**1/2 (Two and a Half Stars)
“How much of human life is lost in wait,” muses a character towards the end of the highly anticipated, twenty years in the making Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
Although I lack the wisdom to answer the philosophical question, after watching the premiere of the sequel, however, I can say much of the original wit and frenetic energy of the series is lost in a muddled and confused screenplay.
Before you hurl violent and colorful language in my direction, please note this humble reviewer can confidently recommend the movie as an overall enjoyable and rather entertaining, if disappointing, successor to one of the most beloved adventure series in modern cinema.
A movie like Indiana Jones cannot be judged by any ordinary critical standard precisely due to its immensely influential and universally beloved cultural status as an apex of escapsist entertainment. Who doesn’t recognize Harrison Ford in that famous fedora cracking his whip while outrunning nefarious Nazis? Who can’t hum John Williams’ catchy theme? Who hasn’t seen at least one of the three Indy movies? Precisely due to the twenty year anticipation and the elevated benchmark of Raiders of the Lost Arc, a new Indiana Jones movie has to be more than a simple National Treasure or Mummy retread.
George Lucas, wisely learning from his Stars Wars prequels, urged all to “lower their expectations” and to remember that Indy Jones is “just a movie.” Audiences would be prudent to heed his wisdom.
Rest assured, however, that the main attraction, Harrison Ford, fits as comfortably in the title role as he did nearly 20 years ago. Ford’s charisma, which audiences haven’t seen in nearly ten years due to his disastrous film choices, dominates the movie and makes you forgive the laborious and disjointed screenplay by David Koepp. From the moment he appears on screen (within the first 3 minutes), the filmmakers remind you even though the man has aged, he still retains his wry athleticism and surly, wise-ass barbs.
The plot involves some ridiculous mumbo jumbo about returning a rare and powerful “crystal skull,” which may or may not have alien origins, to its “rightful” place comfortably hidden in an exotic and perilous Peru jungle. Too bad that the script feels it necessary to spend painfully long stretches of screen time on dull and convoluted narrative exposition that simply forces characters to explain ridiculous plot mechanics that the audience neither understands nor cares about. Furthermore, Koepp’s screenplays unsuccessfully attempts to stitch together different genres, tones and moods, but is unable to unite them elegantly under a unified theme or coherent narrative. Each Indiana Jones movie has some sort of a central dramatic arc: the first one was anchored by the Indiana Jones-Marion Riverwood relationship in thwarting “evil,” the second had Indy selflessly liberating innocent slave children from a tyrannical Kali-cult, and the third stressed reconciliation between father and son.
The new one appears to stress a “return” to one’s true passions and roots, a full circle allowing Indy to learn from his past mistakes (certain unrequited “romantic” choices and family legacies) and embrace that reckless curiousity and daredevil adventurism of his youth. Unfortunately, these themes take far too long to emerge in a truly invigorating and exciting fashion. Indy Jones movies are beloved precisely because they move; they are relentless in their energy, irregardless of the inanity of the logic, plot or dialogue. You forgive the garish cariacatures and violence of Temple of Doom mainly because you’re fascinated by the sheer audacity and lunacy of the proceedings. You forgive the tongue in cheek “jokey” tone of The Last Crusade because of the wonderful chemistry and sense of fun developed by Sean Connery and Harrison Ford. Boredom and stasis are absolutely unforgivable in any Indy Jones picture.
About an hour into the movie I actually wrote down “boring” during another dull, exposition patch where nothing happens, and what does happen lacks any sense of urgency, danger or excitement: it reminded me of scenes from the perfunctory Da Vinci Code.
The first hour and twenty minutes of the movie are hodgebodge and, dare I say, intermittently dull. Shia Lebouf’s introduction as Mutt at least introduces a sparkle of energy in the entire proceedings. His youth and arrogance is a foil for the elder Ford to get in some great cantankerous rants and quips. Thankfully, the introduction of another character (you should have guessed it by the ads) finally establishes the tone and relationships in the movie as a sort of “Indy Jones Family Adventure.” From that point onward, the last 40 minutes are an injection of old school Spielbergian cinematics highlighted by an excellent, but at times too hokey and CGI dependent, jeep chase sequence. We also meet voracious, killer red ants, a giant snake, fencing heroes atop of CGI jeeps, an obligatory Indy fist fight sequence, and a rather silly and protracted ending which reveals the origins of the mysterious Crystal Skull.
If it seems I’m too harsh on the movie it’s because I love my Indiana Jones movies. I’ve seen all of them nearly a dozen times. I have fond memories of being horrified and fascinated by monkey brains when I was 4, and I recall dragging my uncle to the Last Crusade when I was 9. To this day, Raiders remains one of the best and perfectly executed examples of the action adventure genre with all principles hitting key notes. I just wish the screenplay would’ve been given another two or three edits to streamline the unnecessarily complicated and dull plot, amp up the tension, and create a more unified vision and theme.
As it stands, this is the weakest entry of the series. That being said, it’s a thrill to see Ford coming back to his signature character. Despite the film’s glaring problems, you can’t help but feel giddy knowing you’ve revisted one of cinema’s most beloved icons.
TWO AND A HALF STARS. [Enjoyable but disappointing]