Last year, I chose to spend my birthday watching a film from my past, a film I hadn’t seen since it came out in 1999: Episode I of the Star Wars Prequels. It was bad when I first saw it, it was worse when I rewatched it. So, what do I decide to do this year for my birthday? Why, watch another franchise George Lucas ruined through his self-indulgence. That’s right… I watched Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
I blame myself for the pain. I went into the theater back in 2008 knowing what Lucas did to Star Wars. I just really thought, “Hey, it’s Indiana Jones. If the series survived the Asian child sidekick, it could survive anything! Right? Right?”
Watching it again, I realize one of the big (but not only) reasons that this film doesn’t work is that Indy doesn’t really care about the artifact. The only reason he goes along with the whole story is because people are chasing him or putting a gun to his and his friends’ heads. In the end, there was no reason to care about getting to the treasure at all. He doesn’t mourn the loss of all the artifacts destroyed at the end. Where is the “It belongs in a museum!” mantra? Where is the Indy that stretched to reach the Grail as his fingers slowly slipped from his father’s hand? In short, where is the passion?
Another issue is the anagonist. You can tell Lucas thought, hey, we were against the Nazis in the 30s, so 50s-Indy would fight Communists. The problem is, while the Nazis actually did research mystical artifacts in their quest for world-domination, the Communists were too busy developing nuclear weapons and space travel to deal with that crap. You can argue they were power-hungry and morally corrupt, but the USSR didn’t get even close to the level of bat-shit crazy that the Nazis did.
Speaking of the Communists, how the hell did they get the KGB into the United States at the beginning of the film? The FBI is convinced Indiana Jones has gone Red, but the scary, bowl-cut woman with the most obvious “Boris and Natasha” accent and her cronies can come and go as they please? Then again, Area 51 is guarded by two soldiers in total, both of whom are blown down within ten seconds. This might not be the smartest fictionalized US government.
Here’s a list of what George Lucas didn’t understand, based on this film: how magnets work, what a nuclear blast does to a human being near point zero, what hiding in a refrigerator blasted into the sky by a nuclear blast does to a human being, the time between the conquistadors and the 1950s (“Oxley came 200 years later and found the skull!”) and the battle strategies of monkeys against Communists.
Speaking of the jungle scene, the chase is about the most depressing thing Lucas has put out since the pod race. Think of the chase scenes in Raiders and Last Crusades. They are almost entirely done with stuntwork, on location and they’re beautiful and exciting to watch. I don’t see what’s exciting about Shia Lebeouf fencing against a green screen. It’s just sad.
What’s really depressing about the film is that the characters that came back (you know, all two of them) are two of the strongest in the series. Obviously, Indy himself is a fantastic character, but Harrison Ford just seems tired. Marian was my favorite heroine (hands down) from the original trilogy, but she becomes a silly fuddy-duddy in the 4th film (yes, fuddy-duddy is a scientific condition; look it up). When she finally walks into the movie, I was thrilled, thinking, Finally, we’re going to see the story pick up. Unfortunately, it immediately becomes a goofy, overdone tit-for-tat that makes you kind of wish the Communists would gag them already. It kind of feels like a bad fanfic performed by 60 year-olds at a community center fundraiser. Nostalgia gives it a little charm, but it’s pretty sad.
Maybe if they included more than two characters from the original movies. Maybe if the new characters were well-rounded and actually interesting (I’m not even going to discuss LeBeef’s wannabe James Dean). Maybe if they went back to what made the first three great: a real passion for adventure and history, virtue defeating evil mixed with great gritty action scenes and a sense of fun.
So happy birthday to me… and here’s to a year of much better movies.