A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 470 – Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – June 13th, 2011

Going into this tonight I feared the worst. People had warned me that this movie was horrible, terribly, no good, messy, ridiculous and so on and so forth. I’d had the ending spoiled for me as well as the reveal of the identity of one of the main characters. But honestly, even if neither of those had been spoiled for me I think I would have figured them out. Subtlety is not a strong suit of the Indiana Jones franchise and it never has been. Still, I was worried. Not because of the things that had been spoiled for me – those didn’t worry me in the least – but because even people who didn’t mind those things had a pretty dim view of the movie in general.

Now, I would go ahead and say that maybe I enjoyed the movie because I had oral surgery today and I’ve been a little out of it. But the sedative they gave me before the surgery had long since worn off by the time we put the movie in I haven’t even taken my first Vicodin yet, so it’s no use blaming it on chemical enhancement. I just flat out enjoyed the movie. Oh, I won’t go so far as to say it’s great. But I will say, without any shame, that I believe it is a far better movie than Temple of Doom. No, I’m not lying. And no, I still haven’t taken that Vicodin.

Let’s look at what this movie has going for it before we get into its faults (and it does have faults, to be certain – I just don’t think they’re overwhelming). For one, it’s got some very clear self-awareness. Harrison Ford isn’t immortal, sad to say, and he’s gotten older. So too has the character of Indiana Jones and the movie is quite clear about that. And I get why this would be sad and unpleasant for some people, but personally I think it’s great. And the little nods to it keep up with the whole thing I love about Indy as a character: He is not perfect. He is fallible. He is going to get beat up and it is going to hurt and he is going to press on because he is a dedicated and stubborn guy. So I’m all for seeing him getting older, dealing with new challenges like McCarthyism and not being as quick on his feet as he once was. Also in the movie’s favor is the return of Marion, who is hands down my favorite of the female leads from the previous movies. And she gets to be pretty awesome here too, having gone on with her life after Indiana Jones walked out of it. I love that Marion gets to have had a husband and a family and still went off on adventures. We’ll get to the family in a moment, but before we do I’ll note the last thing I think is really in this movie’s favor: The choice of villain and artifact.

I know this is likely controversial, but I actually like the choice of the crystal skull and the villains being Communist Russians. After all, while I’m sure Indy had plenty of excitement during World War II (which is alluded to when the FBI questions him), this movie was made with a necessarily older Indy. Unless they were going to do that uncanny valley thing they did in Tron: Legacy, and I don’t think it would have really worked here. So they had an older Indy. That meant taking things forward and taking them forward to deal with paranoia from within the US government and a new enemy to deal with? I am very much on board with that. I think it was a smart move. And as for the crystal skull, well, once we moved away from the Nazis it made sense to move away from the Christian relics. And while I greatly prefer the Ark and Grail in terms of their well-known and widespread lore, at least the crystal skull isn’t something still currently used by a real religion. By using something that’s got questionable origins anyhow, the movie neatly sidesteps a lot of the issues the second movie failed at so badly. Sure, it’s silly and outlandish, but it also avoids dealing with a modern-day ethnic and religious identity. And Indy never really questions what’s going on here. He has no reason to. He’s seen enough to just run with what’s presented to him.

So really, I like Indy, I like Marion, I like the villains (and I think Cate Blanchett did a very nice job here) and I like the basic premise. But there are flaws. One of my problems with the movie is that it seems to wink a little too much to the time period. The McCarthyism and Area 51 stuff work well together, but what was the purpose of the atomic blast? It’s just plain egregious. The greaser vs. varsity fight in the soda shop? Again, relatively unnecessary. It’s all a bit much. And then there’s Mutt. I am of very mixed feelings when it comes to Mutt. I was spoiled about him and really, it’s pretty obvious and I like the idea of him. I don’t even really mind Shia LaBeouf’s performance. But again, he feels like a little bit of overkill every time he pulls out his comb.

My other major complaint is Indy’s double crossing friend. Oh, he’s performed just fine, but the role itself is an issue for me. He feels like a nothing. We don’t know him prior to the movie, he betrays Indy, then betrays his new employers, then betrays Indy again. He’s out for himself and himself only, but he never gets enough time on screen or character background for that to be anything other than the most superficial of character traits. As a side-kick he just falls flat for me and if I had to choose between him and Mutt I’d go with Mutt every time.

This movie did somewhat abandon the formula of the others, with the initial adventure involving not only the major sidekick for the rest of the movie but also the major villain and a pointer towards the rest of the plot. No, it’s not completely connected, but it’s a more cohesive part of the movie than prior introductions have been. And you know, I kind of like it. The pacing of the movie is off in places and I’ve made my feelings on Mac clear, but the incorporation of the major players and concept into the introduction is not a problem for me. Again, it’s a real step up from the second movie.

I could have done without the tribe of natives at the end of the movie and I will admit that this movie certainly goes more in a science fiction direction than a supernatural direction, but the missteps here aren’t nearly as unpleasant as the second movie. It’s got a lot of fun moments and a lot of great interaction between the characters. It’s full of nods to the older movies and it manages to bring the franchise forward while allowing Indy to continue being awesome while also being older. I won’t try to tell people who didn’t like it that they’re wrong, but personally I found it fun and enjoyable and now that I’m certain that I actually liked it on my own I’m going to take my painkillers and go to bed.

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

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