May 19, 2008

Movie Review: Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull -- Yes, It's Spy-Related!

I am going to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible, but the very nature of spoilers is, of course, subjective. I won't reveal any scene specifics or spoil any character relationships, but I will be discussing the movie, which in itself may constitute spoilers to some. Most of what I talk about won't surprise anyone who's seen the trailers.

So what's an Indiana Jones review doing on a spy blog? Well, we’ve already seen Indiana Jones as a young man spy for the Belgian and French Intelligence services during WWI. Now, after years of fieldwork as an archaeologist, we see a much older Indy plunged into the Cold War to contend with its most natural villains, the KGB. Also on hand are all the other espionage acronyms associated with that era: FBI, CIA and MI-6. (One character claims at various times in the movie to work for all of those organizations, or combinations thereof. I won’t reveal his or her true allegiances.) Even the OSS gets a name-check, and we learn that Indy went back to his intelligence career with the outbreak of WWII, spying for that American wartime espionage outfit along with his sometime partner George “Mac” McHale (Ray Winstone).

Frankly, though, while the presence of KGB agents in a Connecticut college town spurs the film’s greatest chase sequence, most of the espionage angles in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull are pretty half-baked, as is its incessantly over-explained yet never adequately explained titular MacGuffin. But you know what? None of that matters. What matters in an Indiana Jones movie is globetrotting historical adventure, archeology-based action, trap-filled tomb-raiding, and, above all else, likeable, relatable characters grounding all the chaos in some sense of plausibility. Harrison Ford, once more, does exactly that. Indy gets himself into some of the most unbelievable predicaments of his career in this entry, but thanks to Ford’s easy charm in a character that fits him as well as the leather jacket he’s famous for, we’re on board with him all the way.

Age is not a problem for Ford. The audience gets to revisit a character many of us have grown up with, and known all our lives. There’s never any question that Ford is Indiana Jones, and it’s exhilarating to spend time with him again. Furthermore, his closest supporting cast are also a joy to tag along with. Karen Allen brings the same spirited gusto to the role of Marion that she did twenty-seven years ago in Raiders of the Lost Ark, and her banter with Indy maintains the same spark it had back then (thanks in part, apparently, to an uncredited Lawrence Kasdan--according to an interview with screenwriter David Koepp in Creative Screenwriting). Finally, Shia LaBeouf makes an entirely successful addition to the team, imbuing his character, Mutt Williams, with a terrific, Ford-like charm of his own. Honestly, I wasn't sure about this character based on the trailers, but he's actually one of the best parts of the film! Cate Blanchett sinks her teeth into the Russian villainess, KGB agent Irina Spalko. Part Edith Head, part Rosa Klebb, and considerably sexier (and more handy in a fight) than either, she creates a fun foil for Indy, but ultimately not one of the more fleshed-out villains in the series.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull goes out of its way to reward dedicated fans of the franchise, with surprising references to everything from the other films to the Young Indy TV series (which I'm personally thrilled to see officially connected to the movie canon!) to--most surprisingly of all--the 90s paperback novels. I recommend rewatching the original trilogy of films prior to seeing the new one, even if you know them by heart. At the very least, stick Last Crusade in your player. Crystal Skull offers some amazing payoffs to what's come before.

The movie suffers in its third act, largely thanks to an unfortunate overabundance of CGI and an underwhelming MacGuffin. (But does that surprise anyone? We knew when we heard the title that a crystal skull is hardly the Ark of the Covenant!) These shortcomings are more than made up for, however, by a series of showstopping setpieces, terrific character interplay and, above all, Harrison Ford, back to doing what he does best after so many years.

Stay tuned this week for more spy-related Indy coverage, and a chance to win Young Indiana Jones DVDs!

1 comment:

patrick said...

i keep imagining Cate Blanchett speaking English with a German accent in the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull even though she's supposed to be Russian