Cinema review: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

May 28 2008 at 10:18 pm (Cinema reviews)

Every summer a film comes out that divides audiences. Increasingly in recent years, blockbusters have been so-so affairs that all too often descend into utter tripe. The disappointment usually comes from the crushing weight of expectation. You know what you want, and if it doesn’t come close, it’s an utter disaster.

Thankfully, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is not an utter disaster. True, it’s not as good as the original trilogy, but it’s mostly entertaining.

So it’s 1957 and the Russians (the new baddies of choice taking over from good old Indy favourites the Nazis) are after a mysterious crystal skull which is supposed to have some kind of power. Indiana Jones is now an older, wiser college professor and is prompted by a young biker (Shia LeBoeuf) to go and find an old friend who has disappeared. So far, so Indy.

We know what we’re going to get, so why does it all feel so empty? The action scenes are good especially a fun car/motorcycle chase around the streets and halls of Princeton University and an exciting car chase in the Amazon. But when it’s not dazzling, it’s actually pretty dull. Indy and his new sidekick spend a lot of time wandering around spooky temples, but where are the booby traps? Where is the danger? It all feels a bit, well, safe.

Safe and more than a little silly. Indiana Jones films have always been tongue-in-cheek affairs but this takes things one step further. Quite apart from some ill-advised CGI, especially during the lacklustre finale, there are some scenes that will have you groaning in disbelief. Watch out for one scene involving quicksand and a snake.

Hampered by a botched ending and a MacGuffin so poorly explained as to make the plot seem incomprehensible, we’re left hoping that the cast will fill this out. It seems, though, that most of them are playing this for laughs. Cate Blanchett is not a particularly threatening villain thanks to a comedy Russian accent. Ray Winstone and John Hurt seem to be there just to make up the numbers. So it’s down to Karen Allen (as great as ever) as Indy’s long lost lover Marion Ravenwood, and Shia LeBeouf to rescue the film.

But of course this is Ford’s show. He looks good for his age and can still cut it as the man in the hat. Some say he’s lost it, but the truth is he’s a man in his sixties playing a man in his sixties. With 19 years since The Last Crusade both on and off screen, he can get away with being a bit creaky.

Many fans will probably deal with this film in much the same way as Star Wars fans dealt with the prequels: they’ll simply pretend it doesn’t exist. That’s not a bad idea; the original trilogy made a nice neat little self-contained bubble that fit perfectly in the space of a decade. This is less a comeback than an afterthought. It’s not that the original trilogy was so good, but that it was so familiar that any addition, no matter how good, was always going to be a letdown.

But to give it a (ahem) fair crack of the whip, it’s a solid piece of entertainment that harks back to the good old days. As soon as that music kicks in you’ll be as giddy as a schoolboy.

Rating: 3/5

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