Jun 2008 04

Indiana Jones returns to the screen in a mostly successful film and another solid addition to the franchise. Spielberg, Ford, and Lucas all collaborated and agreed on a film that they all wanted to make and the end product successfully evolves our hero with a little bit more ware and tear and a few more years added on but maintains that same awe and wonder of the character who ultimately is out to discover, adventure, and do good.
We open with Indy under capture by a group of Russians infiltrating Area 51 in the Nevada desert in 1957. Led by Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett) she is looking for the remnants of a crash in Roswell a few years prior that will help the Russians unlock the ultimate weapon through a possible mind control plot. Upon entering the hangar we quickly discover that we have seen this place before, at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Crates fill the warehouse from wall to wall, floor to celing, and using some gun powder he is able to track to the magnetically charged crate they are looking for. After a bit of a tom foolery and posturing, a dramatic chase scene breaks out in the warehouse, eventually ending in Indy’s escape into a “desert town.” What follows is a silly gag that I found hilarious but others might find a bit ridiculous, and this dilemma seems to be what is getting to a number of audiences.
I won’t spoil any further plot details here, but the film moves along from this moment, until the big car chase scene in the jungle, at a fantastic pace and fantastic storytelling that is on par with the best of stuff in the series. We are introduced to Mutt, a greaser with a love for history and his “family,” that needs Indiana‘s help to put everything back to sorts with them. Mutt and Indiana set off on an adventure to follow the clues left behind for them with hope to solve the mystery laid in front of them and we are treated to some wonderful scenes as they research and move closer to their ultimate goal.
Where the film takes it slight mis-steps comes in the action set pieces leading up to the finale of the film. I will go ahead and say this now, the CGI monkey scene is terrible, absolutely the low point of the series, just awful. It’s almost distracting at how bizarre and jarring it is to the viewer. If you can move past that though, the chase is fairly solid, if a bit long, and is full of some clever posturing and choreography among the varying vehicles that comes into play; the sword fight bit doesn’t quite work for me all the way though. Following this is a scene with some merciless red ants, and again the scene is pretty cool at a concept, just maybe drug out a bit to long. Once we get into the final hunt though the film straightens back up a bit and gets a lot less silly and we are left with a fast paced trek to the final destination of the story.
The acting in the film is solid across the board. Harrison is Indiana, and after a brief and awkward exchange in the films first couple minutes between Indiana and Mac (Ray Winstone) Indiana feels like Indiana again through and through. Ray Winstone does an admirable job with kind of an odd character, and most unnecessary, delivering a few laughs while keeping the audience guessing. Blanchett’s Spalko is another cool and intriguing character that unfortunately is fleshed out quite enough. We don’t get her motivation and the haze of mystery around her is almost too thick to make her a really classic villain of the franchise, but I did enjoy her and she is definitely a smart and solid adversary for Indiana and the gang. Mutt is a great sidekick for Indiana and Shia LaBeouf does a great job creating a hot headed, yet smart and funny, partner to help Indiana along the way; and the banter between the two is quite good through out.
The film is working great for close to 90% of the time and the bits that bog it down never really hurt it fatally; yes even the CGI monkeys. The other major gripe you will hear about the film is the way the CGI blends with the live action material. All of the stunt work and action is shot practically and the background plates added in and while I don’t think it was supposed to look photo realistic, it just doesn’t quite blend sometimes, though I think this could have been do to the digital projection of the film I saw, it might have been too clean.
Anyways, I have rambled enough. Is it good? Yes. Is it really good? I think so. Is it great, not quite sure? I think this film will get better on subsequent viewings and right now is on par with Temple of Doom as lesser of the series, but that really isn’t a bad thing for the caliber these movies are performing. Minus a few silly moments, Crystal Skull is a solid, fast paced, and extremely entertaining film that I will think will age well through time.


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