Martin Lieberman and the Indiana Jones Review

25 May

It starts with the hat. That’s the first thing we see when Indiana Jones is re-introduced to us after a 19-year absence from the big screen. And then the man, in shadow, picks up his iconic headgear, puts it on, and we see his familiar profile. It’s fitting that this is how we first see the character, because so much of what is beloved about the Indiana Jones series of films is the title character himself, not so much the plots or the sought-after artifact, and his presence, his shadow, lords over the whole proceeding. And while Indy’s looking a bit older now, I’m happy to say he hasn’t lost his charm. Welcome back.

But after 19 long years, did we really need another Indiana Jones movie? If the best that Steven Spielberg and co. can come up with is Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, then I sort of wish they’d stopped with the very enjoyable Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, which ended the original trilogy of films on a high note. This reunion film (which includes Karen Allen’s Marion Ravenwood) feels like a half-cooked attempt to recapture past glories, and as we’ve seen, that doesn’t always work out so well.

But here’s the thing: for the first quarter of Crystal Skull, it’s like watching some old masters demonstrate how you make a classic big screen film. There’s some gorgeous cinematography (by Janusz Kamiński), some light action over the opening credits, and an effective chase sequence that restores our faith in Harrison Ford’s ability to run, swing, and kick some ass. Later on, there are some other scenes and moments that are a lot of fun too. A car chase on the edge of a cliff and a good gag involving a snake are just two.

These aspects of the film help to cover over the fact that really, this is a pretty pointless exercise in nostalgia. Nothing that happens adds anything of real value to the Indiana Jones mythology (I said anything of real value; there are some significant character developments that I won’t spoil here, but they’re sorta lame and definitely predictable), and in the end, the film feels sort of generic, plot-wise. Ford may be able to handle some of the stunt work, but he’s just not the action star he once was. As a result, Indy, despite his charm, is not the same character either. And Shia LaBeouf, in his Brando-lite biker dude get-up, feels out of place; the film’s set in the 1950s, but his modern sensibility is better suited for a film set in the present day.

Is Crystal Skull a bad movie? Definitely not. I just wish it was more worth the wait than it is. I’m giving the film a B.

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