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INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull isnít exactly the 4th installment Iíve dreamed of, but with Harrison Ford pushing 66 and nearly 20 years since The Last Crusade, itís still a charming film that might have you applauding a few times but never checking your watch.

This isnít the ďcrap on your childhoodĒ disappointment of the Star Wars prequels, which frankly I was preparing myself for considering some of the negative internet buzz and puzzling comments from George Lucas asking us to lower our expectations. It also isnít a corny sendoff like Rocky Balboa, either. Itís a good solid movie thatís as entertaining as the original entries in the series.

And we can thank Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford for that.

We canít deny George Lucas as one of the greatest creators of movie fiction, but his storytelling, dialogue, and direction skills arguably leave a lot to be desired. The guy can pull the most amazing monsters, good guys and bad guys out of a hat. Vader and Yoda will likely exist in some way, shape, or form a hundred years after heís dead. They are as fantastic and endearing as Superman and Huckleberry Finn.

But as the prequels to Star Wars showed, poor movie making and bad acting throw all that hard work out the door.


Steven Spielberg is easily one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, and this film is lucky to be directed by him. Sure, heís made better and more important films, but the guy can put some pretty sweet shots together. From artful use of shadows, to jungle action, Spielberg is the ultimate summer film master. I forgot how exciting he can make a 10 minute series of car chases and crashes. Thereís several of them in Crystal Skull that are as good as anything youíve seen in Raiders or The Last Crusade. And yes, the Russians in this movie are just as bad as marksmanship as The Nazis, practicing at a shooting range no doubt run by the same inept folks that train Stormtroopers and The A-Team.

Harrison Ford is the glue that holds it all together, though. Nobody else could have played this part the way he has. When he first appears in the film, itís shocking how old he looks. My 8 year son, whoís only recently seen the original trilogy, even asked me ďWhy is he so oldĒ when he saw him on a Burger King cup a couple weeks ago. But it all fits in nicely. Heís a bit slower than weíve seen him before, but he can still hop around, use the whip, make his wisecracks, and get in a ridiculously brutal punching match that rivals his bout with the bald German dude in the first film.

Itís not one of those Lethal Weapon Danny Glover ďIím too old for this shitĒ type performances, either. He still makes it up as he goes along, and nothing he does seems too ridiculous. Itís over the top, for sure, but most of the action in this movie is pretty believable and engaging. The only truly goofy spot being a short bit where Shia LeBoufís character, Mutt, catches up with speeding trucks by swinging on a bunch of vines like Tarzan with a gang of angry monkeys.

Shia is really good in the part. It would have been easy to play him as over rebellious, snotty, and annoying. Letís face it, with head shakingly bad partners like Short Round and Willie, Indy has had some of the worst sidekicks in the history of film. Shiaís got them beat by leaps and bounds. I donít know if heís necessarily ready to put on the fedora and take over the franchise, but itís a lot easier to take than to see Hayden Christensen as young Darth Vader.

And as partners go, we get his best back with Karen Allen returning as Marion Ravenwood. The chemistry between Allen and Ford is fantastic. Her character is as gutsy and courageous as before, and doesnít whine one bit. Sheís got about 30 extra years on her since weíve seen her last, but damn if she still isnít a great natural beauty that can compete for screen presence against Indyís larger than life performance with great success.

The good old fashioned stunt work in this movie is great. A car vs. motorcycle chase through Dr. Jonesí college campus is exciting, as is a military vehicle sequence in the jungle.

Though the closing scene doesnít come close to matching the sheer horror of The Lost Ark finale, thereís still plenty of spooky bits, including a sequence with seemingly millions of carnivorous ants is simply gorgeous. Thereís a bit where a soldier is screaming as heís being overwhelmed and you canít help but wince as they crawl into his mouth.

Thereís some other fun bits that I wonít spoil. And there's a handful of nitpicky things on the logic front that I'll be happy to discuss separately. Nothing stays too slow and serious for long before something horrible happens, thatís for sure.

Iím glad they made it. Itís a worthy addition to the series, and great fun to watch in a theater. Which is all these movies have ever tried to be.

-Robert Berry
rberry@retrocrush.com

A SECOND OPINION REVIEW BY ANTHONY SHEPPARD
tony@rerocrush.com

Most of the hype for this movie is based on the "will it be as good as the others?" question - which of course presumes that you liked the others to begin with.  That said, it's a fairly solid entry in the light-hearted franchise.  If you liked the almost slapstick action and hails of bullets that never hit a good guy before, then you'll probably like them again.  If not, then watch something else.

For outing #4, the action, the characters, and the actors have jumped forwards almost 20 years and Nazis with bad accents have been replaced by Russians with bad accents and equally poor marksmanship.  This might have been a cleaner transition if George Lucas and Spielberg had gone with a plot that started when the movie started, rather than feeling the need to delve into the intervening years.  So, the movie occasionally struggles through expository dialog (some of which seems to contradict itself) before getting back on track with a fight or a car chase or, of course, the third option - a fight during a car chase. 

The movie opens with what feels like an American Graffiti homage, essentially to ensure we know we've switched decades, in which speeding cars somehow never outpace the lumbering army trucks behind them.  There are other scenes that also feel like a nod to an earlier work but describing them involves spoiling the plot.  So let's get back to that wacky action:  At one point a convoy through thick jungle foliage is following a sort of mulching machine truck that somehow both clears brush and smoothes the dirt behind it.  Which is fine, except that even after it's disabled, there is apparently still enough clear space for an extended two and three abreast truck chase scene (with fighting of course):  It's as if they were clearing a path when there was already a nearby jungle highway with a pleasantly landscaped median.
 
All of which misses the point of the movie entirely.  This isn't a franchise that either requires or even sustains much deep thought:  You're given a nutty quest based on a goofy premise, with just enough of what sounds like history to give it some weight (take that National Treasure!) and you roll with it.  Plot inconsistencies and concerns for the frailty of the human body should be brushed aside like inept  poison-dart-blowing tribesmen.  Now pass the popcorn before I throw you from a moving vehicle again.

Throughout all of this, Harrison Ford runs and jumps, whips and quips, perhaps marginally slower than before - but then why should he over-exert himself when he already has those social security checks supplementing his meager acting income.   And, following a slightly jar-jarring introductory scene, Shia Labeouf holds his own (quite literally in at least one scene) alongside the veteran hero.  All of which adds up to a fun Memorial Day weekend at the movies, for children of all ages.  Assuming of course you like that sort of thing and, realistically, you should know that before you ever walk in.