Movie Review #818: Though it’s full of weak CGI, ‘Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’ brings the ‘Indiana Jones’ series back to its roots by restoring the brisk sense of adventure that made ‘Raiders’ so popular.
By Red Stewart
|Rated PG-13 (contains violence)|
It’s taken 27 years, but Lucas and Spielberg have finally done it! They’ve crafted a worthy sequel to “Raiders of the Lost Ark” that is fun, tense, and, most importantly, as serious as an adventure of this type needs to be. Sadly, not everyone thinks the same way, and this review will contain some counter-arguments to some of the well-known criticisms.
The plot this time takes place under the banner of the Cold War, where Indy finds himself racing against Soviet agents to locate a crystal skull said to lead to unlimited knowledge. Tagging alongside him is greaser Mutt Williams and old flame Marion Ravenwood.
My biggest complaint with the sequels to “Raiders” was that they relied too much on kid-friendly banter in the interlude between the action scenes. As such, the films adopted a campy feeling that felt so odd compared to the suave nature of Raiders. In that regard, “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”‘s (“KOTCS”) biggest success is that it returns to that original mood, meaning we have more natural comedy and a smoother balance of drama.
While the previous Indy films developed out of Lucas’s love for the western serials he grew up with, “KOTCS”‘s 1950s setting pays homage to the many sci-fi movies that dominated the decade, including “The Thing from Another World”, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, and “The Day the Earth Stood Still”. In this case, the Roswell incident conspiracies are depicted as being accurate; with comatose extraterrestrials shown to be tied to ancient cultures. The quest this paints for Indy and co. is perhaps the biggest one in the franchise, ranging from rocky grottos to the multicolored shades of the Amazon, with all the big-ass ants, angry natives, and towering waterfalls you can think of!
I loved that Spielberg and Lucas brought back Marion as, not only was she my favorite heroine, but it really helps bring the franchise full circle. The two sequels before were more episodic in nature and felt loosely connected, but you could watch “Raiders” and “KOTCS” back-to-back and feel like they were shot as an intended pair (like “The Terminator” and “Terminator 2”).
Some people have stated that the use of aliens as the backdrop for the film goes against the semi-realism established in the previous trilogy. Honestly speaking though, I think these fans have forgotten the same spiritual/religious plot devices that melted the Nazi’s faces, burned Mola Ram’s hand, and turned Donovan into a pile of bones. These films were always more escapist in nature than pragmatic, so “KOTCS” shouldn’t be held to a different standard simply because of nostalgia.
There are a few legitimate complaints about the film though; chief among these is the CGI. The “Indy” trilogy had relied more on practical effects enhanced by computer-generated imagery than full blown cyber models, whereas in “KOTCS”, it’s the opposite case. This would’ve been passable had the effects been good, but sadly they’re weaker than the ones in “Captain America: The First Avenger” (now’s as good a time as any to pay my respects to VFX master Stan Winston who passed away in 2008). However, perhaps the biggest crime “KOTCS” commits is ruining the ending of “Raiders” by revealing what happened to the Ark!
I’d be a fool to ignore the notorious fridge nuke derided by so many early on in “KOTCS”. I can definitely see why the phrase has come to be synonymous with “jumping the shark”, but to me the skydiving raft from “Temple of Doom” was where the decline of the series’ plausibility began; long before “KOTCS”. Again, there’s a reason Indy is classified under the fantasy genre because being entirely practical doesn’t serve the needs of a global adventure well enough.
Still, despite all these flaws, the amount of hate towards “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” continues to surprise me as I found it to be a more-than-worthy entry in the “Indiana Jones” series that surpassed “Temple of Doom” and “The Last Crusade”. I suppose the sci-fi setting was something more fit for a “Star Wars” film, but the execution on Spielberg’s part was great enough to diminish those differences. The supporting cast made up of old and new members are absolutely amazing and regarding Harrison Ford, well, it was as though he never left the role for nineteen years. He is Indiana Jones, period.