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Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) *** movie review by COOP

Posted on June 2nd, 2008
Posted on June 2nd, 2008

I can think of a lot of alternate titles for this one: “Indiana Jones and the Pointless Sequel.” “Indiana Jones and the Search for a Quick Buck.” “Indiana Jones and Increasingly Unaffordable Health Care Plan.” Okay, those were a bit mean, but they summed up my feelings when I heard Spielberg was directing another sequel to the franchise. I thought they wrapped up the loose ends fairly well in the last one. Three makes a solid trilogy and can you remember the last time you saw a good fourth sequel? “Live Free or Die Hard?” “Alien: Resurrection?” “Lethal Weapon 4?” Yeah, me neither. After 19 years, “Indy 4” seems unnecessary, yet it now exists. It joins the aforementioned list of mediocre fourth sequels with one caveat, it’s better than most. Spielberg and company managed to bring a little of the old magic back to Indiana Jones.

Open note to Spielberg, cast and crew: DON’T PUSH IT. Don’t make sequels simply because you can and because you know it will pay for your new summer home in Martha’s Vineyard. What’s next? “E.T. 2: Electric Boogaloo?” Hopefully I’ve made my point. On with the review…

We catch up with Indy in 1957 in the Nevada desert near a secret military base (can you guess which one?). The Soviet military has kidnapped him in order to find a relic hidden in an oddly familiar warehouse. Yes, the Soviet military on U.S. soil = silly plot point #1. Evil Colonel Spalko, played surprisingly flat by the usually magnificent Cate Blanchett, wants Indy to locate within the warehouse a relic he found once before. He does, then escapes by way of his usual derring-doo. After that he survives a nuclear explosion (silly plot point #2) and gets his tenure revoked at his university when the F.B.I. suspects him of collaborating with commies. As he prepares to leave the country to find a position in London, a young, motorcycling stranger named “Mutt,” Shia LaBeouf, appears with bad news. One of Indy’s lifelong friends is in danger. Cue music, the map and follow the red line to Peru where Indy and Mutt become entangled in a quest to discover the mystery of the crystal skull, an artifact with otherworldly origins.

Along the way, Indy runs into some old friends. Ray Winstone plays Mac, Indy’s smarmy former partner. John Hurt plays Professor Oxley, an old mentor whose insanity might hold the key to the mystery. Karen Allen returns as Marion Ravenwood, Indy’s old flame from the original “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” While the other characters tend to bore, Allen brightens the film with her presence. She genuinely seems happy to be a part of this effort and her character’s entrance in the film beats all others. Harrison Ford seems dead bored throughout most of his scenes. Although most of his delivery comes across wooden, every once in awhile you see a spark of the old Indy appear in his eyes, especially during the action scenes. The characters of Mac and Oxley never fully developed. I wish Cate Blanchett’s character had gone a different way. While I’m certain the intention was cartoony, I think she would’ve been much more effective if she had dumped the silly wig, lost the impenetrable accent and played her role straight. As we’ve seen in Lord of the Rings, Cate is capable of a more sly menace and I wish Spielberg had let her do the same here.

Seems like nearly the entire veteran cast realized the pointlessness of this sequel and didn’t give it their best effort. Even Spielberg didn’t bring his A-game to the table for this one and George Lucas is already talking about doing “Indy 5?” Careful there, George. We don’t want Indy (or Harrison Ford for that matter) breaking a hip. It would seem the intention is to let Shia LaBeouf’s Mutt take over the action reigns for his own spinoff franchise. Not surprising if you consider LaBeouf’s ability to appear in blockbuster after blockbuster, so far without fail. That’s not all luck. LaBeouf’s crackerjack talent will carry him a long way assuming he doesn’t have an oh-so-common-these-days child actor meltdown. Although he and Ford didn’t have the strongest of chemistry, LaBeouf held his own and pulled off a hero toughness I didn’t imagine he was capable of. They could have picked a better name than Mutt and I shudder to think what they will title these spinoffs. Let’s hope his character franchise proves more interesting than the “Young Indiana Jones Chronicles” from the 1990’s.

As for the story, it was in the standard, cookie-cutter Hollywood style. Every tiny little thing had a payoff. For instance if Mutt happens to mention he competed on his high school fencing team, you can bet that somewhere, later in the story, he’ll pick up a sword. This made the unfolding plot easily predictable. I’m still cringing at the revelation of the origin of the crystal skull. I had heard the rumors but it resulted in a silly and weak ending. In fact, the final action scene seemed ripped off from another genre film. So I won’t ruin the movie for anyone, I’ll give you a hint: The film came out in 1998. If you think you know which one I’m talking about, tell me in the comments below.

If you like Indiana Jones, you don’t have an excuse not to see this one. I find nothing horribly wrong with it, but I almost wish they hadn’t made it. You’ll have fun like I did. However, don’t expect this to be the best in the series.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

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