Movies / Movie Reviews

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

By Geoff Hoppe
May 24, 2008 - 21:27

A Lucasfilm Ltd. Production
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg
WRITERS: David Koepp; from a story by George Lucas and Jeff Nathanson
PRODUCER:  Frank Marshall
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Janusz Kaminski (D.o.P.)
EDITOR:  Michael Kahn, A.C.E.
COMPOSER: John Williams

Starring:  Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett, Karen Allen, Ray Winstone, John Hurt, Jim Broadbent, and Shia LaBeouf

How do we know god loves us and wants us to be happy? Ben Franklin thought it was beer. Hans Urs von Balthasar though it was the presence of beauty in the world. But for me, dear reader, the proof is in my ability to write the following: I got to watch Indiana Jones kill communists.

Before I go any farther, there will be SPOILERS in this review. So if you don't

Fact: this is cooler than anything, ever.
want it SPOILED, heed my caps lock SPOILER WARNINGS. And now, just for good measure...SPOILER WARNING. 

In Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, archaeologist and college professor Henry "Indiana" Jones embarks on a dangerous mission to locate a legendary crystal skull. With him is Mutt (Shia LaBeouf), a hotheaded greaser who's actually less stereotypical than the phrase "hotheaded greaser" suggests. As usual, Indy must race against an evil empire to locate the artifact, but with the Nazis gone (the film is set in 1957) and Disney on Ice not yet invented,  the Soviets are the villians du jour, led by a menacing pair of cheekbones named Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett).

Head, shoulders, knees and toes...
As the film opens, Indy and fellow archaeologist Mac (Ray Winstone, who last harassed audiences as Beowulf) are kidnapped by Irina Spalko and the 1956 Soviet Olympic hockey team a regiment of Soviet troops. They've taken Indy to Area 51, where they enlist him to help them find a mysterious crate that, no surprise, has an alien, probably E.T.'s stupid cousin who missed the ship. Indy escapes, survives a nuclear test bombing, and returns to Marshall College, where his brief, unwilling collaboration with the Soviets costs him his job. He then meets Mutt, who explains that Indy's old college friend Harold Oxley has gone missing searching for a legendary crystal skull. Indy joins Mutt, and the two ride enormous, intercontinental red lines to Peru to pilfer the grave of a conquistador. The adventure eventually leads to the lost city of Akator, where Indy and Spalko both hope to unlock the secret of the crystal skulls for good or ill.

Ok, the lowdown: it's good. It's very good, in fact, if you're looking for pure entertainment. Your jaw will drop at five minutes into the movie, and remain there, fish-like, for the remainder. Aliens, nuclear weapons, motorcycles, bazookas, generic meso-American eerieness-- everything that makes pulp fiction fun is included. Harrison Ford is as good as ever, and Lucas and Spielberg find ways to show Indy's age that don't make him look foolish or geriatric. The same playfulness that helped make Raiders of the Lost Ark and Last Crusade well-rounded are still here: Indy survives a nuclear blast, for instance, by locking himself in a lead-lined fridge. The exciteable pacing is in tact, too, but even though the audience rarely has a chance to catch their breath, the same urgency that gave Raiders and Last Crusade some added depth is lacking.

As tongue-in-cheek as the first and third films were (let's just pretend Temple of Doom didn't happen), Spielberg and Lucas clearly had an historical appreciation of the underlying evils of Nazism. Much like Mike Mignola's Hellboy, the sci-fi trappings and fantastic set pieces of Raiders and Last Crusade were buttressed by a valid understanding of the horrifying ideology that informed Hitler's world view. Sure, faces melted and people disintegrated-- but behind the flash was the same substance that would take serious form in another Spielberg masterpiece, Saving Private Ryan.

Irina Spalko and her fellow Soviets, by turn, are little more than placeholders. Spalko gives an Invasion of the Body Snatchers-esque speech at one point about how the crystal skull will help the Soviets to collectivize the world, but it rings as hollow as any commonplace comintern claptrap. In Raiders and Last Crusade, Spielberg and Lucas's attention to Nazism's evils bordered on the

All family outings should have anti-tank weaponry.
documentary (by pulp standards)-- Hitler himself made an appearance at a book burning rally in the third movie. Soviet communism in Crystal Skull, by contrast, seems to be there simply because the other evil empires from WWII went kaput. Spalko's motivation, too-- the desire to "know everything"-- feels flat. Blanchett may look like everything an Indy villain should be, but there's not much beyond her admittedly sinister appearance.

Without a particularly compelling villain, the main focus of the movie falls on the relationship between Indy, the reintroduced Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), who was Indy's love interest in Raiders, and their SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER son, Mutt. The dynamics between Indy and Marion are as much humorous as romantic, but they have the same goofy, old fashioned charm that made them endearing in the first film. Given Indy's advanced age, and the fact that this will be his last adventure (unless AARP negotiates discounts in booby trapped temples), focusing on Indy's personal life isn't a bad way to end the series.

Though, getting to see him incinerate commies with a jet engine makes it that much better.

Worth the money? Despite my criticisms, yes. It's that much fun.

Last Updated: March 10, 2022 - 22:00

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