If Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is seen as nothing else, I consider it a fine closure to the life of Indiana Jones. Beginning with Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indy was a devil-may-care adventurer, refusing to settle down with anyone or let anything tie him down. The closest he ever came was his role as a teacher, but that was always just a part time diversion, only used to bide time between his various jaunts. By the time we got to The Last Crusade, we saw Junior as he continuously clashed with his father’s ideals and still fought tooth and nail not to let anything, or anyone tame the beast within.
Crystal Skull starts up twenty years after the conclusion of the Last Crusade. Indy is still running around the globe, being a scavenger of lost relics when he is kidnapped with his World War II friend Mac. Because the movie takes place twenty years later, the enemy is no longer the Nazis and is instead transposed to the Soviets in the newly developing Cold War. The Soviets are looking for a new kind of treasure, and the place to start this search with Indy is Area 51.
Yes, they are looking for alien artifacts.
If this sours you to the new adventures of Indiana Jones, you may not have seen the first three movies. If so, you may have that fond recollection caused by wearing rose tinted glasses when viewing your beloved treasures of times gone by. Yes, the group who is forcing Indy to help them is looking for alien artifacts. In the first movie, the fantastic Raiders of the Lost Ark, they are searching for the mystical Ark of the Covenant. This was the Biblical artifact that was used to carry the Ten Commandments from the mountaintops. Remember when they found it and the spirits of the damned rushed out and melted everyone’s faces? And you question alien artifacts?
Did I mention that in Last Crusade, Indy comes face to face with a Knight of the Last Crusade who had lived for hundreds of years thanks to the mystical powers of the Holy Grail? And people complain about alien artifacts? This is about Indiana Jones, a man who only believes what he can see with his own eyes, and who, in every single movie, has witnessed supernatural events that stretch the fabrics of his own beliefs. This movie is no different than the ones that come before.
Well, there is one difference. Harrison Ford is sixty-five years old and some believe he is a little old to be playing Indy. Of course, Sean Connery was fifty-nine when he played Henry Jones, Sr., in Last Crusade. We start off with Indy in action, fighting and running and flying and going with the same gusto as I remember in his Last Crusade days. To give his aging the true perspective, this film adds Shia LeBeouf as Mutt Williams, a greaser who goes to Indy for help saving his mother’s life. LeBeouf is the Young Indy to Harrison’s old man and the two work off the same dynamic Harrison and Sean used in the last movie. It is clear they are phasing Harrison out with this picture and if Shia is the man believed to fill the fedora in the future, I would have no problem with that.
The early parts of the movie are clearly George Lucas’ dream movie. Before Star Wars, Lucas was the man who created American Graffiti, the ultimate tribute to the greasers and cars of his childhood. The entire time I watched Indy and Mutt in the soda shop, I could not get the smile off my face. When the Soviets gave chase and Mutt took Indy on the motorcycle ride through town, it was the ultimate tribute to that Lucas classic.
When the action reaches foreign lands, it becomes a pure Steven Spielberg “Indiana Jones” movie. Replacing Marcus Brody as the sidekick was Ray Winstone as Mac. Marcus is acknowledged at two instances in the movie, the first with a picture on Indy’s desk that also includes a touching moment with a picture of Senior while Indy explains what happened to the two men. The second reference to Marcus is an in joke for fans of the original films. The film is full of these memorable touches that made me love it that much more. There is an entire scene that harkens back to the television series as Indy tells Mutt about the time he was kidnapped by Pancho Villa and fought alongside him in Mexico. As a fan of the television show, that scene was the moment I realized this movie was simply a love letter to the true fans of Indiana Jones.
There is a little too much CGI used in the movie. CGI was needed in many scenes, especially when they went into the lost city at the climax of the film. Once again, complaints about the “fake looking CGI” must surely come from people who don’t remember the faces melting off at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. When watching the original film the other day with a group of younger people, I was angered when they snickered at that scene in Raiders and called it stupid looking. But that is clearly the point here, as they have attempted to make some of these instances look more realistic and in the process have angered those who have fond memories of obvious wax dummies melting in the place of real humans. What looked more fake? I would argue the original was much less realistic, yet it still holds a spot in my heart to this day despite that fact.
The entire chase scene through the jungles was a little too unrealistic for me when the CGI is concerned. Whether it is the straddling of the two vehicles as Mutt fights Irina or the ridiculous scene where Mutt harkens the spirit of Tarzan to race to the rescue, it was a moment in the film where Spielberg completely forgot what made Indy’s adventures so heroic to begin with. You don’t need to make it look as spectacular as possible. Just put the heroes in real danger and let them squirm their way out of it. There was a scene where Indy and Marion were trapped in a dry sand pit that is a great example of the predicaments that makes Indiana Jones adventures so fun. One need only look back to the original film where he must wiggle his way under the truck and then back up and over to see how this type of scene should work.
Don’t even get me started about when Indiana Jones ended up in the middle of a Nuclear Bomb test. What the hell was that doing in this movie?
At the end of the film, we get the last of the major complaints as Indiana Jones is married. I feel this is a perfect conclusion to the adventures of Indiana Jones. Indy started out as a kid who quit school, ran away from his home and his dad and set out to become the world’s greatest adventurer. Along the way, he reconciled with his father and now at this point in his life it is time for his to take that position, the position that Henry Jones, Sr., had before him. Indy has come full circle and now it is time to step down and let the next action hero step forward. That man, if this movie is to be believed, is Mutt Williams. Indiana was the daring, swashbuckling superman that we all grew up with but at the end of the day there comes a time to step aside. This movie gave Indy that one last great adventure and it was finally time for him to pass on the fedora.
The fact that he refused to do that one very simple and symbolic thing is what made the ending such a kicker. Defiant to the very end.