I've been avoiding writing about INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL, because I didn't know really what I wanted to say about it. I attended the midnight showing on Wednesday evening, which should give you a good idea of how I was anticipating the movie. After all, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK is my all-time favorite movie and has been since I saw it four times during the summer of 1981. I saw both sequels theatrically and several times since then. However, it's been awhile since I was as thoroughly disappointed by a movie as I was this one. Yes, I've seen worse movies—much, much worse—but I've been waiting nearly twenty years for a new Indiana Jones. It has its moments, and spending more time with Harrison Ford's enthusiastic archeologist Indiana Jones is always going to be some fun. But. Sigh. But, KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL is just…a drag.
It's easy to assign blame to executive producer/co-writer George Lucas (who takes story credit with Jeff Nathanson; David Koepp wrote the screenplay), seeing as how he destroyed the STAR WARS legacy with three inadequate sequels, but Ford and Spielberg, who also had total script approval, deserve some too. Koepp's treatment feels like a Frankensteinian stitchwork of "cool scenes" from the many earlier scripts Lucas commissioned during the 2000s. Many scenes, which may have made sense in those scripts, play without context and without a point here, one example being Indy's accidental invasion of a Nevada nuclear test site, where he ludicrously survives an atomic bomb blast. As the button to a setpiece that integrates the surroundings into the action, this could have been fun, but as KOTCS plays, there's no reason for Indy to even be there.
I really don't want to spend much energy listing the reasons why KOTCS doesn't work, not as an action/adventure or as an Indiana Jones movie. I could talk about idiotic CGI gophers or the outlandish action scenes that bear more resemblance to Tom & Jerry cartoons than the 1940s Republic serials Spielberg and Lucas grew up with. Or the absurd decision to make Indy a deadbeat dad by introducing motorcycle tough Mutt Williams (a miscast Shia LeBeouf), who is sent by his mother, Marion (the welcome Karen Allen), Indy's flame from RAIDERS, to recruit Indy to rescue her from Russians after the titular skull.
Besides Ford, who still has a gleam in his eye that proves Indy's having a good time, no matter what pickle he's gotten himself into, Cate Blanchett is the only performer who appears to understand the pulp genre. As psychic KGB agent Irina Spalko, Blanchett decks herself out in a vaguely dominatrix uniform, complete with rapier, to knock Indy about. Janusz Kaminski's photography doesn't match the richness of Douglas Slocombe's on the original trilogy, and even the reliable John Williams seems to be sleepwalking, mostly recycling themes for the earlier pictures. Of course, this is necessary to some extent, but this is the first score for an Indiana Jones film that I didn't whistle upon leaving the theater.
While Lucas plans to continue making sequels with LeBeouf under Indy's trademark fedora (good luck with that, George; I expect Shia to be in ten years where Chris O'Donnell is now), I'd rather he didn't. I don't think I could take another heartbreak like this one.