This fourth Indiana Jones film is clearly not as good as the first three. Nobody is disputing that, although I still do not think it is the train wreck that many people would have me believe.
The most recent Indiana Jones adventure picks up during the 1950s. Indy (Harrison Ford) is still a college professor, and still find rare artifacts in his spare time. When tough youth Mutt Willliams (Shia Labeouf) brings Indy a coded message from an old colleague (John Hurt), it leads Indy and his new sidekick Mutt on a trail to find the Crystal Skull. A mystical trinket that might have mind warping abilities and could also be extra-terrestrial in origin. A Soviet Union spy (Cate Blanchett) also wants to find this skull and use its supposed powers for her own purposes. Indy eventually discovers Mutt’s mother, and his old flame, Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), is also caught up in the Soviets’ plot to find the skull and together they must stop the Russians from getting the skull and using its powers for evil. Indy also discovers that Mutt is his son and Marion never told him he existed. The three must put this family drama aside for the time being so they can stop the Soviets from carrying out their dastardly plot.
This film is not great, especially compared to the first three Indy films, but it is still a fun film. Ford is still charming and roguish as the archaeologist we all know and love, even if he is using a little too much of the gruff exterior that Ford has started using in his more recent films. Spielberg still knows how to make a fun adventure and that is all on show here. When this film came out, most people’s biggest complaint was the crystal skulls and their alien origin were too unbelievable compared to the objects Indy hunted in earlier films. I am not sure how a crystal skull is any less believable than the Ark of the Covenant or the Holy Grail. All of them are mythical objects that nobody can say definitely existed. I am not sure what the difference is. It feels like everyone just wanted to hate this movie mostly because of George Lucas and his involvement. The Star Wars prequels had unnecessarily left a bad taste in plenty of people’s mouths and this new Indy film was always going to have high expectations. The negative reaction to Lucas’s Star Wars prequels and the fact this film was not amazing, made it seem a lot worse than it actually was, in my opinion.
Indy 4 was never going to live up to people’s enormous expectations, but it is still a good flick with many of the same hallmarks that were found in the first three brilliant films.
I was so excited when it was announced that there would be a fourth Indiana Jones feature. This is one of my favorite franchises, and the chance to get to see a new installment on the big screen filled me with glee. My feelings must have been the same as Star Wars fans’ when the prequels were announced. How often is one of your favorite characters brought back to the screen after almost two decades?
Unfortunately, I was disappointed by Indy’s return, much as the Star Wars fans were with the release of Episodes 1-3. I spent weeks cursing Spielberg and George Lucas. Why would they do this to us? I could get past the nuked fridge and man-eating ants, but Shia LaBeouf swinging from the trees like a monkey and Cate Blanchett’s atrocious Ukrainian accent? This was an affront to everything I loved about the original Indiana Jones trilogy.
And yet, through some impressive mental gymnastics I have come to like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Or maybe I’ve just convinced myself that it’s not that bad. Because if it’s not that bad then I can tentatively be excited at the prospect of a fifth movie. But if it is that bad then I live in a world where a terrible Indiana Jones exists, and I don’t know if I can handle that. This is how I imagine Ben must feel about the Star Wars prequels. Ben has asserted on numerous occasions that the prequels aren’t that bad. Since I can’t perceive of a world where this is statement is true, he must be performing the same pommel horse routine in his mind that I do each time I watch this movie.
So how does one defend Kingdom of the Crystal Skull? For starters, Harrison Ford is still on top of his game. He may be almost twenty years older, but the movie never pretends that he isn’t. The film fully embraces the fact that the character and the actor portraying him are both creeping toward retirement age, and it works. He can still run and jump and crack that whip– he’s just more winded at the end of it.
Another plus is that Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) is back. Her return to the series was almost more exciting to me than the prospect of seeing Ford don the famous fedora again. She is by far the best of Indy’s female companions. She’s just as active and sassy and beautiful as she was in Raiders of the Lost Ark. As much as I wanted to be Indiana Jones as a kid, I thought it would just as cool to be Marion. Seeing her again only reinforces my feelings on this.
While a lot of people did not care for the extraterrestrial plot of this movie, it’s really not that bad. I’ll admit that Indy is the most fun to watch when he’s hunting Biblical relics, but crystal skulls are actually kind of cool. At first I thought they were completely fictional. Turns out they are real and some are quite mysterious in origin. The alien aspect also harkens back to the 1950s sci-fi craze, and touches on Stalin’s real life interest in psychic warfare. It was a gamble for sure, and while it doesn’t pay off quite as well as one would hope, it’s certainly not the abomination a lot of people describe it as.
Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is by far the worst of the Indiana Jones movies, but for better or worse I’m glad it was made. Even if the movie didn’t live up to my expectations, it was still fun to watch. I’m still crossing my fingers for another installment, knowing that I may be disappointed. But I’ve come to the conclusion that any Indy is better than no Indy. That’s how much I love the character, and no subpar film can change that.