Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Harrison Ford is introduced in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull looking slack and small. This is not a good omen for someone who supposedly can beat any foe in a fistfight (numerously illustrated with endlessly repetitive punch noises added after the fact).
The film also betrays its obviously huge budget, because the story is completely slapped together from disparate elements and has no cohesion at all. The result is both exhausting and dull.
John Williams’ music keeps announcing that a great scene is happening, and all directors Steven Spielberg and producer George Lucas are doing is simply coasting on past success, despite all of the musical harrumphing. Perhaps the gestation period between sequels created an issue of wanting to jam too much in as a way of overkill, but there’s simply no energy in anything, it’s like an imitation blockbuster movie.
This should’ve been obvious to the filmmakers; the plot’s dealings with McCarthyism, aliens, Roswell, Russians trying to develop mind control, killer ants that look like CGI grapes, and a crystal skull that is a doppelganger for Giger’s Alien head, are all fighting against each other. That doesn’t even include the American Graffiti references (a greaser-preppie fight that spills out onto the street and sets up a motorcycle chase gave me the backlot blues), and Shia Labeouf’s entrance duplicating Marlon Brando’s in The Wild One. Labeouf’s character is supposed to both tough and vulnerable, but he retains the same stunned and surprised look in every scene that he perfected in Transformers. His role eventually boils down to both the mouthy kid and the screaming girl clichés; he’s playing both the Kate Capshaw and Short Round roles from Temple of Doom, despite the presence of a Botoxy Karen Allen as Jones’ love interest. This is supposed to add a romantic angle to Jones’ plight to capture the Crystal Skull in order to bring it to various places in South America and blah, blah, blah.
Basically the scenes in the second half could have played in almost any order and I wouldn’t have noticed, and neither would the editors. Chase scenes repeatedly forget who is chasing who and why, it appears that only the coherent footage was cut out. John Hurt’s character, an archaeologist colleague of Jones, who has gone crazy from looking too long into the magical skull, seems to develop sanity whenever it is narratively convenient.
Considering this is just a rehash, you’d think they’d at least get the original details right. But Ford has not a single comedic slow burn in the entire film, and his role is reduced to lame slapstick, jokes about his age, and references to previous installments.
While Spielberg can be credited with inspiring video game culture, his action sequences now entirely resemble them. They are reduced to simplistic monotony, credible, but unconvincing sword fights on top of moving cars, and not helped by the fact that the visual references to 1930s Jungle Serials, make the movie look just that cheap.
There was one idea that I wish they had capitalized on, which seemed about to be realized. During an escape, Jones and a Russian enemy end up in some sort of machine that looks exactly like the time machine from Timecop. For a moment I was excited and thinking, “What about a fish-out-of-water time travel movie with Indiana Jones and a Russian soldier — think The Odd Couple with a Fedora and a hammer and a sickle, in the future?” Sure that sounds stupid, but no dumber than anything that actually made it into this movie.
In terms of the fourth film in a series, this Indiana Jones installment makes Leprechaun 4 look like… Leprechaun 4.