So the last movie I saw in the theaters was Sweeney Todd, back in January. But yesterday my husband and I had a chance to leave our four month old at home with a sitter, so we went to dinner and a movie. Our movie of choice: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. We both grew up watching Indy’s escapades, particularly in the first two installments of this movie series. (We both agree that the first one, Raiders of the Lost Ark, remains the best of the four.)
How did the latest, much anticipated installment turn out? Well, I think it was very good, in terms of its place in the Indiana Jones series. Some general characteristics of the movie that are in keeping with what we know and love about this series:
- Self-deprecating humor from Indiana Jones, particularly when acknowledging that he has aged quite a bit since his exploits with the ark, the temple of doom, and the Holy Grail. In an early scene, Indy is swinging from the rafters of a building, as he often does, and he misjudges his distance to his intended target, a moving car. He states the obvious: “I thought it was closer.” It’s a funny scene, one of many that the audience laughed at.
- Ridiculously unbelievable action scenes – Sword fighting back and forth across two moving cars? Check. Surviving death-defying drops down monstrous waterfalls? Check. I could go on and on, because this movie was packed full of such action sequences. When have we ever expected realism in an adventure movie?
- Surprisingly gory moments – I recently rewatched the previous movies in the series, and until then I had forgotten how grotesque some of the scenes were, particularly the deaths of the bad guys. Remember the giant man who stumbled into the airplane blades? Yuck! Or what about the voodoo priest who ripped the beating heart out of a man’s chest? Fake looking, but gross. And most memorably, the demise of the villains who dared to look upon the contents of the lost ark. Campy, perhaps, but gory enough through a child’s eyes that it made my list of “Disturbing Cinematic Images That Will Forever Haunt Me.” Kingdom of the Crystal Skull had its fair share of gory moments, but the one that stands out involves giant ants dragging one of the bad guys into their ant hill – while still alive!
- Adventure around every turn – While there was a new element of the paranormal this time around, there was still the familiar blend of globe trekking, betrayal, spooky natives, ancient temples, creepy crawlies, codes to decipher, etc. All of these elements came together to form a plot that made sense.
- The familiar, infectiously upbeat musical score. The Indiana Jones theme music is some of the most memorable, catchy, and movie-appropriate in all the action movies I’ve seen. It’s right up there with the music from Star Wars and Superman. So hearing it in the movie’s opening scenes, as well as throughout in various forms, added to the enjoyment of the film.
While familiarity keeps us coming back to something we know, we are still looking for something new in a sequel, or in this case, a sequel to a sequel to a sequel… So, what new stuff was there to like?
- Shia Labeouf – I really like this young, rising actor. He plays the part of an average guy thrown into extraordinary circumstances very well. And so he was great as “Mutt” Williams. (I thought his name was Mud, but according to IMDB, it’s Mutt.) I was amused by the running gag that he would always pull out his comb to smooth down his ’50s style, slicked by hair. Indiana Jones wasn’t used to having a sidekick who takes timeouts for primping. The interaction between young, daring, somewhat naive Mutt and aging, adventurous, wise Indiana Jones was pitch perfect. One of the best scenes that showed this interaction was in an ancient cemetery. Eventually the series of events that occurs there leads Mutt to ask Indy, “You’re a teacher?” This line was delivered with just the right balance of disbelief and humor.
- The Crystal Skull – this ancient artifact looked kind of cool, had an interesting back story, and thus was a welcome addition to the “coveted items” Indy has searched for in the past.
- The Animals – Okay, so I wasn’t a fan of the random prairie dogs that popped up at the beginning of the movie (is this George Lucas’ tactic for entertaining the kiddos, similar to the Jar-Jar debacle in the more recent Star Wars movies?), but later on I was strangely amused and entertained by a scene involving a group of monkeys who inspire Mutt to swing through the jungle to catch up with the rest of the gang. We’ve seen monkeys in past movies (the dearly departed poisoned monkey in The Lost Ark and served as soup in Temple of Doom), but never have they played such a heroic comical role.
- A tidy ending – I won’t go into details, for those of you who don’t know the major relational issues in this movie. I’ll just say that whereas previous movies simply ended when the adventure was over, in The Crystal Skull, we see a happy, settled future ahead for Indiana. That’s one thing that never sat well with me about these male action heroes – if they are such stand-up guys, then why can’t they hold down a relationship? It’s not very nice to strand your woman every time a new one comes along. (Think particularly of James Bond.) So they are too busy to maintain a relationship because they are out saving the world and such. Yeah, yeah… I still like to see them show some commitment.
What Didn’t I Like?
- The only thing I can think of that I didn’t like was a scene near the beginning in which Indy finds himself trapped in the middle of a U.S. government weapons testing ground. The scenes of destruction seemed awfully too real (and disturbing for small children), and his unlikely escape was too unbelievable, even by adventure movie standards. My guess is that they used this scene to establish the time period of the late 1950s, and to set the tone of paranoia that plagued the U.S. during that time. But it just didn’t seem in keeping with the rest of the movie. It was a weird meshing of realism and campy humor that didn’t sit well with me, especially when it ended with Indy’s silly encounter with the aforementioned prairie dog.
Other than that, the movie was everything I would have hoped it would be. I read another reviewer’s assessment that if you’re a fan of Indiana Jones, you would like the movie, and if you were new to the series or didn’t like the previous ones, you probably wouldn’t be a huge fan. That sounds about right. The Indiana Jones movies stand apart from today’s adventure/action movies as funnier, more clever, etc. So perhaps kids today won’t see what the big deal is, but for a child of the ’80s (that’s me!), I give it two thumbs up, a grade of A.