June 6th, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Based on reviews of the fourth "Indiana Jones" movie, we went to see it Wednesday the 4th in much the same spirit that we would go to ride a roller coaster, and in that spirit we enjoyed it and were not disappointed. In a number of ways, however, the film IS profoundly disappointing. The years of wrangling over the plot ended up with a least-common denominator solution that could have been much cleverer and better done with a little more effort. In particular, the film was marred by its opening sequence, which contained some bits of absolutely staggering stupidity. Some of this was later explained away by plot hand-waving, and some redeemed by the actual clever bits along the way, but it started off the movie with an unnecessary sour taste that took time to overcome. A lot of the other stunts are INTENDED to make you say, "Oh, come ON!" but can be justified based on the combined application of toon physics and hero's luck that rules the "Indiana Jones" universe.

Harrison Ford plays Jones as understandably older and somewhat world-weary, having supposedly gone through World War II as an OSS agent before resuming his teaching career at the University of Chicago. In this movie, Jones is pretty uniformly gruff, grim, and put-upon, with almost no flashes of the famous Indy/Han Solo grin. Instead, the job of having a cocky "attitude" devolves upon "Mutt" (Shia Le Boeuf) who holds up the side very well as an intelligent but defiantly uneducated "greaser". "Mutt" falls very naturally into a position of being more Indy's on-the-job apprentice instead of comic sidekick. Karen Allen (Marion Ravenswood) is one of the best things in the movie. She is still very attractive, and her infectious grin as she is pulling off a stunt that amazes "the boys" is a delight to see. Her character pulls no punches and gives no ground to the men. Neither does Cate Blanchett as the lead villain, Stalinist agent Irina Spalko, who is both a mastermind and formidable fighter. (Sorry, there is no "catfight" between the two female stars--.) Blanchett is having obvious fun being the baddie. If her portrayal savors more of "Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS" than "Rosa Klebb," (complete with a uniform that is Werhmacht gray instead of the proper Soviet brown her goons wear), that is yet another fault of the screenwriters and not the actress.
The ever-reliable John Hurt steals the occasional scene as the mad Professor Oxley. Ray Winstone, as Indy's wartime comrade in arms, does not quite succeed in keeping you guessing about his motivations.

Great stunts, excellent effects, beautiful sets--there is a lot to enjoy, and you will enjoy it more the sooner you take your critical facility out of gear. Lots of violence, though minimal gore. In the "Jones" tradition, there are icky moments with both snakes (natch) and bugs, so if either creep you out, be warned.

Detailed and spoiler-rich dissection follows behind the cut--.

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