PG-13, but it oddly might be the most okay one of the group. Sure, one character's eyes explode in tiny fireballs and there are multiple characters who are eaten alive by swarms of giant ants. There's language, there's violence, there's racism. But that racism is far less than the other movies in the series. Indy is old, so there's no time to get wildly offensive. Oh, I suppose that the movie implies that there was some premarital sex going on. But this is a pretty acceptable PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg
Yeah, Steven Spielberg doesn't think that Netflix films are real films. I don't care what he thinks, but it is weird that I'm reviewing a movie that is currently on Netflix right now. (Again, this is a travesty considering that I just got my Indiana Jones Blu-ray box set.) When this movie came out, I was taken aback. It needed to be great. It needed to be. And then it wasn't. Then I saw it again and I made my peace with the fact that it wasn't as bad as I thought it was the first time, but it was still pretty terrible. The problem with that opinion is that it let me ignore this movie for a really long time and that opinion festered into a hatred of this movie once again. So what is the correct opinion?
It was my second opinion. This movie isn't as terrible as everyone remembers it. But it is still a pretty bad movie. I know that I'm a sucker like everyone else out there. If a beloved trilogy ever decides to do a fourth entry after the trilogy has been closed up and wrapped up nicely, that fourth entry is usually a trash sandwich. If today, Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis decided to do Back to the Future IV, I should know to lower my expectations. But I can't. Despite the fact that Scream 4, Alien: Resurrection, and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull are all the weakest entry in the franchise, I still fall for this. Why is that? Part of it comes from the problems that my students are facing with the new Star Wars movies. These are not their movies anymore. These movies are made for everyone else beside them. It's what problem I had with the Star Wars prequels: those movies were not for me. I get it now in my old age. But I don't know who Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was made for, besides the fans. That's possibly a warning for all of us fans. Fans need to stop bullying people into making another thing in the thing we like list. This forces me to ask a question of myself? Do I want to live in a world where Crystal Skull doesn't exist? When I asked myself that rhetorical question, I said that I would prefer that it did exist. But really, I don't know. I like having the things I like. While I prefer the old series of Star Trek movies, I don't hate the Kelvinverse. At least I'm getting Star Trek in some form. But Crystal Skull is an example of a film that kind of mars a nearly perfect franchise. I know people hate on Temple of Doom, but that movie is insanely watchable. Instead, Crystal Skull is something to root for that keeps dropping the ball. I keep watching that movie and there are parts that are completely great. It reminds me of what Indiana Jones movies set out to do. But then there are moments that are just so cornball and awful that make me cringe just thinking of them.
The film is pretty great in the beginning. I know I'm not the first person to say this, but I really want to stress this. The movie is good until the nuke-the-fridge moment. People complain about CG prairie dogs. I actually kind of like them. I'm also a guy who doesn't hate Ewoks, so you can write me off pretty quickly. The movie is fun and it sets an amazing tone for this new Indy movie. It has the feel of the old movies, but also firmly roots itself in the culture of the new era. I really wanted to know what was the intention of some of the goofier elements of this film. I know that I should be cool with it, but I really don't love the alien stuff. It really seems...goofy? I don't know why Indiana Jones can't be goofy. Every other element of these movies is a little bit silly. Giving Indiana Jones aliens to deal with just drives me up the wall. I know. I'm a bad person that needs to move on with his life. But I watched the special features. I heard the justification. I even liked the justification. It's just that the delivery somehow seemed lacking. I know that the '50s were UFO crazy. If Indiana Jones was the product of the action adventure serials of the '20s, '30s, and '40s, it only makes sense that the late '50s would shift that narrative to the B-movie alien menace. Add to the fact that this is the same era that would see films like The Day the Earth Stood Still added to our cultural zeitgeist. But if you watch those old action adventure serials that Indy is based on, you would realize that Indiana Jones is the far superior product. Indiana Jones is a great series of movies. Some of those B-movie alien films are actually pretty good. So if Spielberg and Lucas made a bad series of films good, why can they not take some pretty decent material and turn it great? It don't know. Because of these moments, there are times where I'm really rooting for this movie to be great. Because it actually does have some pretty great moments throughout the film. I don't think it comes down to Harrison Ford being too old for the part. Yeah, there's times where I have to squint to see the Indiana Jones that I know and love, but he's mostly there. But the Russians. Man, every time the Russians show up, they just want to be the Nazis so hard. I'm cool with the Russians being the villains. I have enough Bond movies under my belt to be okay with that. It's just the Boris and Natasha version of the Russians that is so absurd. Cate Blanchett's Irina Spalko...is rough. I know. The Nazis got some pretty fast and loose personalities. But I can't even handle it. It seems like when they are on screen, the movie just loses something. And then, Indy uses a snake as a rope? And Mutt Williams swings with monkeys? And Mutt Williams exists? It's a lot to take in.
I kind of want to look at some of these moments that don't work. The character interactions aren't bad. Some of the tomb raiding stuff works. I want to like the motorcycle chase and I can't think of anything actively bad about it. But the weaker moments are just so weak. The problem I always had with the fridge stuff isn't the nuclear fallout. I oddly am okay with that. The movie established a rule. Lead prevents radiation sickness. Okay, it's a fast and loose rule, but it is on the same level as Limitless science. If you establish rules, I can kind of follow them. But Indy gets launched, like, a mile in the air. He comes down. He should be Indiana Jones puree. It's just the moment that kills it for me in a lot of action films. It's the moment when the protagonist becomes unkillable. The rest of the action doesn't work for me then. The Charlie's Angels movies constantly do that. Live Free or Die Hard does that. Now, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull also does it and I don't like it one bit. Then there's Mutt Williams. I get the temptation to pass the baton to another Indiana Jones SPOILER especially when his name is Henry Jones III. Mutt Williams is an attempt to make a different Indiana Jones using the same rules. Part of why I like Indy is that he's educated. He seems like a brute, but he's actually remarkably educated. He makes his intellect an important part of his utility belt. (Mixing metaphors...I get it.) Mutt has some of that knowledge coupled with street smarts. But in every watching of that movie, I keep tensing up at the idea that Actual Cannibal Shia Labeouf (Also referred to as "Shia The Beef") would be helming that franchise. He just seems so vapid. I know that Indiana Jones isn't a deep well. But throwing Indy a kid kind of seems lazy. Is there a necessity to have Indy and Marion broken up. Because the surprise of Mutt is supposed to be there, Indy can't know about him. I know that I'm supposed to lose my mind when Marion Ravenwood walks into the movie, but she really feels like a second class character in this film. She, somehow, is way less fleshed out than she was in Raiders of the Lost Ark. I don't know how the movie did it, but it took a character that I really liked and somehow neutered her. I want a real Marion movie and I don't feel like I really got it here. And the monkeys? Oy, the monkeys! There's fun and then there is silly. That crosses way over into silliness. It's just that there's more silliness and odd choices than good film. These aren't moments that are rough. The movie is almost split in half and that's no good.
But then again, do I still see Indiana Jones? I didn't hate the movie. It was a movie that I knew wasn't very good and I still found entertainment from that. I don't think I'm the first person to notice that Steven Spielberg has cut back on some of his tentpole blockbuster movies. I think there's a reason for that. After seeing Ready Player One, there's something in these movies that kind of seems cold. Those original blockbuster films seem loved and cared for. These more recent entries, in the advent of digital playscapes, somehow seem uncared for. It is almost like Spielberg is trying to capture the majesty of his youth and somehow failing. But it is still an Indiana Jones movie. It doesn't quite succeed at some of its quests, but it is still worthy to see the attempt. I can't help but try to make the comparison to my favorite entry in the franchise, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Indy replacing Sean Connery's character doesn't quite work as well. Henry Jones, Sr. was a really great character to understand. We saw a flashback of what made Dad tick and that pays off when they are adults. We only get a quick introduction to that character in Last Crusade, but it is effective. Mutt's identity is kept a secret for a large percentage of Crystal Skull. We are mostly told that Indy would be a good father, but we don't see him coming to terms with that. In fact, he seems to be a know-it-all about fatherhood when it does show up. (I started this paragraph talking about why Crystal Skull works and now look at me!) It just has these moments that are so promising, and then it keeps making a lot of really hardcore mistakes that are unforgivable. The snake? I'm sorry, but I have to come back to it. It doesn't even look good in the film. That area looks like a set. There's no real danger there. It is the most boring sequence in the movie. It isn't even funny. There's just a lot of these moments that I have to just say "It's fine."
And sometimes, "It's fine" is the worst thing I can say about a classic franchise.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.