22 May 2008 had the potential to be a very, very good day. Still on a high from United being champions of Europe and double winners (again), I had a free trip to see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. I wasn’t expecting Raiders, but anywhere from Temple of Doom upwards would have been considered a success in my book. Frankly I just didn’t trust Spielberg’s ability (and George Lucas’s influence) to avoid schmaltz and constant age jokes. Yes, Harrison Ford is old; I’ve noticed.
I was following my usual policy of slight pessimism that I take to anything with ‘George Lucas’ in the credits, with the logic being that you can’t be disappointed when you have low expectations (unless it’s Star Wars Episode III). In this case, keep your expectations realistic and you’ll probably have a good time. Just don’t expect Raiders.
Firstly I’ll address the elephant in the room and say that yes, Ford is old. Apart from one point near the end when I noticed how grey his hair was, though, it was never an issue. He’s still the man and the action is split well between him and Shia LaBeouf, to the point where you never feel like it’s being held back. It feels much more like another Indy film than other recent ‘comeback’ movies – Die Hard 4.0, Terminator 3, Rocky Balboa – ever did for their respective series.
I felt like I was right to be worried about the Lucas/Spielberg effect, though, with a few too many moments where you can picture them talking about how awesome this would be on screen – skip the rest of this paragraph if you’re avoiding spoilers – like that painful Tarzan-swinging sequence, getting off a cliff in a truck via a conveniently placed tree that just happens to drop them gently into the water (straight out of a live action Wile E Coyote cartoon), the swordfight between cars and, most bafflingly, Indy being thrown miles in a fridge without receiving a scratch, the unexplained native tribesmen who are just there (see the graveyard and the end sequence).
The CG animals everywhere had Lucas written all over them, because he was doing the same stuff in the Star Wars prequels. Similarly, everything looked like it was shot on a soundstage with CG coming out of its arse. So much for the back-to-basics stunts and practical effects.
Anyway, you should really skip the next paragraph if you haven’t seen it. While I won’t be specific, I’m about to talk about the ending and the nature of the quest in this film.
The MacGuffin in the Indiana Jones series has always had a supernatural element and this is no different, but it just seemed a bit too ‘out there’ to me. Whereas Raiders and Last Crusade got heavily into theological legends, those could be explained away with something simple like “the wrath of God” or “the cup of Christ”. This one doesn’t have anything that elegant, and there’s a reason why this stuff usually has to be drowned in technobabble to make it work in film. I won’t even start on trying to reconcile it with the religious revelations (the Judeo-Christian god clearly exists in the Indy universe) of the those previous films, because they don’t seem compatible to me.
Overall, I think it’s a good summer action film, made much better by Harrison Ford back in form and the fact that it’s still Indiana Jones. Just know that “swinging with the monkeys” is the new “jumping the shark”.