Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull ★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

I readily concede there are some problems with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but I also firmly believe that most of them fall under the category of embarrassments rather than true storytelling flaws. For instance, Indy surviving the nuclear blast in a lead-lined refrigerator, while scientifically laughable, is really more just an embarrassing storytelling choice.

Likewise, Mutt using a rat snake (ha ha, is funny because it combines animals that scare Indy and his dad) and Indy insisting on calling it "a rope". That was insultingly absurd, and a stupid way to work into the film a reference to Indy's snake phobia.

However, these kinds of embarrassments - which are glaring enough that they do detract from the film overall - aren't as plentiful or as dominant as the film's trashed reputation would have one believe. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull does a better job of spinning an investigatory yarn than does either of the previous sequels in the series. We really don't know what the deal with the skulls actually is until the finale of the film. There's even less to go on here than the Ark of the Covenant, where we at least had that text book illustration to spur our imaginations.

Cate Blanchett's Dr. Spalko isn't as imposing as Mola Ram or as charming as Belloq, but she's far more interesting than any of the villains in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. I'm pretty indifferent to Mac, who doesn't really add anything to the story. The banter between Indy and Mac doesn't feel organic and the character serves no meaningful role since we don't know him long enough or well enough to even care whether he's a traitor or not.

With just a little more polish, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull could have been a much stronger entry in the series. Most of the flaws are things that could have been fixed in either the script stage or editing, rather than things that went awry during photography or post-production.

In a lot of ways, this film reminds me of the Brooks & Dunn album, Tight Rope. Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn each selected their own songs and producers for the album, and then threw them together as a collection rather than planning it as a cohesive work. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull feels like one film trying very hard to appease both George Lucas and Steven Spielberg.

The perfect microcosm is the "reveal" that Mutt is Indy's son. That plotline screams "Spielberg!" and it feels grafted onto the overall story inorganically. I've read Frank Darabont's Indiana Jones and the City of the Gods screenplay that's circulated on the web and neither Mutt or an unknown son character exist at all. This plot line seems clearly invented to appease Spielberg, for whom estranged fathers have been a dominant theme in most of his filmography.

I'd say that this film is the cinematic offspring of Lucas's American Graffiti and Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind. In some ways, it actually works quite well, but when it tries to stray away from its central story to connect with its forebears is when it gets into trouble.

One last observation: The color scheme is very peculiar here. This is the only one of the films shot by Janusz Kaminski, and the only one not set in the 1930s. Clearly, the idea was to establish a different visual aesthetic and I get that, but it doesn't go so far as to be "B-movie stylish" nor does it settle into a comfortable palate. It's actually a bit jarring.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Re-Ranked on My Flickchart (#341/1500)

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull > Employee of the Month (2004) --> #341
Employee of the Month is fun, but too derivative of Wild Things. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull needs polish, but it hits enough high notes to win.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull > Die Hard 2 --> #341
Die Hard 2 doesn't have the embarrassments of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but I also don't enjoy it as much.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull > The General --> #188
Without a doubt, The General is the better film. I have this kind of Stockholm Syndrome thing with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, though, that makes me want to pick it here...

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull < To Kill a Mockingbird --> #188
I'm an admitted apologist for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but against the powerful, compelling To Kill a Mockingbird? Not a chance.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull > Superbad --> #140
I enjoyed Superbad quite a bit, actually; I see it as a sort of modern day American Graffiti. It's more consistent than Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, certainly, but there's enough about Indy's fourth adventure that I like that it gets the nod here.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull < Return of the Jedi --> #140
I may go easy on Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and I wish Return of the Jedi hadn't recycled quite so much from Star Wars, but this is one instance where Luke Skywalker > Indiana Jones.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull < Citizen Kane --> #140
The tagline on the Citizen Kane poster says it clearly enough: "It's Terrific!" That's higher praise than even I can give Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull - and I actually *like* it.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull < Confessions of a Superhero --> #140
One took a pre-established character and fumbled him; the other took a laughable premise and turned in a truly interesting documentary. Easy win here for Confessions of a Superhero.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull < Open Water --> #140
I saw Open Water during its theatrical release. That suspense and dread has stayed with me nearly a full decade later. Nothing in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was nearly that affecting.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull > Walk the Line --> #138
The performances in Walk the Line were terrific, but the story was so obviously John Carter Cash's rewritten narrative of his parents' story that I have a hard time enjoying it. Going with Indy here.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was re-ranked on my Flickchart to #138/1500

(I know! I'm as surprised as you are!)