This is an installment for a series on this blog where Joe Brown, Sports Editor for the Red Wing Republican Eagle, and I have a back-and-forth review of a movie. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, I picked “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.”
The Movie: “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”
Starring: Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett, Shia LaBeouf
Director: Steven Spielberg
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) Famed archaeologist/adventurer Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones is called back into action when he becomes entangled in a Soviet plot to uncover the secret behind mysterious artifacts known as the Crystal Skulls.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 77 percent
Froemming: After dancing our problems away last Sunday with “Flashdance,” I decided to go to a franchise that we haven’t explored thus far at the JOE-DOWN. A franchise that was beloved for nearly three decades before George Lucas decided he hadn’t done enough damage to our collective childhoods with the “Star Wars” prequels. No, after “Revenge of the Sith,” George set his sights on cinema’s favorite archeologist, Indiana Jones.
What did George bring to the fourth instalment? Well, he jumped the character into the 1950s where we have nefarious commies to worry about — even at the local malt shop! We also have an overly paranoid FBI ruining people’s lives. Not a bad start, I must admit.
Then things start getting out of hand. We have the notorious nuke-fridge scene that caused me to shut the film off the first time I tried to sit through it a few years ago. And then we have interdimensional beings (or aliens) because (REDACTED) it, that’s why! But perhaps the most egregious mistake this film made was introducing us to a pompadoured Shia LaBeouf whose name is Mutt.
I am angry just typing that.
Yes, “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” feels more like an episode of “Ancient Aliens” than an Indiana Jones film. The whole time I was waiting for that crazy-haired freak to explain that everything has something to do with aliens.
Brown, I understand you actually like this film. What part of this (REDACTED) sandwich of a movie brought you joy?
Brown: I had fun with this movie when I watched it about five years or so ago. I can understand some frustrations from fans, but I saw a lot of that being because people refuse to take off the nostalgia glasses and acknowledge that A. The original Indiana Jones movies are pretty wonky themselves and B. They’re fantasy movies. You don’t get to excuse things like an inflatable raft saving Indy from a plane in “Temple of Doom” and get pissy when Indy uses a fridge to protect himself from a nuke because you have selective suspension of disbelief.
With that said, after seeing it half a decade ago, I wanted to see if I was just optimistic that day or if I really did enjoy this movie. We’ll delve into that as we go on.
In the meantime, bring us up to speed, Froemming.
Froemming: Well, it has been 19 years since “The Last Crusade.” That means we are in the Cold War here, so there is a mistrust toward people with Eastern European accents right off the bat. We see the Russians in sneaking into a military complex by just shooting soldiers in plain day (there is a lot of selective attention paid toward the KGB in this film in public places) and smuggling Dr. Henry Jones Jr. in a trunk of a car to this place. We find here that Dr. Jones’ long, rich history of being betrayed by his friends happens once again when his partner Mac has sold him out to the Russians in search of an object he found years ago in Roswell, New Mexico.
Dr. Jones really needs a better ocular patdown on his buddies, because this seems to happen in every (REDACTED) Indiana Jones film.
Brown: And because this is a sequel and Spielberg needed to squeeze every bit of juice out of the nostalgia fruit, we find out that this is the building where the Ark was stored from “Raiders.” Top Men apparently take residence in New Mexico with Heisenberg.
Which brings me to a quick question about this movie: How did you think they handled the nostalgia bits in this movie, Froemming? I think at times it got a little heavy-handed, but it was nowhere near as bad as some of the movies that we have seen on the JOE-DOWN. I will admit that Indy’s punches STILL sounding like a shotgun really warmed my heart.
Froemming: Here is the thing: I enjoyed seeing this building again, because it was the same place we last saw the Ark of the Covenant at the end of “Raiders.” I caught that right away and enjoyed it. It was when they showed us the Ark after the escape scene that I felt it got heavy-handed. For the most part, this film did a decent job with the nostalgia and callbacks for me, but that was the most eye-rolling moment for me.
Now, Dr. Jones punches his way out from the Russians in the most (REDACTED) American thing I have seen in a long time.
Brown: Nope. Not in current-day America where befriending the Russians is seen as a positive.
Froemming: Trump has thrown us through the Looking Glass, folks. How we went from liberals embracing Russia in the 60s to conservatives embracing Russia in 2017 has blown my mind.
But enough of boring politics of today, because we have boring politics of yesteryear to attend to! Indy escapes to find himself in a weird ghost town in the middle of the desert. It turns out he is at a makeshift town used to test nuclear weapons. And while the rubber raft in “Temple” was ridiculous, Indy being saved by a lead-lined refrigerator was just terrible. And it was another of Lucas’ bad ideas.
Brown: A quick backtrack: During the Area 51 bit, we meet our main antagonist, Irina Spalko (Blanchett), who is our not-from-around-here baddie with a bob haircut and a thing for psychic artifacts. Here, we see her and the Soviets looking not for the Ark, but a magnetic box that has the corpse of an alien. We get a fun chase through the warehouse where all this stuff is stored because as bad as the plot can be, the action pieces are still a blast in this movie.
Now, onto our nuke. We get a Chekhov’s Gun when the guards tell the Russians (before being gunned down in cold blood) that there is weapons testing going on today.
And yes, the fridge deflecting a nuke is impossible. But come on, Indy has survived a fall out of plane with an inflatable raft (“Mythbusters” debunked that), he’s lived through the wrath of God in “Raiders.” He’s survived a collapsing bridge, poisoning and a boulder coming at him through a dark cave. He’s survived a fight atop a tank that is going to drive off a cliff…
Froemming: You’ve just become that guy who defends midichlorians in the “Star Wars” prequels. I don’t even know who you are anymore, Brown.
Brown: My point is, if your suspension of disbelief cannot accept this, blame your own jaded existence, not a movie that’s done stuff like this since the ‘80s.
Plus, there were more improbable things later in this movie that irritated me more than Indy surviving a nuke.
Froemming: As I have said, the nuke wasn’t the worst part of the film. That comes later with Mutt.
But we have Indy surviving the nuclear blast, only to be rounded up by some Feds who are so paranoid of Russians they almost came off like Ripper in “Dr. Strangelove.” I was waiting for them to talk about the fluoride in the water.
Now, because this was a time when dirty Russians were our enemy, Dr. Jones is being investigated for colluding with the KGB during the Area 51 break-in. They eventually get Indy fired because of good old Cold War paranoia. He is sacked from the university, because of the political climate.
Brown: I believe it was actually an indefinite leave of absence because the dean was willing to resign from the university. After how much students seemed to flirt with Indy in “Raiders,” I thought he finally got busted for having illicit relationships with students. Alas, we can blame Stalin for Indy losing his cushy tenured position.
As Indy is leaving the university, he is approached by the source of Froemming’s anger, Mutt. Here, they discuss Indy’s old pal Ox, who found a crystal skull in Peru, went nuts and was abducted. And like any good denisons of the ‘50s, they go and talk at the malt shop.
Take it from here, Froemming. Let’s pace your rage.
Froemming: In this malt shop, Indy and Mutt are discussing Ox, and a letter that Mutt’s mother, Mary, has passed along filled with cryptic symbols and weird letters that look like Charlie’s map of the ceiling vents from “It’s Always Sunny.” As they are discussing this, two Russians approach them with a gun and ask them to come with them.
This comes to what I mentioned earlier with the selective way they deal with people paying attention to the Russians. Indy gets his leave from the university because the FBI was merely investigating whether or not he has connections to Russia. People seem to be on top of the Cold War paranoia here.
Yet, we have Indy and Mutt, who can’t stop combing his (REDACTED) hair get muscled by two obvious Russians in a very public area. We also had the Russians shoot a bunch of U.S. soldiers in the beginning of the film. How is it these painfully obvious KGB spies are completely unnoticed by anybody in this film?
Brown: Maybe it was on a night where J. Edgar Hoover was crossdressing and they took their eye off the prize? Sorry, college kids at a university aren’t as keen on finding communists like our government. Joseph McCarthy wasn’t there to help out.
Aside from Mutt looking like rent-store Rob Halford from Judas Priest, I really don’t any problem with Mutt in this movie. He can be annoying but he’s helpful at various points.
The annoying Indy scale begins and ends with Willie from “Temple of Doom,” which ruined that movie for me (Short Round wasn’t much better). And Mutt is nowhere near as annoying as Willie.
Froemming: Nah, he is way more annoying.
Mutt and Indy escape the Russian spies in what I will admit was a thrilling motorcycle chase (you’re right Brown, the action scenes are fun here).
Brown: And it all gets started with a fistfight at a malt shop. I am completely cool with ‘50s jocks and greasers whaling on each other with frosty chocolate malts getting tossed around like beer bottles. The ‘50s were a charming time. You know, minus the McCarthyism.
Froemming: Or the racism, the paranoia of nuclear war, CIA beginning to mess with third-world countries to plant leaders they approved of, only for it to blow up in their faces decades later.
Brown: And the misogyny. Don’t forget the misogyny.
Froemming: Other than all that terrible stuff, this was when America was great. Apparently. I am not so sure of that …
We have stupid Mutt tagging along like an even worse Scrappy-Doo with Indy to Peru, where they are trying to find clues to Ox’s whereabouts and if this Crystal Skull business is real. They find out Ox was put into an asylum because he was acting looney (that’s how people dealt with anxiety when everything was great, they just locked people with panic attacks up like crazy people). When they find Ox’s cell, they find the ramblings of a mind truly off the rails in the form of sketches and symbols on the walls.
Brown: And Indiana Jones is back to doing what he does best: Deciphering dead languages that lead to treasure that he’ll never get to keep. Ox’s jottings lead Indy and Mutt to the grave of a Conquistador in Peru. Inside the grave is a crystal skull, made from quartz and cut against the grain, which means (apparently) that there is no way it could be done by human hands. Ox returned it, which baffles Jones.
And because we have tropes of the adventure genre that HAVE to be followed, Indy and Mutt emerge from the grave only to be held at gunpoint by the Russians. Indy will never get to keep anything he ever finds because the genre demands it.
Froemming: We also had the crazy locals before this flying around the area. I at first thought they were zombies and almost turned my TV off because that would be too much. Nope, they are just insane and very skilled at climbing trees and whatnot.
Brown: I thought they were either ‘90s WWF superstar Papa Shango or Baron Samedi from the Bond movie “Live and Let Die.” For a split second, I thought one of these painted-up natives was a grown-up Short Round trying to get revenge on Indy for abandoning him after “Temple of Doom.”
Froemming: As they are captured by the dirty Soviets, we learn that they want the Crystal Skull for psychic warfare, which I believe the USSR was still looking into in the 1970s in real life. This was not a far-fetched plot, as ridiculous as it sounds. The Cold War was a wild time to be alive.
We also have Mac back, because we need an alcoholic double-agent here for reasons. Now, we find out that the Mary that Mutt was talking about is a familiar face in this franchise: It is Marion Ravenwood from “Raiders of the Lost Ark!” I admit, I did enjoy seeing her back in the franchise. It would have been better if she beat Mac at a drinking game that would more than likely kill a person in real life.
Brown: Yeah, Marion was a great addition back in the series. She was my favorite among the supporting characters in the original trilogy.
And because we need some big reveal in the movie to tie Mutt and Indy together, it’s revealed that Mutt is Indy’s son. *GASP* So…. expected. And from here on out, we get annoying banter about how he needs to go back to school. Yadda Yadda Yadda. It’s not that the father-son relationship hurt the movie, but it didn’t add much to me. Plus, Indy was just a dad, he’s not Mutt’s father. He didn’t help raise him, despite Indy’s attempts to now care about his life.
Froemming: I would like to add that this reveal happens during a completely pointless escape attempt. It felt like George Lucas must have watched an episode of “Gilligan’s Island” as he wrote this scene, because Indy and Marion are trapped in drysand, not quicksand for whatever reason. But aside from the callback that Indy hates snakes, this scene just felt pointless because they are recaptured right away.
Also, I don’t know about you, but when I first saw Ox with this long crazy hair and insane ramblings, I thought “this is the world’s first Grateful Dead fan.”
Brown: Hasn’t years of watching movies taught you that the disheveled homeless-looking man is always the one to speak the truth after you finally listen to him? It’s not realistic, but that’s what movies love to do.
Something else that always sticks out in movies like this, and in some video games like “Uncharted” (which is essentially an Indiana Jones simulator): The bad guys always threaten violence and treachery toward our hero, which Indy fights. But when they tell him to figure out something or die, Indy gets all invested and almost seems gleeful to help out the bad guys. I know it goes back to Indy wanting to see whatever treasure there is as much as the bad guys, but there almost never seems to be any deception to help Indy and his friends to escape.
Froemming: Maybe Indy really is a Russian puppet.
Brown: You’re the puppet!
Anyway, after this we get another thrilling action sequence as they escape from the Russian’s caravan in the jungle — which looked oddly like the moon planet of Endor from “Return of the Jedi.” Sure, the Ewoks are nowhere to be found when we finally need them. We also get a pretty terrible sword fight between Mutt and Spalko as they are riding in vehicles. I secretly hoped that Spalko would have cut Mutt down here, as I find Shia LaBeouf insufferable.
Brown: I’ll tell you what I found insufferable here, and this is my biggest gripe with this movie: CGI.
Like George Lucas having to go back and fix the first three “Star Wars” movies because of course scenes would be improved with more (REDACTED) in the background, this movie goes overboard with having to use computers to make things ever more unbelievable.
Know what makes “Jurassic Park” and “Terminator 2” still hold up? You have a combination of CGI with practical effects and blend them together to make a perfect elixir of special effects.
Here, it’s all green screen in CGI, so we get a painfully obvious fake jungle and Mutt swinging in the trees like a goon with a bunch of monkeys (which bugged me more than the fridge).
Just because you have the ability to make any scene you want doesn’t mean you should. Deal with creative challenges of the real world instead of making things embarrassingly phony.
Froemming: I knew there was going to be a hellish amount of CGI when I saw the digital gophers at the beginning of this film….
Yup, the monkey scene was baffling. But hey, our heroes are saved by giant, CGI ants that are controlled by Ox with the help of a Crystal Skull….and I really wanted to stop the movie at this point because it was too over the top in (REDACTED) wackiness.
But alas, they drive a vehicle kinda shaped like a boat into a river. A river with three waterfalls they somehow (REDACTED) survived going over. I know my suspension of belief needs to be utilized in films like this, but this film was just daring me to not do that because of how insane it gets. But surviving the waterfalls, the gang sees that the cliffs look like a face, which lead me to believe that Ox spiked their water canteens with strong doses of LSD.
Brown: If you were OK with the three waterfalls drop and you’re not cool with the fridge, again, that’s a problem of your suspension of disbelief, folks. Indy should have died here, he should have died in the fridge. Hell, he should have died the first time he tried to swing across a ravine with his whip.
Now that we have defied death yet again, we come to the spot Ox cryptically says where the crystal skull needs to be returned (did we mention that Indy and the gang stole the crystal skull from the Soviet camp? They did. Kind of an important plot point we glossed over). This skull-looking rock is what’ll lead them to Akator.
And here we are chased by another group of natives. And it’s also here where we find out that Incan craftsmanship is kind of flimsy because there are people flying out of the walls.
Froemming: But we have Indy once again doing what every archeologist is known to do: Destroying the artifacts he finds by meddling around blindly with them! Wait, that doesn’t sound like what they should be doing…
They come to some sort of doo-dad (the scientific term) that creates a path to an underworld cavern once they randomly pull bricks from it. Oh, and Mac is with them because Indy never learns from the past and has spent a lifetime being doomed by doing so. Mac is dropping electric whatchamacallits (the scientific term) so the Russians can follow them to the temple, where aliens — or interdimensional beings — have been hoarding historic artifacts because why the (REDACTED) not at this point!
Brown: For as much grief as people give superheroes for the collateral damage, how come no one gives Indiana Jones (REDACTED) for destroying priceless artifacts. Harrison Ford is not immune to criticism, folks.
Did we mention that where Indy and the gang end up at is the Inca temple that looks exactly like an Aztec temple? I don’t know South American/Latin American history well enough to figure out if someone screwed up.
And because we need to humanize extra-terrestrial beings, Indy declares that the aliens must be archaeologists, too, because they hoard a bunch of ancient human artifacts.
And it’s here that we find the place where the crystal skull needs to come to rest: A creepy chamber with 13 alien skeletons. And because tropes, Spalko and the Russians catch up to the group and … do exactly what Indy was hoping to do? I mean, what’s the motivation here? Making sure Indiana Jones gets no glory for what he does?
Froemming: Well, Spalko should have asked from the
36 13 Chambers to protect her neck, instead of asking for their knowledge, because the beings merge into one and open an interdimensional portal to their world. And we see a flying saucer. And really, I get this franchise is fantasy, but man aliens and Indiana Jones do not work all that well together for me.
I do want to mention that Jones does drop a Han Solo line in this film when he says “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” Either this was a fun nod to that other franchise or Lucas accidentally confused his characters.
Brown: This is George Lucas, the man who gave us the prequels. That line, I’m chalking that up to a blind squirrel finding a nut.
And yeah, I don’t know how to feel about the whole alien thing. And in a morbid state of mind, I have a question. So, when the Russians make their way to Indy in the alien chamber, we see a bunch of dead Incas, which isn’t cool at all. Then when the spaceship emerges, we see debris flying up around the ship as it starts its ascent. Along with the debris, shouldn’t there be a bunch of… nope, I’m going to stop there. I’m glad Spielberg has better restraint than I do. Let’s do the happy ending instead.
Froemming: Well, we get the marriage between Indy and Marion. Which, sure why not I guess. I didn’t get a big connection between them in the film, probably because Harrison Ford looks constantly annoyed with life in everything I see him in. We also have Mutt there. And I am thankful this film didn’t do well, because if they passed the torch to LaBeouf, I would never watch an Indiana Jones movie again.
Brown: Yeah, I was relieved to see Indy take his hat back from Mutt. And I’m happy to leave this series where it is.
And with that, I say let’s hop in our all-terrain automobile, drive over a few waterfalls and get to recommendations.
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Froemming: The worst part is not that it is just a bad movie, but it is a bad Indiana Jones movie. I didn’t dislike it because of nostalgia, I disliked it because it wasn’t a good film. The action scenes were fun, but that was the only fun I had in this slog. I do not recommend it.
Brown: Look, you’re not going to get the original trio in “Crystal Skull,” but you’ll get a movie that’s at least fun despite its faults. I stand by my original take from this movie and say, sure, if you got some time to kill, give it a watch. Shut off your brain, leave your nostalgia glasses on the nightstand and enjoy the ridiculousness of it.