A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

June 13, 2011

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

It is with a little trepidation that we set out to watch this movie tonight. It does not have a good reputation. Indeed there’s an infamous episode of South Park inspired by this movie where George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg take turns raping Indiana Jones. Based on this and the generally negative word of mouth on the internet I had braced myself before watching this for a Star Wars Episode I level of disappointment. I was prepared for something on a par with Highlander II or Star Trek V. In short I thought that this was going to be a painful experience that sullied my memory of the Indiana Jones movies.

I’m quite relieved to say that I need not have feared. This is my favorite Jones movie since the first one.

Part of the criticism of this movie stems from the fact that Indiana is beginning to show his age. Harrison Ford turns seventy years old next year, and that’s pushing the credible age limit of an action hero. This movie takes place in the 1950s, which means that the character of Indie must be in his fifties or sixties. Then again, Indiana Jones was never really about being a young man. It’s about overcoming ridiculous odds and refusing to stay beaten. In that regard this older, wiser Indie is perhaps even more exciting to watch. The movie makes it clear that he’s a tired old man at the beginning, mourning the loss of his father and his friend Brodie.

The opening scene, which re-introduces us to Indiana Jones twenty years after we last saw him, does a couple of things. It freely admits that he is showing his age. He’s still an adventurer, albeit a reluctant one, but now he’s clashing with kids one third his age. At first, when we see him facing off against his captors I thought that it would be hard to believe that this older man can hope to hold his own against a flight of stairs, mush less a squad of Russian storm troopers. It’s a little startling to see him at first looking so tired, but what’s cool is that this movie does such a good job of aging the character to match the actor. There are all these hints about the adventures Jones has been having in the twenty years we’ve missed. He’s been a spy. He’s worked under cover. He’s been on many missions against the Russians (who, in the nineteen fifties, are the boogeymen of the cold war.) It makes me wish for a new television series – the Middle-Aged Indiana Jones Chronicles.

When he fails to stop the Russians capturing a mysterious artifact from a US government warehouse and it is revealed that his old partner from MI5 is now working with the Russians Indiana comes under suspicion of being a double agent himself. He’s blackballed and forced out of his tenured position as a professor and finds himself alone and at loose ends. Until a young boy who calls himself Mutt shows up and tells Indie that an old friend of his, Ox (short for Oxley,) has been abducted. Ox has always been obsessed with mysterious crystal skulls found throughout history. (In much the way Ravenwood was obsessed with the Ark and Jones Sr. was obsessed with the Grail.) Mutt has a letter given to his mother by Ox which she managed to smuggle away from the Russians ans which he believes only Indiana Jones can translate. (Apparently Mutt’s mother has some history with Jones and believes that he will help her and Ox.)

So off to South America go young Mutt and the aging professor Jones, where Mutt is astonished to find out that Indiana is somewhat of an unorthodox professor. The two of them soon find the legendary crystal skull that Ox had discovered, and they are promptly captured by the Russians again. That’s about the halfway point for the movie. The Russians, led by a sinister woman named Irina Spalko, have Ox, Indie’s traitorous partner Mac, and Mutt’s mother in custody already. I’m a little puzzled as to why Indie is so startled to discover that Mutt’s mother is Marion Ravenwood – especially in light of the fact that when Mutt and Indie first meet Mutt tells him that his mother was named Marion. Then of course comes the heavily telegraphed reveal that Mutt is Indiana’s son.

I think that this must have been part of what people found so distasteful about the movie. Not just that Indie is older, but he has a son now who is already in his twenties. The movie gets a lot of great mileage out of this though. There’s all the baggage Indie has from his relationship with his own father, and it’s subtly layered into the constant banter between the two of them. Then there’s Marion, whom Indiana apparently left shortly before their planned wedding. It all works well for me in the context of how alone Indiana is at the start of the movie. It’s a film about discovering that maybe having a family isn’t such a bad thing after all for an adventurer – particularly a family made up of people perfectly capable of adventuring themselves.

The remainder of the movie is pretty much one long chase scene as the Jones family fight off the Russians, escape from killer ants, brave Amazonian rapids, escape from angry natives, and ultimately do the kind of tomb raiding that Indiana Jones is so well known for.

Another major sticking point that some people have with this movie is that it is all about alien artifacts. Yes, aliens. Which some people seem to think is blasphemy in an Indiana Jones movie. I have no idea why. To date the films have involved an ark full of mystical sand, a trio of magic glowing rocks, and a cup that heals anybody who drinks from it. How is a glowing psychic alien skull such a stretch in this universe? It fits just fine as far as I’m concerned. It’s just the magical MacGuffin that drives the plot and allows for a spectacular light show at the end – perfectly in line with every other Indiana Jones movie.

For me it was just a treat to see Indie doing what he does best. Harrison Ford made me believe that this character could still fight toe to toe with a Russian super-man. It was a delight to see Karen Allen back as Marion – the best love interest Jones ever had and the most capable woman he seems to have ever found. Cate Blanchett makes a great sinister foe for Jones to vie with. I am even able to stomach Shia LaBeouf as Jones Jr. Even better – the movie is packed with great actors in smaller supporting roles. Indie’s steadfast protector in the college is played by Jim Broadbent. The insane professor Ox is played wonderfully by John Hurt. It must have been fun just to be on the set with all these accomplished masters of their craft.

You know what? I had fun tonight. It’s cool to catch up with these characters and see what’s happened to them in the last twenty years. It’s a fun adventure with some great chase scenes. It is like an Indiana Jones greatest hits having him back together kicking ass with Marion. And ultimately – even if he doesn’t get to keep the treasure he’s seeking (which he never does) he gets a greater treasure. It gives me hope that even if we never see him again the character of Indiana Jones has a chance at happiness at last, and I really like that.

June 13, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , ,

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