Spoilery Thoughts on Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull

The short version: diverting entertainment, but nowhere near as much fun as “Raiders” or “Last Crusade”.

For me, the core of Indy’s appeal is that, despite his amazing adventures, he feels like a real person who escapes danger in semi-plausible ways. He charges forward, often getting ahead of his plans and having to improvise frantically to survive. The opening scene of “Raiders” is an excellent example of this: he has a clever plan that makes him grin smugly. And it works flawlessly — right until the giant boulder appears and he scrambles wide-eyed to escape. That tension between competence and near-fatal miscalculation is what makes Indy seem real, and makes him so much fun.

The movie manages to undermine that dynamic twice in the first big scene. “You don’t know what he’s capable of! You don’t know what he’s capable of!” one man shouts right before Indy coolly deals with a head-on collision between two jeeps. The problem is, Jones is at his best when he doesn’t know what he’s capable of. Thankfully the movie moves on to an escalating series of things Indy must react to instinctively, and it works right up to the point that Indy survives a nuclear blast by hiding in a lead-lined refrigerator that goes tumbling across the New Mexico desert. At that point the movie had moved beyond the semi-plausible and into generic action hero territory, and my enthusiasm had evaporated.

The movie also makes the mistake of introducing the MacGuffin’s magic far too early. Jones in the past has been a voice of rationality, a man of science who nonetheless comes up against mystical woo wooness by the end of the film and pushes beyond it. Here the mystical woo wooness shows up in the first scene, and by the middle Indy has bought fully into it.

And yet, for these changes, the film is now nostalgic for the earlier ones, which in turn were nostalgic for the Republic adventure serials. The pace is slower, and the best moments are more leisurely ones, like Jones in his tweedy professorial garb sliding off of his sidekick’s motorcycle and through the college library, round spectacles a-twinkle.

All in all, it’s not bad, it’s just not particularly fun.

5 Comments