Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, 2008, 122 mins, 4K UHD
It seems to me, that if one combined the best elements from each of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, you’d possibly have a really great movie and one equal to Raiders of the Lost Ark. It’s not that any of them are terrible films- its just that they all have flaws and are pale shadows of the original, albeit that’s an inevitability of mostly all sequels ever made. Just goes to show how good the original was, when even the same creative team can’t equal or surpass it, for three times of trying.
But I’ll stick my neck out here and admit I really do like Crystal Skull; universally derided as it has been since its release in 2008, I’d contend its nowhere near as bad as the internet noise would have it: and indeed, I do think its a better film than Last Crusade and that it gives Temple of Doom a run for its money at times. I rather think it may even become revaluated by many when the next Indiana Jones film comes out in 2023 and shows us what Disney can do to another Lucasfilm franchise; or maybe not. Sometimes with these franchises over the passage of so much time, rose-tinted glasses and the heady, intoxicating rush of nostalgia rather blurs things.
The worst thing about Crystal Skull is Shia LaBeouf as Mutt Williams. Its a terrible piece of casting; he’s possibly not a bad actor but he is a bad action-adventure actor, something especially clear when sharing scenes with the guy who is possibly the very best action-adventure actor we have ever seen. Its almost embarrassing watching the scenes they share: Harrison Ford is full of charm and screen presence and charisma, and LaBeouf is there like a soggy piece of cardboard. Maybe in something else, with any other actor, LaBeouf would have better chance to shine and hold his own (to be fair he wasn’t terrible in the Transformers films), but here he’s a cinematic car crash, and he just can’t provide what Spielberg and Lucas are after. Essentially, this is what damages the film, it can’t ever really recover from the nightmare miscasting and it makes the rest look worse than it really is.
Crystal Skull may be no Raiders, but its no disaster. I like the prologue at Area 51; I don’t even mind the ‘Indy escapes a nuclear bomb in a fridge’ because its hardly any more ridiculous than falling out of a plane in an inflatable dinghy. Some viewers seem to take the Indiana Jones films too seriously; they are inherently daft, escapist entertainment. I don’t really feel comfortable excusing it like that. Its a bit reminiscent of Lucas’ old apology for the Star Wars films’ stilted dialogue “they’re supposed to sound that way” or some such nonsense, as if remarking “but they are supposed to talk like crap”. But that said, I don’t think we’re supposed to over analyse or scrutinise events the way some seem to, we’re just supposed to chuckle and go with it. I also like the oft-derided finale, which has been criticised for the sin of Indy being a passive observer when they forget that’s all he was in the finale of Raiders of the Lost Ark– at least this time he has his eyes open.
Was it a cynical creative decision bringing Marion back and Indy having a long-lost son? The father-son dynamic worked so well in Last Crusade they must have thought that mirroring it, with Ford now playing the Sean Connery role and LaBeouf the Harrison Ford role would have been a sure-fire winner. But the magic of that dynamic in Last Crusade was the actors, the chemistry; and like lightning, its impossible to capture it in a bottle twice (certainly not with LaBeouf). And why would one try? It worked for one film, there’s no real creative plus to repeating oneself again unless it really was towards the idea of a passing of the torch to a new generation, a new Jones. My god: LaBeouf going on to lead in a new Indiana Jones Junior adventure, its the stuff to raise a shudder in everyone. Maybe in some other alternate universe an alternate me is struggling to watch Indiana Jones Junior and the Lost Gods of Chernobyl, with LaBeouf unearthing an alien spaceship buried deep underneath the ruins of the nuclear reactor. Any worse than what we’ll be getting in the yet-to-be-titled Indiana Jones 5 coming in 2023? Well, we’ll let time decide.