Oh dear… My childhood memories of high-speed chases, menacing Nazis and the pure sense of adventure when exploring different parts of the world looking for mysterious artifacts in the company of Doctor Henry Jones ‘Junior’ a.k.a. Indiana Jones has been shattered.
It has been 19 years since we last joined the part-time professor and archaeologist in his action-packed adventures. Over the time since Indy rode off into the sunset in the closing scene of The Last Crusade, the fourth film has been in ‘development hell’ in terms of creating the perfect story.
Director Steven Spielberg, executive producer George Lucas and Hollywood legend Harrison Ford rejected script after script, due to disagreement over the direction the fourth Indiana Jones would take. None of them agreed upon the story until the concept of setting it in the 1950s – during the Cold War and involving aliens – was taken further. Lucas suggested the crystal skulls to ground the idea and after some redrafts, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was ready to start shooting.
Spielberg wanted to maintain the ‘look and feel’ from his past three Indiana Jones films by not shooting the film digitally (unlike George Lucas with his Star Wars prequels). So when watching Kingdom of the Crystal Skull????????, you get the impression that it hasn’t been that long since The Last Crusade. The Oscar-winning director mentioned he wanted to do the action-scenes ‘old school’ by opting out of the use of digital effects, giving the sense of realism. In spite of this, the truck-chase scene set in the jungle ended up as CGI.
Despite being 65 years old, Harrison Ford still looks the part of Doctor Jones – outfitted in his trademark leather jacket, fedora hat and whip. Some critics might say he is too old to play the part of the adventurer but in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Ford still manages to pull off the action scenes with ease and confidence.
Karen Allen returns as Indy’s love interest by reprising the role of Marion Ravenwood. It’s amusing to see Marion and Indy together again, as the last time the pair made an appearance was Raiders of the Lost Ark back in 1981! Since that time, Marion has got married and had a son. Ah yes, the son that turns out to be a youthful and arrogant parody of Indiana Jones. From Spielberg and Lucas I got the impression that this character, Mutt Williams (played by Shia LeBeouf) could be the next action hero if they want to continue making Indiana Jones in the near future.
I hope not as Shia LeBeouf’s performance was dreadful. He might have made a grand entrance in the film by riding his motorbike, wearing the same outfit as Marlon Brando in The Wild One… His character – Mutt Williams – was simply annoying. His cockiness and banter with the older and wiser Jones wasn’t convincing and the image of Mutt swinging through the trees with his monkey friends during the truck-chase scene was unforgivable.
Worse still are the fellow cast members. Ray Winstone plays Indy’s friend ‘Mac’ who is either working with him or backstabbing the archaeologist by teaming up with the Russians. Ray’s character was simply irritating and I hated the way he called Indy ‘Jonesy’. Good for ‘Jonesy’ to punch him in the face every time he said it!
John Hurt plays Professor Harold Oxley who seems to be high after being possessed by the strange power of the crystal skull… He becomes ‘sane’ at the end but his presence wasn’t memorable in any way.
Jim Broadbent’s role was underused and he lacked the charm of Marcus Brody (the late Denholm Elliott) as Dean Charles Stanford.
As for Cate Blanchett, who played the villainous Soviet agent Irina Spalko, she was not scary or threatening when compared to other bad guys in the previous Indiana Jones films. It’s not the actress’ fault (she has won an Oscar for her portrayal of Elizabeth) and the blame lies solely on the material that was written for the part.
What about the new threat to Indiana Jones, the Russians? Well, I’m surprised to say this but the Nazis were more sinister in their evil ways compared to the Russians.
But the worst aspect of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is the main plot. After years of delay, you would expect a more convincing storyline than what is shown on the big screen.
Set in the 1950s, the film opens with a grizzled Indiana Jones being forced to locate a mysterious crate (that is highly magnetic) inside a hanger in Area 51 for the evil psychic Irina Spalko. After escaping the Russians (and dodging a nuclear blast by hiding inside a fridge!), Indy meets young Mutt Williams who tells him that his mother has disappeared and has sent him to ask Indy for help.
Following a trail of clues, Indy and Mutt travel to a South American jungle in search of Professor Oxley and Mutt’s mother. Decoding Oxley’s ramblings, Indy realises that he has to return a mysterious crystal skull to the lost golden city of Akator, while keeping one step ahead of the Russians.
It might sound exciting but compared to the previous adventures in Raiders of the Lost Ark, Temple of Doom and The Last Crusade, the new fourth Indiana Jones is a disappointment. The magic and appeal that made the first three films a delight is missing from Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and some of the scenes felt unnecessary, especially the chase scene in the jungle followed by giant flesh-eating ants!
I had high hopes, being a fan of Doctor Jones for many years, but I feel Spielberg and Lucas have betrayed my childhood memories forever with this horrendous film. It’s time for Indy to hang up his hat.