Movie Review: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

posted at 10:01 am on May 24, 2008 by Ed Morrissey

Few movies have had such anticipation and such trepidation on their release than Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the fourth installment of the serial series, but the first episode in 19 years. The third movie, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, appeared to tie a bow on a well-received trilogy, and Harrison Ford had aged too much to set the movie in the period between the two great wars, where audiences related to a time before America really came of age. Indiana himself seemed to represent America in the first three films — a boyish skeptic who eventually grew to understand powers outside of his own and yet master them.

Of course, the bad buzz on the movie since its release a few days ago seemed to clinch the notion that Steven Spielberg and George Lucas went to the well once too often. Reviews harped on Spielberg’s ubiquitous daddy issue, his predilection for space aliens, and an Indiana who seemed unrealistic. Perhaps, in retrospect, they expected Citizen Kane. I expected a high-quality popcorn movie, some simple escapist fare, and a chance to reconnect with beloved characters on a new kind of adventure — and I was not disappointed.

First, a few quibbles. While the action sequences in these films always strain credulity, Ford’s escape of constant gunfire from a crack squad of KGB infiltrators went over the top. The wardrobe of Mutt Williams (Shia LeBeouf) did come straight out of Marlon Brando’s closet and actually caused laughter. More annoying were the references to the blacklist in the beginning of the film. Is it possible for any filmmaker to forego this? Apparently not, but it did give one moment of what I’m sure was unintentional hilarity, when Jim Broadbent says, “When they start looking for Communists in Academia, maybe it is time to retire.”

However, the film itself uses Communists as its villains, replacing Nazis as the action all takes place in 1957. (The modern-day Russian Communist Party doesn’t appreciate this, either.) They have taken an interest in psychic power, fueled by the discovery of a crystal skull in South America. KGB researcher Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett) wants to use the skull to find a lost Amazonian city in order to unlock the secrets of the skull so that the Soviet Union can take over the world by transforming Western capitalists into good little comrades without us realizing what happened. Indy and Mutt have to rescue an old friend and figure out a way to stop the KGB from world domination.

Do they succeed? Well, I’ll let you guess the answer, but the film takes us on a heck of a ride to the finish. It also brings back Marion Ravenwood, Indiana’s paramour from the first film. Karen Allen reprises her role, and that makes its own statement. Allen has aged right along with Ford since 1981′s Raiders of the Lost Ark, but she remains attractive and handsome. Spielberg and Lucas make her the love interest all over again and give Allen a meaty and important role in the plot. Allen’s Marion has lost none of her courage and feistiness, and she has a secret to tell Indy that everyone will probably figure out for themselves before it’s revealed. It’s great to see Allen back as Marion, and it’s a reminder to Hollywood that women in their 50s make better matches for men in their 60s than girls of 20.

Shia LeBeouf overcomes the Wild One costume to give a good performance as Mutt. After watching him in Transformers, I figured he would become the Cousin Oliver of the Indiana Jones series, but LeBeouf surprises in more ways than just the script. Spielberg apparently has spoken publicly about featuring LeBeouf in a new series of adventure movies, and in the end it seems not just possible but potentially a lot of fun.

Don’t listen to the naysayers. This version of Indiana Jones is every bit as fun as the previous three, and every bit as lightweight. No one goes to an Indiana Jones movie for enlightenment or Shakespearean pathos. They’re popcorn movies, and the best of that genre. Let yourself jump back into the fantasy with both feet, and for a couple of hours remember that some movies are just about having a good time.


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There were a few moments that made me groan and shake my head but over all it was a fun movie and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys a decent popcorn flick.

Yakko77 on May 24, 2008 at 10:12 AM

After his pre-release jokes at Crystal Skull‘s expense, I’d like to see AP’s take on the movie. I’m going this afternoon.

malan89 on May 24, 2008 at 10:12 AM

Even as popcorn films. I thought the second and third movies were seriously flawed. Still, if the critics are slagging this one, it must be good. MSM reviewers are almost always a contra-indicator. :)

irishspy on May 24, 2008 at 10:13 AM

Going to check it out this afternoon, despite the negative press. Thanks for the smart review, Ed!

Hannibal Smith on May 24, 2008 at 10:16 AM

As long as Gary Busey isn’t in it, I’m game.

profitsbeard on May 24, 2008 at 10:17 AM

“You have no future in Russia any more. Speaking plainly, it is better for you not to come here. You will be beaten and despised.”

Now there’s the rotten bastads I remember! Ah, the good ol days, when men were men and commies were eight feet tall.

Limerick on May 24, 2008 at 10:18 AM

I hate to disagree with the Capt. but I found this to be by far the worst of the Indy movies. Perhaps it may have been better received if it followed “Temple of Doom” but being the first Indy movie after “Last Crusade” leaves it some awfully large shoes to fill, and it’s about 5 sizes too small.

There are some laughs and some ok action sequences but all in all there is never really any sense of urgency or discovery. Everything comes just a little too easy for Indy and his companions.

Though, to be fair, I know two other people who have seen it so far and 1 agrees with me while the other with Captain Ed.

If you only have limited time/money to spend on going out to the movies I’d suggest “Prince Caspian” or “Iron Man”. IMHO much better movies all round.

Bic667 on May 24, 2008 at 10:26 AM

It warms the cockles of my heart Ed. You don’t appreciate Harrison’s politics even as you compliment his considerable artistic talent.

Perhaps we can indeed; ”All just get along?”

J_Gocht on May 24, 2008 at 10:29 AM

Maybe if Hollywood would make more movies just for the entertainment and fun they would be making more money.

katieanne on May 24, 2008 at 10:36 AM

Haven’t seen it myself, but two people whose opinion I trust say it’s easily the worst film to have ever had the “Spielberg” name attached (and that includes “1941″). Coupling that feedback with knowledge of a tragic flaw in the subject matter, which sadly undermines the fundamental archeological/mystical mythos of Indiana Jones, and I think I’m going to treat this one as I did the last two “Matrix” movies: Never see it, and count myself blessed.

Blacklake on May 24, 2008 at 10:46 AM

Anything that doesn’t dump on the USA, take place in Europe and feature a few Gays, or features US hating actors seems to get panned. What’s new?

Hening on May 24, 2008 at 10:46 AM

“When they start looking for Communists in Academia, maybe it is time to retire.”

Ah, but we DID have commies in academia.

Why?

… so that the Soviet Union can take over the world by transforming Western capitalists into good little comrades without us realizing what happened.

Just as today we have jihadophiles brainwashing our future generations, trying islamize us before we even realize it.

Indy 5: The Secret of Barbary Pirates

Tony737 on May 24, 2008 at 10:56 AM

oops

… of *THE* Barbary …

Tony737 on May 24, 2008 at 10:57 AM

Just as today we have jihadophiles brainwashing our future generations, trying islamize us before we even realize it…
Tony737 on May 24, 2008 at 10:56 AM

There are still plenty of tenured Communists, too.

Blacklake on May 24, 2008 at 10:57 AM

“The government makes us believe there are commies in our soup!” — What was that all about…

AlexB on May 24, 2008 at 10:58 AM

Now, if Blackwater would just haul that Ark out of their warehouse……….

Limerick on May 24, 2008 at 10:59 AM

OT: A bit of popcorn fare for this evening…

Mars Phoenix Lander arrives at 7:30 Eastern…

Here is a link to watch the show on livestream….
http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/nasatv/

Limerick on May 24, 2008 at 11:10 AM

IMO?

Fun movie… but that it. Its Indy, and thats all it is…

I do aggree that it could have been more… there were no real suprises, everything was pretty predictable.

And the silly sword fight scene was lame…

Just basic entertainment…

Romeo13 on May 24, 2008 at 11:11 AM

Ed,

Based on your past reviews, you and I have pretty different standards for movie enjoyment/excellence. I’m glad that you found it fun from an air-headed entertainment point of view.
.
I do appreciate some of the technical excellence in the production, but as entertainment in the “Jones” series, it’s less-than-mediocre at best, a waste of time most likely. Like the above commenter, I’d vote with Caspian as the stronger horse (for storyline and production quality) if I felt like I had to get to the movie house this weekend.

Click on May 24, 2008 at 11:28 AM

Maybe if Hollywood would make more movies just for the entertainment and fun they would be making more money.

katieanne on May 24, 2008 at 10:36 AM

Ding ding ding ding ding! We have a winner.

techno_barbarian on May 24, 2008 at 11:48 AM

Now, if Blackwater would just haul that Ark out of their warehouse……….

Limerick on May 24, 2008 at 10:59 AM

Now that you mention it, I’m surprised that’s not a movie Spielberg hasn’t already made. Perhaps it’s in the pipeline.

I used to really look up to Spielberg and Lucas, but when you actually look at their movies, they’re all very weak. Good popcorn movies, to be sure, but very very flawed otherwise.

techno_barbarian on May 24, 2008 at 11:52 AM

OT: A bit of popcorn fare for this evening…

Mars Phoenix Lander arrives at 7:30 Eastern…

Here is a link to watch the show on livestream….
http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/nasatv/

Limerick on May 24, 2008 at 11:10 AM

Good friend, Lim, this is on the top of the upcoming programming listings on that link. I’ll be watching that one tomorrow afternoon.

Thanks for the heads up!

Program Note: NASA TV Live coverage of the Phoenix landing on Mars begins at 6 p.m. EDT on Sunday, May 25

techno_barbarian on May 24, 2008 at 11:58 AM

I thought Indiana Jones was fun. Yeah, lots and LOTS of suspension of belief, but overall, I came away from the theater entertained. But overall, my husband and I felt like we had seen a Stargate episode – do any of you remember the episode where SG-1 finds a crystal skull? Kinda ruins the whole plot aspect of this movie if you have – the similarities made us wonder if Lucas and whoever else wrote this had sat down to write Indy 4 after seeing this episode.

kippras on May 24, 2008 at 12:23 PM

I’d say that was a totally fair review. The movie is enjoyable and entertaining. With only a minimal amount of “Lucas/Jar-Jar isms” (only a couple of time where I looked at my wife with the – “I bet that was Lucas’ idea…”) and Shia turned out to be not too bad at all.

Most importantly – the dialog was decent. This was the main failure with the Star Wars prequels. But Indy 4, for the most part, is decently written.

As a conservative, you will probably get the slight feeling that there is a subtle moral equivalence drawn between the “good guys” and the commies. Hollywood has such a tough time admitting they were wrong about communism. Luckily – it’s subtle enough that it doesn’t take away from the film.

Anyway, I thought it was enjoyable. Go see it.

whatthecrap on May 24, 2008 at 12:38 PM

The movie lost me after the refrigerator bit.

JohnTant on May 24, 2008 at 1:00 PM

I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I will only spend money for these types of movies. The Lucas-Spielberg films for the most part have been exactly the type of movies I like. Entertaining.

Movies that try to deliver a moral message, political message, or even the World is Doomed and it’s your fault message are particularly loathsome in my opinion. Like false documentaries that Stone and Moore spew for profit only are about as interesting as watching paint dry.

I don’t want a message, I want entertainment.
I don’t want real life, I have enough of that already.

It should be a good movie. I look forward to seeing it with popcorn.

Kini on May 24, 2008 at 1:00 PM

Maybe I’m the only one who was not to satisfied with the movie? I mean you have to love the kick backs to the other three and the acting was really good but the ending? The horrid ending? And I’m not talking about the ending, ending, but the Crystal Skull ending?

Did anyone ever review Prince Caspian? I liked that a lot more then I did Indiana Jones. All that really matters though is Batman ;)

brotherbell on May 24, 2008 at 1:02 PM

Between the tepid reviews, and the ongoing battle to hear the dialogue in theatres today due to cell phone users and spoiled children, I think I’ll catch it via Netflix in October.

Think_b4_speaking on May 24, 2008 at 1:05 PM

Overall, it was a terrific popcorn movie.

The coupling of Indy with the love interest from the first movie was perfect.

Great review, it was spot on.

Overall, it was a fun, entertaining, wholesome family movie. The kind that we just don’t see anymore.

On a side note, with all that they put in PG-13 movies nowadays, I was trying to figure out why it was rated PG-13 and not PG. It just didn’t have a PG-13 feel to me (and I watch a _lot_ of movies). It seemed most definitely a PG to me.

Theophile on May 24, 2008 at 1:45 PM

KGB researcher Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett) wants to use the skull to find a lost Amazonian city in order to unlock the secrets of the skull so that the Soviet Union can take over the world by transforming Western capitalists into good little comrades without us realizing what happened.

As I look at America today, I am inclined to believe Indy and Mutt failed.

There’s just only so much suspension of disbelief I am willing to do for a movie.
Given an invitation which one I would go see again: Indy or Ironman, I would take the Ironman invite in a heartbeat.
Indy was just awful.

ToddonCapeCod on May 24, 2008 at 1:53 PM

techno_barbarian on May 24, 2008 at 11:58 AM

OOOPS! :(

What can I say….I go out to the vegie garden and lose all track of time.

……readjusting my internal clock now…. :)

Limerick on May 24, 2008 at 2:07 PM

I’m sure it’s a lot more exciting, though entirely predictable, than Prince Caspian. Zzzzzzz

Weebork on May 24, 2008 at 2:07 PM

My five-word review:

Older. Slower. Still hates snakes.

Jim Treacher on May 24, 2008 at 2:58 PM

The movie lost me after the refrigerator bit.

Yeah, that took me right out of the story, after the gritty realism of the first 3 flicks.

Jim Treacher on May 24, 2008 at 3:05 PM

Ed,

Mostly I am affraid of Anticipointment. If you feel that’s the same buble gum as the first three, I’ll keep an open mind.

juanito on May 24, 2008 at 3:13 PM

OOOPS! :(

What can I say….I go out to the vegie garden and lose all track of time.

……readjusting my internal clock now…. :)

Limerick on May 24, 2008 at 2:07 PM

N problem, pard’na. If not for you I’d have missed the landing completely. And in HD no less.

Thanks again.

techno_barbarian on May 24, 2008 at 3:25 PM

“Shia LeBeouf”

Quit lyin’. No one is named Shia LeBeouf. That would be silly.

Kevin M on May 24, 2008 at 5:39 PM

Is that the same Shia LeBoeuf who was the lead character Stanley Yelnats, hanging around with a kid named Zero in “Holes”?

That was a good kid’s movie, but is the same kid now doing adult adventures?

Steve Z on May 24, 2008 at 6:34 PM

Jim Treacher on May 24, 2008 at 3:05 PM

At least the “gritty realism” was consistent within the bounds of the quasi-reality of the settings in, oh, Raiders. The refrigerator was so over the top that it yanked me right out of the story, never to return.

JohnTant on May 24, 2008 at 9:41 PM

****Spoiler Alert****

Just returned form seeing it and I wasn’t impressed. The whole spaceship/alien thing was just a little to far out there for me. I would rate this as the fourth best in the series or in other words, last. I did enjoy the some of the action scenes, particularly when they are in the dinner and start a fight between the greasers and jocks. Oh the good ole’ days. If I was giving advice I would say “Wait for the DVD.”

knat on May 24, 2008 at 9:52 PM

can’t wait to see it.

Iron Man was wonderful. More eye candy please.

Mojave Mark on May 25, 2008 at 1:10 AM

Might be the best Indiana Jones movies yet! I mean it. It is at least as good as teh first(never saw it in the theater). The sets and casting are incredible. I wanted it to never end. Perfect.

daesleeper on May 25, 2008 at 1:38 AM

Didn’t care for it. Had its moments and I’m just a huge fan of the character but I swear I thought Indy was, at any moment, going to look right into the lens and wink.

He’s old. We got the joke, early and often, but then they didn’t follow through. Ford looked a little silly doing some of the stuntwork. Just let him do the stuff he looks good doing.

The prairie dogs? Please.

Easily the worst Indiana Jones movie.

MikeZero on May 25, 2008 at 2:23 AM

Saw it. Hated it.

A complete disgrace to the wonderful legacy of the first three films.

Considering how much I wanted to love this movie, I’m quite depressed about how badly David Koepp and Steven Spielberg managed to screw things up.

Jockolantern on May 25, 2008 at 5:23 AM

Indiana Jones saved once again by the bad guys’ sucky aim!

Capitana on May 25, 2008 at 11:22 AM

Sorry but this movie was a big failure when compared to the past three movies. The past three movies have stories that are truly unique to this day, but Indy 4 is a movie that doesn’t know if it wants to be a sci fi flick or an action movie. Futhermore, even though the past movies featured some oddball plots like the Holy Grail or the Ark of the Covenant they didn’t seem farfetched like it does in Indy 4. I mean come on a huge flying saucer? Plus, you forgot to mention the idiotic moments like the part where Mutt starts swinging through the jungle like tarzan. That part was so idiotic and out of place it was disgusting. This movie was fairly unimaginative, especially when you consider how good Lucas and Speilberg used to be. I want a story that is very focused and unique, I feel like Indy 4 took a ton of pages from National Treasure and from past sci fi movies. This movie is a huge failure when compared to the greatness of the past three. The funny thing is all those negative reviews you linked to were spot on but yours isn’t.

dalejrfanfreak on May 25, 2008 at 3:22 PM

Shia Labeouf will not only be Hollywood’s biggest action star, but he will also be Hollywood’s highest paid actor. What an amazing career he has had and he is only 21 yrs old.

jjcarrillo on May 25, 2008 at 3:51 PM

Do you realize how few movies involve us prevailing over the Russkis compared to the Nazis? That mere fact is enough to justify the movie to me. Evil is identified as evil and good prevails.

Reds in academia? Perish the thought.

Heck, what do I know? I applied to Columbia because I thought Yale was too leftwing.

Limpet6 on May 25, 2008 at 4:27 PM

So you didn’t like Expelled but you do like this version of Indiana Jones?

Amy Proctor on May 25, 2008 at 4:42 PM

Kevin M on May 24, 2008 at 5:39 PM

See? This is my problem. First, I don’t even know how to say it..is it leboof, or lowbeef? Why not change it? Brick Johnson is good. Clay Timbers. Anything. I’m just waiting for the awards ceremony headline…’Shia knocks em dead!’ He’s asking for trouble..I’m telling ya.
Seriously, I’m looking forward to seeing it. Karen Allen was my favorite Indy love interest…as to Loubeef…well, I guess I’ll keep an open mind.

austinnelly on May 25, 2008 at 10:51 PM

At least the “gritty realism” was consistent within the bounds of the quasi-reality of the settings in, oh, Raiders.

Sounds kinda arbitrary to me. Was it really any worse than 3 people surviving a fall from a plane on an inflatable raft?

Jim Treacher on May 25, 2008 at 11:32 PM

Was it really any worse than 3 people surviving a fall from a plane on an inflatable raft?

Far… far worse.

Jockolantern on May 26, 2008 at 3:11 AM

I have pretty much put this one on my Wait-For-The DVD list. I just feel they should have left the series rest after The Last Crusade. It just seems like Spielberg and Lucas are trying to squeeze every last drop they can out of this series, which seems to be just plain ridiculous considering the first three films made them wealthy beyond the dreams of avarice. If these two film legends (in their own minds) are going to give us anything on film, give us something new. But enough of this trying to breath life into an old series stuff. It may work great on paper, but it loses something when it is transfered to film, and Spielberg and Lucas should know better.

pilamaye on May 26, 2008 at 9:25 AM

We had a crew of kids to entertain when we saw the movie this weekend, including teenagers, and everyone enjoyed the movie. It is just plain fun (with the added bonus of the Commies actually being the bad guys). Of course, no one could survive a nuclear blast by hiding in a refrigerator – except Indy. That’s part of the fun. Anyone picky about over-the-top, unbelieveable stunts wouldn’t enjoy any of the “Die Hard” movies (especially the last one when Willis walks away from a collapsing concrete mix-master) or any of the “Pirate” movies.

I have to say, though, that throughout the movie I kept thinking, “Well, that will probably be on the ride.” We even had a discussion afterward about which part we would most like to see on the next Indiana ride attraction. Lots of fun stuff to work with.

inmypajamas on May 26, 2008 at 10:44 AM

Far… far worse.

Why?

Of course, no one could survive a nuclear blast by hiding in a refrigerator – except Indy. That’s part of the fun.

B-b-but it could never really happen! How can it be fun if it could never really happen? Apparently.

Jim Treacher on May 26, 2008 at 11:44 AM

Come on Jim. There’s semi-plausible (the raft scene qualifies as this) and there is the physically completely impossible (surviving a nuke in a lead-lined refrigerator with nary a scratch). Also, CRYSTAL SKULL makes the mistake of having Indy never get hurt, which is part of the character in the first three – he gets hurt, but keeps on going. Harrison Ford is one of the best actors ever at really selling getting injured during a fight. In CRYSTAL SKULL he is approaching Steven Seagal territory – “I’ve just been pummeled by a large Russian soldier? Really? Says who?” Stretching the laws of physics and ignoring them are two different things, and CRYSTAL SKULL does the latter. Often.

Mibrilane on May 26, 2008 at 3:20 PM

“Semi-plausible”? How do you figure that?

Jim Treacher on May 26, 2008 at 5:03 PM

More than anything else, what diminished my appreciation for Indy 4, The Quest for Cash, was the serious plot holes. For example: The crystal skeletons are highly magnetic, except when they aren’t. I aspire to write and frankly a failure of a story that large, that we spend valuable early exposition time on a prop that conveniently vanished from time to time is frustrating. Yes it is a popcorn movie. But so is Iron Man. And I got the enlightenment and a layered story in that one. Is it asking to much for both fun and enlightenment. Indy 4 could have been an oasis amidst less than stellar dreck (Zohan, the Love Guru, even Kung Fu Panda, whose story seems sadly lacking) but settles instead to be merely a mirage.

Ennuipundit on May 27, 2008 at 10:29 AM