The hero returns triumphant -- new Indy flick is flawed but fun

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
Directed by Steven Spielberg, Written by David Koepp
Starring Harrison Ford, Shia LaBeouf, Karen Allen, Cate Blanchett, John Hurt, Ray Winstone
Rated PG-13, 124 mins
You know, I should really preface this review. In my eight years of writing film criticism, I’ve always informed readers of any biases I’ve had going into movies – if any at all. This one is different. Walking into the midnight showing of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull last night at my absolute favorite cinema, the Seattle Cinerama (sporting a 90-foot screen, three projectors, and some of the most comfortable seats in any theater anywhere), I was expecting something fantastic. You see, because: I love Indiana Jones.

And when I say love, I do not mean to imply that it is a passing fancy or that I am a casual fan of the franchise. I mean that Indiana Jones is a chief contender, along with Star Wars, for my favorite thing ever. I grew up on the Indy films, and still consider Raiders of the Lost Ark to be the greatest movie of all time. In that theater last night, there was maybe no one else with higher hopes that I.

Well, I would just like to thank Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford for bringing that most beloved of heroes to the big screen for one last adventure. And what an adventure it is.

That’s not to say that Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is without its flaws, because it definitely has its weak points. But speaking as a lifelong fan of the franchise and self-confessed Indy fanatic, this film delivered.

It’s 1957, nearly two decades since Henry “Indiana” Jones Jr. (Ford) went after the Holy Grail in Last Crusade. In this installment, Indy attempts to stop paranormally obsessed Soviets, lead by Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett), from acquiring a strange crystal skull, which is rumored to have mystical properties. He’s aided in his endeavor by past fling Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), greaser Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf), rival archeologist Mac (Ray Winstone), and professor Oxley (John Hurt).

Everything in this film, right down to the Paramount Pictures opening, is done deliberately in the vein of the original films. Spielberg has opted out of the digital medium, filming traditionally and utilizing CGI in a mere 30% of the special effects shots (stick that in your pipe and smoke it, George “Film Everything on the Studio Green Screen” Lucas!). This is pulp at its finest, the likes of which we haven’t seen since Last Crusade. This is the Indy film we’ve been waiting 18 years for.

The chase scenes are over-the-top and fun as all hell, the fist-fights are furious. There’s sword-fighting on vehicles speeding through the Amazon jungle, plunges over waterfalls, and fun moments aplenty. Ford is in top-form, performing his own stunts and rolling with the best action heroes at 65 years of age. He relishes his time as Indiana Jones, enjoying the film almost as much as we do. And thankfully, there are only a few quips about Indy’s age (“So, what are you, like, 80?” Mutt asks at one point).

The cast is just great, and the chemistry between Indy and Allen’s Marion is just as fantastic as it was in 1981. LaBeouf also turns in a great performance, managing to keep up with these cinema greats every step of the way, proving to me without a shadow of a doubt that he is a fully capable and promising young actor.

I have only a few qualms with the film, mostly dealing with the last quarter of its two-hour runtime. Yes, the rumors are true: there is a definite sci-fi element to the film. It doesn’t come into play heavily until the last twenty minutes, but it’s sure to turn casual fans off. However, it is a interesting turn of events. And, if you think really think about it, it’s not entirely out of character for an Indy film. In Raiders, the power of God emerges from a golden box and melts the faces of Nazis; in Temple of Doom, cultists rip peoples’ hearts out of their chests and hypnotize prisoners; and in Last Crusade, there is an immortal Crusader guarding the Holy Grail. The supernatural and the fantastic are not unfamiliar territory – the element of science-fiction is really only a step-up from there.

George Lucas’ influence also did not go unnoticed by me. There are just a few scenes where I could taste the bitter, stale flavor of his meddling, but it’s thankfully overshadowed by Spielberg’s excellent direction.

In terms of the other Indy films, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull falls somewhere beyond Temple of Doom and just short of Last Crusade. It is a more-than-worthy addition to the franchise, a nostalgic throwback to the golden-age of action films. For this Indy fan, it was well worth the wait.

Now, unless I’m mistaken, Spielberg originally intended five films for the Indy franchise. So long as they don’t wait another 18 years, I’m all for another movie.


  1. Now I am definitely seeing this. I get the feeling that all of the negative press surrounding the movie's early reviews is the result of the 24/7 media obsessing over a shocking story, i.e. that the new Indy film is bad.

  2. Bum ba-dum bahhhhhh, bum ba-dahhhhhh, bum ba-dum bahhhhh, bum ba-dahhh dahhhh DAHHHHH!

    I'm surprised you didn't mention anything about the several nods towards the older films! Also, I'm just gonna wait in the cinerama for the next one to come out. See ya there.

  3. Damian: It is most definitely worth seeing at the theater. You would be doing yourself an extreme disservice otherwise.

    Katina: I'm already there. I'm sitting in the center section.


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