Indiana Jones and the Untitled X-Files Sequel----I mean Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Warning, mild spoilers ahead, though I assume if you're one of my reader's you've already seen this at least once.
Since the Star Wars Prequels we’ve had a wave of revival films, sequels to films my generation has grown up with. And I’ve learned to take them all like I would a great rock band on a reunion tour. All the great songs are there, the guitar solos aren’t as adventurous or played dispassionately, the vocals aren’t as good, and maybe a few band members died, but it’s still the band you know and love and that means something.
I guess the short and simple review is that this film, like Temple of Doom, was mostly Lucas’ idea. But that’s not entirely fair or true and it’s become too easy to blame the guy. This is a fun film, an enjoyable film, but a really strange mix of sentiment, flattery , self-parody, and guilt.
The Indy films are all works of top-notch craftsmanship. The editing, music, choreography, is all as good as anything Hollywood’s done. But they also carry the weight of their authors and at times suffer because of that weight. That was true of the second film, and that’s true with this film.
The first film could be read as a mixture of sociological wish-fulfillment, the ancient glory of Israel meting out divine punishment against the Nazi’s, and fantastic amounts of imaginative action set-pieces, the revised and improved action serials of the 30’s. The second film isn’t only explained by the fact that Spielberg and Lucas had both recently been through bitter divorces, Lucas still seems to have yet to recover from his, but it goes a long way in explaining its darker tone, the way we can’t trust the people we love, the misogyny, the heart being ripped out. That the film is set before Raiders seem to suggest a way to explain it away, as being redeemed by Raiders, unrelated to its bare-fisted version of chivalry.
The last film is the best of the series. Its self-effacing humor steals the show, but the film’s theme and pursuit, the Holy Grail being the symbol of reconciliation between God and Man, and in a specific case uniting son and father, is quite moving.
In all of the films Ford has been the constant and that’s the same with this one. Though the problem is he doesn’t have a lot to work with. It’s not the aliens or the Tarzan scene or even the atomic blast that really makes this a far weaker film (though far more enjoyable than Doom). It’s that Lucas and Spielberg have stuffed this so full of their own careers and anxieties over their work that it comes off bulky and at times a parody of itself.
It’s been documented that Spielberg has been sorry for his portrayal of the family in Close Encounters. In some ways, this film continues that apology, where the search for Alien answers brings a family together rather than tearing it apart (sort of a continuation of the ridiculous ending of War of the Worlds). But Spielberg also seems to be apologizing for the brutality of his early films, his sort of Hitchcockian nonchalance when it came to violence. There are a few gruesome deaths, but violence wise this is the tamest of the series. Overall the film is amiable, which is refreshing, but at the same time seems to be dissonant to the actions of the piece. A family reunion and reconciliation is sweet, and having to fight the baddies in between feels either like sarcastic juxtaposition or an unnecessary burden trying to comply to a rip-roaring plot. Unlike the other films, the second excluded, the plot isn’t exactly tied inextricably with character or character development, and I wonder if Lucas and Spielberg felt that the audience wanted the most elaborate plot to date (not that aliens are any more far-fetched than anything else we’ve seen in the series but trying to see how they connect to Jones, McCarthyism, Cold War espionage, Roswell, Area 51, the Mayans, or to Marion is a bit much for what little time we have), as well as all of the ideas from all of their previous films in this one to feel like they got their money’s worth. Though after the Star Wars prequels I don’t really blame them; seriously though this film has American Graffiti, AI, 1941, Close Encounters, Star Wars, just to name the more blatant examples. These aren’t so much references or in-jokes, though we get a famous Han Solo line thrown into the mix as well as a peek at a famous relic from an earlier film, but motifs, and I suppose in a few decades historians will be see this as something of a key for studying both director’s body of work. Though in a few cases, the references to plot points from the Forrest Gump-like Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, feel like Lucas is trying to justify them as canon or make Indy more of a Legend than we’re comfortable with. After all, he was one of the first action heroes who took a punch and felt it, who got hurt, bled, but got back up, made a quip, and then somehow beat the odds.
Ford is in great shape and the film doesn’t seem to give him any slack for his age, but he really shines in the moments where we see him interact once again with Karen Allen. And I would have loved to see more of that and less of the ‘plosions. LeBouf is great and holds his own against Ford, at times even getting the better of him, and if he is to be the future of the franchise, has the balance of narcissism, vulnerability, and punch-drunk loyalty that Ford has played Indy with so far.
The problem is everything around the characters. The plot, complex as it is ( wasn't this a video game plot?) seems to be tertiary at best, Cate Blanchet seems to be in another movie at times, and John Hurt is the awful position of playing a parody of John Hurt characters. The film tries to look vintage and when it succeeds it’s quite nice, but when it then reinforces scenes with CGi it seems out of place.
All of this said this is a film that had a lot to live up to and a lot to carry on. While it doesn’t make much sense, and it’s a little disappointing that we don’t get the time with the characters we’ve grown to love so much as the formula that contains them. And we can’t really mind the formula, which after so many copycat franchises (The Mummy, Da Vinci, Pirates, et all) really couldn’t seem as fresh as the original series. Or that the film seems oddly conflicted as to its politics. This is a fun film, it’s well made, it’s Harrison Ford, it’s Indiana Jones. It’s like when the Rolling Stones come to town, it’s not 1971 anymore but you just gotta go.
Oh, one last thing... George and Steven...For the next one I want to see Short Round and/or Sallah. Seriously what else do they have on their plates? At least give me John Rhys Davies. I mean how can you leave him out of a Jones film?