Crystal Numbskull and the Kingdom of the Buttoned Shirt.
In the movie posters, his shirt isn’t unbuttoned as low as it used to be. Good call. Man-essence might have been replaced by man-boob.
Indiana Jones … is back? Well… 65 year-old Harrison Ford (Henry “Indiana” Jones Jr.) and 62 year-old Steven (I’ve-got-a-golden-ticket) Spielberg and 64 year-old George (Franchise Botcher) Lucas grasp wildly at the golden goose that made them action superstars when they were not worried about social security, in this hackneyed film about that grave-robbing professor of archaeology and the Russians who love to hate him.
Written by mutton-fist Lucas, directed by No-Risk Spielberg, and starring Ford with his shirt buttoned, INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL starts off promising, then gets stupider by the stunt.
Nevada 1957. Movie throws Indy in our faces immediately, kidnapped by those Damn Russkies and forced to find some kind of sarcophagus of power for a Russian dominatrix (Cate Blanchett, with a bad Ukraine accent). All pleasantly nostalgic, especially when the Ark of the Covenant makes a cameo. But something is awry immediately: Spielberg and his longtime D.P. (Janusz Kaminski) just don’t trust sunlight any more – the “outdoor” scenes reek of studio fakery, everyone in the open looking like a glazed donut.
We dive into the usual gamut of pulp implausibility (how many rounds can a trained soldier fire at Indy point blank without hitting him?; how many falls can a 65 year-old sustain without seeking medical advice?; how many waterfalls can our heroes go over and stay alive before we have to slap someone for laughing?; how many rocketsleds, complete with Roger Ebert’s Red Digital Readout, are conveniently fueled and operational for a deus ex machina escape from Damn Russkies?)…
Ray Winstone is Indy’s plump sidekick this time ‘round, John Hurt mumbles a lot (tragically, both Winstone and Hurt never get the chance to actually act under all the action and stunts and effects), and Shia LeBeouf does his Brando Wild One to capture the youth market that Indy once cornered simply by unbuttoning his shirt.
Turns out Shia is not a mini-Marlon after all – he’s a mini-Indy (a “Mindy”?); a long-lost bastard son spawned from Karen Allen, who reprises her role as love interest (although the interest from Indy’s public would likely be more nostalgic than romantic; I mean, euuww! We don’t particularly want to see our grandparents playing patticake).
Both Denholm Elliott (R.I.P. 1992) and Sean Connery are absent. That doesn’t stop Indy quoting Connery from THE UNTOUCHABLES (1987) “…brought a knife to a gun fight,” and with this movie tipping so far into magical and silly, I expected Connery to turn up anyway, no explanation or reason, like he did in HIGHLANDER II (1991).
When the titular Crystal Skull is discovered… things get really goofy.
Looking suspiciously like H.R. Giger’s ALIEN (1989), the elongated, transparent artifact causes people to go Communist if they gaze at it, which is why the dominatrix and her Damn Russkie soldiers want to unleash it on the weak-minded public.
Spielberg is still a masterful movie-maker, Ford still Total Action Man, but Lucas starts throwing so many idiot curve balls that it is only a matter of time before the movie strikes out: telepathy, auto-writing, extra-terrestrial aliens spawning ancient Earth civilizations, predestination and prophecies, a Mayan step pyramid as hangar for a spaceship – everything for the weak-minded to curl their little insubstantial brains around… it all ends up very Von Daniken, only missing the zeppelin flashing an ad for CHARIOTS OF THE GODS.
By the time Shia is swinging on liana vines like Tarzan to head off the chase scene, I simply wrote in my notes – like those splash-phrases that marketers sell to the media – “irretrievably silly.”
Yes, we all know it’s pulp and Saturday afternoon serial, but the whole enterprise is too self-aware to be innocently enjoyable. Action is merely action and stunts is jess stunts if the story is less than compelling. Indy and Co. try to return the skull to its rightful resting place, courtesy of John Hurt’s mumbling, which is inside a Mayan pyramid. Turns out the alien skull, when returned to its crystal skeleton, makes thirteen alien skeletons meld into each other to form a Live Scary Alien… who launches his spaceship after burning out the eye sockets of the dominatrix … Well, told you it was stupid!…
And mean-spirited too! Why are Spielberg’s aliens now so hostile? What makes a man with Spielberg’s once-hopeful vision (E.T., CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE) flip-flop to portray aliens with such rage? The CLOSE ENCOUNTERS aliens were kind, beneficent, musical; whereas the alien who confronts the dominatrix here is majorly pissed off for some reason.
Cate simply “wanted to know” – she sought knowledge – and the alien fried her brain. In CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, Richard Dreyfuss also “wanted to know” and he was invited aboard the alien spaceship for brunch. Isn’t Cate the smart one here – even WITH the bad Ukraine accent? Isn’t she the only one exhibiting a smidgeon of scientific curiosity? Instead, we get another reference to better times and better movies (to wit: the STAR WARS franchise), when Harrison forebodes, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this” just before everything turns pear-shaped and Cate is incinerated for her inquisitiveness. Guess the aliens did that to Dreyfuss after the Director’s Cut wrapped filming inside the mothership…
John Hurt stops mumbling for one second to specify that the spaceship disappears “not into space – into the space between spaces,” which touches on the only cogent scientific theory in the whole movie – membrane theory (aka “brane” theory), but was treated as mystically as the rest of the guff, so that no one – especially not the weak-minded – would accidentally learn anything.
What irks me are the contradictions that the weak-minded simply lap up without even realizing it. Read a book, fer cryin out loud! The Cosmic Connection by Carl Sagan (1973) or Extraterrestrial Civilizations by Isaac Asimov (1979) are two easily-digested tomes that might enlighten the Great Unwashed as to how unutterably asinine the prospect of alien life is AS HOLLYWOOD ENVISIONS IT. Sagan and Asimov are two scientific, intelligent, reasoning beings who hoped with all their hearts that E.T.s did exist – as I do – not only because it would be way cool and open humanity to a universe of possibilities, but also because it would negate the need for religions and gods!
The same people who believe in predestination and precognition are the same nonces who believe in gods, angels and extra-terrestrials. (90% of this movie’s audience.) But predestination and precognition negates Free Will, a central tenet of your precious christian ethos! You can’t have it both ways, hypocrites!…
There are two sensational CGI moments: a ground view closeup of a mushroom cloud, and the spaceship taking off. The rest is lots and lots of by-the-numbers padding masquerading as “action.”
A weak marriage ceremony later (Karen Allen and Ford, limply exchanging vows simply to comply with Romantic Ending Protocol), Shia almost puts on the infamous fedora, as if a torch is about to be passed – but the moment is stolen from him as Ford grabs the hat and exits with his new bride. As if crowning himself.
Even with the buttoned shirt, Indy is still the King of Pulp…