up to a painting of Mayan gods and notices that the shapes match, it's presented as a big, revelatory moment. But it's not. It's anti-climactic is what it is.
I also don't get the big distinction between aliens from space and "interdimensional travelers." Are we supposed to think it's a more original concept because they're from another dimension instead of a different planet?
And what's with Indy's not really doing any of the figuring out, but just following John Hurt's clues? Who's the hero of this thing again?
Another big disappointment was the missed opportunity for cameos in that last scene. I really didn't expect to see Short Round show up, but how awesome would that have been? Or Willie? If no one else, they should have at least had Sallah there.
In spite of all that though, I actually really liked the movie. I wanted to get my complaining out of the way first, but honestly, pound for pound, I don't think aliens are any sillier than an immortal knight guarding the Holy Grail. And there's a lot else to like about this movie. I haven't liked any of the Indy movies as much as Raiders, and I don't expect I ever will. It's pointless to try to rank the other three. They all have things I like and dislike.
Shia LaBeouf is pretty awesome. I don't take back what I said yesterday about not being able to call a Shia vehicle Indy 5, but I do take back the tone of that post. It may not be Indy, but I'd totally be excited to watch a movie about Mutt. And his interaction with Indy was perfect. It could have been very painful to watch them try to force that character into the film, but they really did a nice job on him and making him fit.
It was also nice to see Marion again. I wish she'd had more to do, but there were already a lot of characters in the movie and there wasn't enough time to focus on them all. What she did do was cool. She reminded me why I liked her so much in Raiders and have missed her since then.
Other cool things: the car chase through the jungle, killer ants, Indy's hat, the Lost Ark cameo, the fight in the Area 51 warehouse, Indy's getting stuck at ground zero for an A-bomb test about ten seconds before detonation, Shia and the monkeys, Marion's getting the duck into the water, Indy's missing his dad and Marcus Brody, quicksand, Cate Blanchett, Indy's momentarily getting so excited by the mystery that he starts working with the Soviets, Mutt's having to rein Indy back in, and the jungle setting in general.
The plot is heavily flawed, but they still managed to make it a fun adventure full of great characters we really like and want to see more of. Bring on Indy 5.
Four out of five killer ant mounds.