Screenwriter: David Koepp
Running Time: 121 mins
Released: May 23rd
We last saw Indiana Jones riding off into the sunset following his last crusade, a fitting final image for one of cinema’s greatest heroes. Yet George Lucas, the serial franchise spoiler that he is, decided to drag Indy back through development hell via scripts from the likes of M. Night Shyamalan, Tom Stoppard and Frank Darabont. Finally, after Harrison Ford began to get cold feet two years ago, pre-production went into overdrive with Jurassic Park scribe David Koepp on writing duties. Now, after nineteen years of cultivating nostalgia for the three classic Indy adventures, Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is upon us, with the most important question being after all this time, was it worth it?
After all the huffing and puffing, the story finally agreed upon sees Indy captured by Russian KGB agent and psychic Irina (Cate Blanchett), double crossed by his friend Mac (Ray Winstone), forced to find an alien corpse in Area 51 that holds mystical powers. After a successful escape, Jones finds himself teamed with teenager greaser Mutt (Shia LaBoeuf) racing against the Russians in a search for the titular skulls, while trying to save old friends Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) and Professor Oxley (John Hurt) along the way.
After a forty-minute sojourn at the Temple of Exposition, the adventure kicks off proper. However, the muddled plot leaves the quest narrative lacking, essentially rewriting the Ark narrative with alien artefacts. It’s somewhat appropriate that we return to the government building that housed said Ark, because here the original raiders are out looking for their own long lost artefacts. Ford successfully steps back into his iconic role with grace, good humour and some well-played jokes about his age. Yet the script turns Henry Jones Jnr into a bumbling idiot who takes a back seat to every major event in the film and seems incapable of solving a Sudoku never mind a centuries old mystery. Unlike Ford, Steven Spielberg can’t simply step back in time and become the filmmaker he was in the 1980s. This is unmistakably a product of his autumn years, an era he clearly wanted to populate with more adult orientated films. Like his Jurassic Park sequel, The Lost World, he seems bored behind the camera, wasting some outstanding shots on minor sequences while Lucas and co. messed around with the rewrites.
Despite the worries, Shia LaBoeuf ends up being a be a great addition to the series, fully capable as Indy’s sidekick, even if he does tend to get more involved in the action in the second half of the film than the hero we came to cheer on. The rest of the cast are sadly underdeveloped. Ray Winstone’s Mac constantly switches allegiances resulting in general apathy towards his character, Cate Blanchett hams it up and dusts of that accent she ‘perfected’ in The Good German, and John Hurt just literally babbles nonsense for an hour. Karen Allen is fantastic and only in her scenes with Ford do we really get that sense of old school Indy, yet she is wasted and given little to do.
The heavy use of CGI, despite the assurances of producer Frank Marshall that it would feel like it was made only years after 89s Last Crusade, is what cripples the film most. The action scenes, while well choreographed, lack any dramatic punch or tension because they are all done on green screen. From a franchise that championed excellent stunt work in the 80s, it’s disheartening to see little pixelated people doing most of the hard work. While no one is going to vouch for the original trilogy as historical documents, Crystal Skull’s cartoonish qualities are ramped up to 11 and it feels entirely like a George Lucas product. There’s some animated prairie dogs to up the cute factor during the opening sequence, Mutt befriends a pack of monkeys and goes swinging around like Tarzan, Indy escapes the detonation of an atomic bomb by hiding in a refrigerator (!) and of course, very little appears to be filmed on location, resulting in zero wonder or magnitude, giving the film the look and feel of a Star Wars prequel or worse a Pirates of the Caribbean movie. A heavy use of CGI, plus Janusz Kaminski’s delicate pearly white lighting results in a sluggish action film that never truly feels or looks like an Indiana Jones movie. George Lucas’ comment that it was "like it was shot 3 years after the Last Crusade, you'd never know there was 20 years between shooting", proves his even more deluded than we all feared.
As someone who at five years old desperately wanted to be an archaeologist because of Indiana Jones, I really wanted to like this film. Yet this isn’t the film all the fans were hoping for, nor is it a film that non-fans can embrace. The script is horrible, a complete mess and apparently a Frankenstein’s Monster amalgamation of various rejected Indy and other adventure screenplays. There is no pay off to this movie, no development for this icon, and no real reason to bring Indy back other than to make a stack of cash. While The Last Crusade provided a fitting denouement as Indy rode off into the sunset, the ending is bland and offers a minor set up for another one somewhere down the line. Spielberg, Lucas, Ford – just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.