Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) Review

I‘m starting to think that heroes weren’t meant to come out of retirement. John McClane’s become a caricature of himself. Rambo’s become an HGH hulking mass. And now poor Indiana Jones returns to tarnish an otherwise enjoyable legacy with a fourth installment of dubious merit. To Harrison Ford’s credit, he’s largely been able to reconstitute the character of Dr. Jones from 19-years ago, but even that won’t help you shake off the feeling that you’re watching an extended television episode. If Temple of Doom felt out of sync with the series, then Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull will feel like it belongs to a different brand altogether.

The Nazis are no longer the bad guys and have been replaced by the Soviets. Instead of searching for religious artifacts to gain the edge in the Cold War, the Reds are trying to develop weapons of mind control, utilizing strange, magnetic debris from crash sites. When we’re reintroduced to Indiana Jones, he’s being forced to locate the most recent crash-site findings at the gunpoint of evil Soviet Col. Dr. Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett) in a remote warehouse somewhere in the desert. Indy makes a daring escape, which might be a little over the top or cartoony for what fans are used to, but it suffices. He’s left to wander the desert and happens upon a small town full of mannequins. It turns out that he’s in the middle of nuclear test site! So, with not enough time to clear the blast radius, he jumps into a lead-lined refrigerator, which is blown free and clear of any radioactive alpha and beta particles during the explosion and lands a safe distance away. As I watched the refrigerator hurtle across the sky, I realized I was in for a very different Indiana Jones. From that point, the film just degraded in watchability and thus, the term “jump the shark” was replaced by “nuke the fridge.”

On his journey, Indy teams up with his son, Mutt (Shia LaBeouf) and his old sweetheart, Marion (Karen Allen). I have no complaints with LaBeouf’s acting here and I enjoy watching him, but he just seems a little too squishy around the edges to be Indy’s son, no matter how tough he acts. Allen, on the other hand, has definitely lost a lot since we last saw her in ’81. Of all the Indy Girls I’ve always liked Marion Ravenwood the most, because she was a strong female lead, able to drink men under the table and tell Indy to screw off. In Kingdom not only has her character morphed from sassy vixen to nagging mother, but she’s also lost her acting chops, bobbing her head in the most distracting way during her closeups.

Still, I could forgive the acting if the writing and directing were there to support it. As it is, I think George Lucas’ influence was a little to heavy throughout, with obvious CG backgrounds and contrived scenes. I also don’t know who thought it would be a good idea to cut to reaction shots of animals. The other major problem here is that Kingdom relies on the audience having been fans of the Young Indiana Jones series. If you know Indy just from the movies, you may be thrown off when other characters start talking about his military record and medals. You may also scratch your head as Indy recounts his time with the Zapatistas.

At the end of the day, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull feels more like a What if? scenario, where Indy gets sucked into the sci-fi genre…or something. It’s not necessarily unenjoyable to watch as far as movies go, it just doesn’t feel like Indiana Jones. The film tries too hard to outdo the previous installments with an overcooked plot of literal astronomical proportions.

After watching, you may feel that the opening sequence, which shows the classic Paramount logo transitioning into a mole hill, may be more telling than the filmmakers intended.