Review: 'Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull'

Is this the proof that even-numbered Indy films suck?

Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) is kidnapped by a militant Russian scientist named Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett) to steal a classified artifact from (where else?) a secret government warehouse filled with such things. After a typically daring escape, Indy’s world is turned upside down by his accidental “red scare” association with the Soviets, but a greaser named Mutt (Shia LaBeouf) puts him back on track with tales of a kidnapped colleague, a crystal skull, and an old acquaintance named “Marion” (Karen Allen, no secret there). Shortly thereafter, the heroes all realize that they are fictional characters, can pretty much do whatever they want, and watch the rest of the effects-heavy ending along with the audience before living happily ever after.

The legacy of Indiana Jones isn’t difficult to explain. It’s the story of a manly man who never changes, never loses, and never loses his hat. The secret the audience holds is that Indy is never really in danger because he’s a hero, but Indy doesn’t know that, so we suffer along with his every near miss wince, daring escape gasp, and sudden renewed hope for life. The problem with The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is that the author (yes, I’m talking to you, Mr. Lucas) not only inexplicably gives his characters the ability to succeed in doing anything remotely plausible that they attempt but criminally allows the characters to become keenly aware of this.

In the first place, the villain is devoid of mystery. Cate Blanchett’s Spalko appears, takes charge, but doesn’t take orders. Her henchmen are barely Star Trek “red shirts,” written to die in horrible ways while the heroes move on. Second, the beginning of the film plays directly into the plot. No independent adventure here showing us that Indy’s still got it; all this is part of the complete story. Finally, only once does Indy actually look likes he’s in danger, but it’s too early in the film and that’s a bad thing.

The credits identify one “George Lucas” as the writer here, so that’s where I’ll place the blame. The entire principle cast, from Harrison Ford to Cate Blanchett to Shia LaBeouf to Karen Allen, all are playing their parts to the hilt. But just before the start of the third act and just as the characters are really starting to feel like part of an Indy film, each character in turn suddenly realizes that there’s nothing they can’t do. Mutt figures it out first, then John Hurt’s character (hey look… the crystal skull is a get-out-of-danger-free card!) It dawns on Marion a few moments later for her to save the day, followed by Indy himself who even has the brass to count off the certain dooms they’re surviving. The heroes then simply walk to the last set location, watch the bad guys punished, and wait out the special effects until the credits roll (hey, it worked in Raiders, didn’t it?)

Sadly, upon returning to their happy ending, there’s no exposition or explanation for it. You left the country on the suspected Communist list, then you return with honors and complete forgiveness (I guess the top government brass saw the movie’s ending, too). Maybe we all put too much pressure on Mr. Lucas and Steven Spielberg to deliver the Indiana Jones of yesteryear, or maybe too much emphasis was placed on maneuvering Shia LaBeouf into taking over for Harrison Ford (which he could do just fine). The people with the creativity, connections, and the cash could have made anything on screen happen, but what we got instead looks like someone ripped off Chris Carter. Indy and his fans everywhere deserved better than this.

(one and a half skull recommendation out of four)
1.5 out of 4 skulls


About Grim D. Reaper

Your death angel critic for film and Halloween horror all-year 'round. Chitter - DeathBook - InstaGrim
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34 Responses to Review: 'Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull'

  1. Zel says:

    Well said. I think the majority of positive reviews are fearful that Lucas and Spieldburg are superheroes themselves. The plot was like that of a forgotten, Season 8 episode of The X Files

  2. Actually, it could be argued that the “ending” was lifted from the first “X-files” movie… only Chris Carter did it better (ouch, did I just really type that?)

  3. Robert says:

    I saw the new indy last night and personally i saw the end coming to be honest, debatable if was good or not but i think personally it no way ruined the film as it fitted the era and theme perfectly and was a welcome edition to the franchise. The only thing that made me bit sad was less re-development between indy and marion because the wedding was more of a shock to me than the ufo. and less jokes with the animals!!! and the nuclear blast scene was ruined with indy hiding in a fridge, it should of been him getting away in a car really, even if that was unrealstic least it woulda been far cooler

  4. Richard says:

    Stop talking bullcrap!
    This movie is great!
    Dastardly Red Russians infiltrating an US facility, a cold hearted power crazy dominatrix, a warehouse full of government secrets, an a-bomb blast, saucermen from outerspace, the origin of the gods and human civilisations, natives with blowpipes and arrows, snakes, ants, monkeys, a motorcycle hero, swordfights, jungle chases, quicksand, a grizzled old fart who can still crack a whip, a maid Marion in distress and a cheesy happy ending!
    Fun, fun and FUN!!!

  5. Dick Peter Johnson says:

    Even after all these years, I’d still really love to screw Karen Allen’s stinky, smelly tushy!!!

  6. Richard, all those things are fine… if this was a documentary on the History Channel. When our favorite character has nothing more to do than deliver the McGuffin to the location of the big climax scene (actually, he didn’t get to do that either), he was pretty much on autopilot… kinda like the writer. “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” ripped off the best parts of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and undermined fond memories of the latter while doing it.

  7. Nearly Normal says:

    This review hit the mark exactly. After waiting anxiously for 19 years and going to see the midnight showing, I left cursing Koepp, Lucas, Spielberg, and Ford for allowing this to happen. There was simply no concern for the well-being of the characters because they simply didn’t care what danger, no matter how implausible, they were confronting. It felt recycled, at times like a Mummy sequel in Indy’s clothing, over-bloated with CGI, sappy dialogue that sometimes made me feel I was watching Adam West making 60s Batmanesque leaps of logic and non-sequiturs, and completely forgettable. In fact, I can’t wait to forget this movie and pretend like it never happened. As a lifelong, obsessed Indy fan, I DID DESERVE BETTER. Much better than this uninspiring, unoriginal, going-through-the-motions tripe.

  8. Should I just go ahead and assume “Banned from the Ranch” status? 😉

  9. thatkidrich says:

    I was a little disappointed in the film. I am convinced that Lucas has totally lost it. He ruined Star Wars, now he is going after Indy. I agree that starting the movie with the main plot is a big mistake. Indy films, like 007 films follow a particular formula. This one did not, and it suffered for it. Acting wise… I think Ford kind of mailed it in in the fist act, but got back to Indy form in the second and third. Shia was OK, but his character had no real development. The main plot was kind of stupid, it sort of followed the Fate of Atlantis video game form the early 90’s.

    I was excited to see Indy, but I hope if they make a 5th one, the don’t let Lucas anywhere near the set.

  10. francois says:

    This movie just plain sucks. I can already hear the choir of Lucas fanatics defending this piece of garbage just like they did with the last three Star Wars movies. Grow up people.

  11. Jasper says:

    …The content of the movie doesn’t even deserve to be talked about. Waste of breath. Waste of time. Waste of money. The sooner I forget this tragedy the better. I’m done. I need to throw up. I wish my mind could throw up what I just saw. Ugggghhhhhhhh!!!!!

  12. Tim Harris says:

    I agree with all of the comments above. This movie was an absolute disaster. This is all I need to keep on writing my graphic novel. Who in the world is left to make good movies these days ?

  13. Cm says:

    I honestly don’t see how people could “hate” this movie. Many people are just too clingy to “calssic” status to realize this movie was actually pretty good.
    Indiana Jones has always been about the divine and the farfetched.
    The ending was along the line of the other films (openinign the ark and the bad guys dying, picking the wrong grail and dying). The whole aliens thing was a good idea. Seriosuly, theyve done the judeo-christian bit twice alreay, it was time to move on to something more original.
    I liked the movie, but of course there are some reasons to dislike it (since it wasnt perfect), but to disregard it completely? I think a fan of the series (im not a hardcore fan) couldnt do such a thing for any reason other than “ruining classic status”. Which I don’t beleive this film does, and besides thats a silly reason to hate a movie anyway.

    All the films have their own qualities which are likeable (some more than others). This one entertains in a creative fashion without stepping too far from originals. That is why id give it a 3/4. ANd I’d have to say its the 2nd best of the series.

  14. Andy says:

    I’ve been obsessing over this film for the last day and a half. Not because I liked it, the exact opposite actually. I felt cheated, disappointment and rage that my favorite film character dwindled from bada$$ to Batman (The Schumacher variety). It’s comforting to read other people sharing my point of view.
    On other threads, it is always brought up that George Lucas said something along the lines that this isn’t going to live up to the hype of the other Indy films. Because George went on record to say “Don’t get your hopes up”, that gives him a free pass to make a shitty movie? This is his baby, for crying-out-loud. It’s up to him, Steven, and Harrison to make a film that does live up to the hype. Don’t be satisfied with mediocrity. Put that movie against any of the other Indy movies and tell me it doesn’t deserve to be either forgotten, or a distant fourth.
    Oh yeah. It’s an Indiana Jones film. I want stunts and explosions, not CG and blue screen.

  15. Someone else’s review I read mentioned the “theatrical set” appearance to the film. I swear you could actually see the spotlights sticking through the holes in the set in the burial chamber where the skull is found. Back, top left corner… you can actually see the white tubing! It was almost as if the movie were (and I’m feeling sick that I may be exactly right) written around the future creation of a theme park ride for Universal. You know, to replace that crappy “Jaws” ride.

  16. Alberto says:

    Bad people!!, did not you see, the Tarzan scene???, falling from a ultra big cascade not once but three times???, the flying Kenmore???
    you guys ask too much!!, that is pure magic, bye!!. Whaaaaaaa!! cleaning my tears.

  17. Keel says:

    Man, you guys are all a bunch of self-important cynical dipshits. This movie was exactly what is should have been. Campy, funny, adventurous, and fun.
    Let me get this right: If it sticks to its roots then it’s “recycling”, and if it tries something new it’s “betrayal”.
    Get your pessimistic heads out of your asses and stop pretending Lucas murdered your mother with this movie.
    The whole theater seemed to be digging it, and so did I.
    Isn’t it fucking boring to hate everything? I mean, I understand this site is chock full ‘o SCARY RED SKULLS and you all have to act accordingly hardcore, but give me a break.
    If you wanted ‘Raiders’ then go fucking RENT it.

  18. Keel, we’re sorry our opinion differs from yours. How can we hate everything when gave “Speed Racer” a positive review? And in the Thursday-night theater we were in, everyone went in very excited and somehow came out subdued, like waiting for a lottery number to be called out and finding out nobody had the right number.

  19. Hofficles says:

    this review is 100% accurate. Maybe we all went in expecting to much.

  20. Andrew says:

    I completely agree this whole movie felt like the set up for a theme park ride. And Is it just me or did that “Crystal Skull” look like a crap plastic children’s toy? I have no problem with Indy up against the forces of darkness and supernatural themes but when you introduce parallel universes and Aliens that’s just stupid. This felt (and I swear I feel sink in saying this) like a cheap knock off of Tomb Raider… shouldn’t it be the other way around?

  21. JV says:

    Great review – exactly how I felt about the movie.

  22. blarg says:

    sooooooooooo bad. just don’t see it, you’re better off remembering the series being decent and not a obscene cashcow farce.

  23. Sasha says:

    I thought the skull looked rather cheap – acrylic rather than crystal-like. It was tossed around entirely too easily to be believable.

    I kept thinking through-out it how “star gate”-ish the movie was. Now – to me that’s not that bad of a thing, I love/adore Star Gate but this was supposed to be Indy!

    Oh well….it was enjoyable and Indy is as sexy as ever – even if he’s pushing 70. Also – I thought Marion looked better in this movie than in the first one. She’s wearing her years well.

  24. it doesnt matter says:

    “Man, you guys are all a bunch of self-important cynical dipshits.

    I mean, I understand this site is chock full ?€?o SCARY RED SKULLS and you all have to act accordingly hardcore, but give me a break.
    If you wanted ?€?Raiders?€™ then go fucking RENT it.”

    actually dickhead i bought it the day after i watched IV, as part of the original trilogy, before IV gets packaged with the other three as part of the up and coming limited final special deluxe edition (with Shia LaBeouf revoicing all of Harrison’s lines in the first three movies so they seem a more consistent father and son combination. God i shudder to think)

  25. For something that was supposed to be as big as it was made from crystal, you’re right, Sasha… it didn’t seem to have any real weight. An adult human skull (which is porous bone) is about 2.25 lbs, while the slightly smaller pure-crystal Mitchell-Hedges skull weighs in at just under 12 lbs, almost five times more than a real skull (or about the weight of a light bowling ball). By contrast, the skull in “Indy 4″ looks to be at least three times longer, or a guestimated weight of about 35 lbs (heavier than a 16″ x 8″ x 8” cement cinder block), so imagine tossing something that heavy around.

  26. kazam says:

    I give this film 3 out of 5 stars. Three severe issues keep it from reaching the greatness it could have achieved. First, it is out of the genre of the other Indy films – this one is sci-fi not action/adventure which is why at the end, I felt like I had seen a different film than I expected. Second, the villains where stupid and uninteresting. They never reached their potential so when they died, it was just sort of inevitable rather than a pent of relief. Half the time, it seemed like Indy and Irena were working together to solve the mysteries. I think Blanchet was not good in this role – poorly played and half they time she just ignored her accent. The quest for knowledge is just a silly goal for an arch-villain. Third, why such little explanation of what the artifact is they were going for? It took too long to explain the plot. I loved that in Raiders, we were told of the mysterious hocus pocus about 15 minutes in. I think here, an hour into the film I still didn’t know what they were trying to do so the story just meandered about.

  27. mac says:

    Unfortunately… that is a good review…
    Rest in peace Indy…
    You are a HERO anyway

  28. dragnar says:

    Wow, I am glad that I read all these reviews. I have very fond memories of Indy, and it disappoints me that Lucas decided to destroy this series as well. I guess this is one more over-hyped summer movie I won’t see.

    And for all those people saying old = recycled and new = trash, I would have to disagree. The point is to keep what people loved from the original, and create something new and differentiated enough to recall the original, yet be new and fun on its own. That’s the mark of a good writer/director. Give people what they loved, and not 2 hours of CGI crap. I stopped watching Lucas movies after sitting through an hour of Jar Jar Binks.

  29. Nabi says:

    I could have made a better movie myself–easily, no sweat. Maybe a lot of us could have, I dunno; too bad those twits have control over so much of the industry. (At least they could have run it by one of us, in the development stages, for editing. I’d have consigned most of it to the garbage and pulled out something more palatably fresh.) The crystal skull has no brains. Lucas should have been a doctor: I’m cured.

  30. unclebob says:

    Lucas must be the worst writer director in history, if you look at the best star wars and indy movies they were all directed by people other than lucas and scripted by people other than lucas, empire was the pinacle of the star wars movies for me coz it had a director who knew how to direct and make a dramatic movie and how to dircet actors, lucas simply cannot write scripts or direct movies, his ego is so huge that he simply will not even entertain the idea that someone can develop his ideas into movie scripts better than him clear evidence of this is his documented(?) refusal to let speilberg direct a star wars movie and thats a shame, the direction of the last three star wars was terrible, the acting wooden the dialogue appalling, i physically cringed when the darth vader takes his first steps on his new legs with a ‘nooooooo” how awful, and lucas’s done it again with indy 4. Spielberg on the other hand is a genius as his track record proves, as a so called friend of Lucas’s maybe he should have a heart to heart with lucas and bring him back to reality?Lucas needs to let go of the thing he loves if it is to flourish coz he’s just strangling his own babies!

  31. Lynn Angela Pisco says:

    I just wanted to say that if you haven’t yet seen the first three movies of Indiana Jones trilogy, be prepared to watch the forth installment cause it is one of the best summer block buster movie of all time out a doubt . We have seen two of the most dynamic duo couple along with a few new comers to join together with Karen Allen and Harrison Ford as being their son that Indy has never seen for quite a while now . Still Marion has her opportunity to take charge of things as well . I think in a way they seem to be one of the most amazing icons of actors that we haven’t seen for the longest time and it’s great to see all of them back in this particular movie including both Steven and George Lucas also .

  32. Whoever is watering the plant, please let it die.

  33. Ross says:

    You know, I have seen this movie several times already, and I have to say, I totally disagree with the negative people here. Everyone has the right to their opinion, but I’ll tell you, if you think the people who even like the movie are simply “afraid to stand up to Lucas or Spielberg” that is completely wrong. Many people liked the movie, in which a lot don’t feel the need to go on line and rip on it. I personally am sick of people saying such negative stuff about Crystal Skull. In truth, it’s all about nit-picking. You could pick out aspects from the other three movies that would appear unrealistic and goofy just like the new one. As if tearing out someone’s still beating heart and for them to be still alive isn’t unrealistic. Sorry, but Temple of Doom was the worst of the series, not that it’s a bad film, but the first, second, and the fourth are much better. People have simply changed too much in 19 years to appreciate this new film completely. Raiders is still the best, but I consider Crystal Skull my personal favorite. People just aren’t watching it with an open enough mind. This is just my opinion, but I’ve seen the movie enough to stand firm and say it was an excellent adventure flick.

  34. Ross, it’s true that a number of people enjoyed the movie as it was. In fact, there’s a whole bunch of movies that kind of “happen” that are perfectly fine. I think that the biggest complaint here is that it felt as though Indy didn’t really matter, that all this would have happened whether he was involved or not. Additionally, if you start thinking about the story in question, things don’t make a lot of sense (Are the skulls evil? Should he return it at all? Will they come back?) In every other Indy film, Indy “saved the day” by making important choices (although it can be argues that all he really did in Raiders is save Marion, which is kinda all he managed to do here as well). For die-hard fans of the series, they wanted more Indy doing believable and important stuff and all they got was exposition and standing around watching special effects. Did Indy actually do anything WE couldn’t have done?

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