The more I think about what I just saw, the angrier I get, so I’m going to say this now- I enjoyed the new Indiana Jones movie. It’s a well-paced adventure film, Indy is different but back, and it has several exciting action sequences that had me giddy like a schoolboy. But on the other hand, I can’t imagine a worse ending to a series; it betrays its roots for something utterly empty and meaningless. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull may have the longest title of the series, but it’ll reside for the shortest time in our memories.
It begins well enough; Indy and his new old buddy Mac (Ray Winstone) are kidnapped by KGB agents, led by the severe Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett) and brought to a remote military base to search for an object they helped retrieve. No, it’s not the Ark, but it’s that same huge warehouse. Whatever it is it’s highly magnetic, so Dr. Jones uses gunpowder dust to help track it down. There’s an action-packed chase through the warehouse as he escapes, to a rocket test platform, and an atomic bomb test site, to solidify the Cold War setting.
Indy gets suspected by the FBI of being a double agent, and there’s an allusion to the Red Scare hysteria, but it doesn’t work really well when the KGB is in America attacking military bases for our relics. There’s a lot of dialogue about Indy and Mac working in the OSS and MI6 against the Soviets and the Nazis, and frankly that’s more intriguing than a lot of the actual plot. But there’s enough excitement to ride on throughout the film.
Indy’s about to leave Marshall College for London when Mutt (Shia LeDouche) shows up on his motorcycle in greaser gear to tell him about his missing friend Professor Oxley (John Hurt). The KGB chase them around the college and the motorcycle chase is good and fun. Indy may be old but he shows his chops. Mutt has a letter in an old South American language that intrigues Indy and they set out to find the missing professor and Mutt’s missing Mom, “Mary.”
My favorite part of the film is in Peru where they do some creepy tomb raiding. The Nazca lines are nearby, and Oxley’s cell full of cryptic scrawls leads them to a lost conquistador’s hidden tomb amidst ancient ruins. Now that’s some real Indiana Jones stuff. This part of the movie had me riveted. And I must say, Shia was not annoying as hell in his role, mostly because he was a snotty punk instead of his usual Vince Vaughn Jr. act.
The Russians chase them up the Amazon, and we meet Oxley, and Karen Allen returns as plucky Marion Ravenwood. There’s a great chase through the jungle on military vehicles, with swordfights and brawls going back and forth across amphibious Ducks and Jeeps, but they lose their minds somewhere near the end of it. Oxley plumbs the power of the crystal skull when they run into a swarm of army ants, and that’s pretty cool. Shia becomes Tarzan, and we get some cartoon physics at the end of the chase which strain the suspension of disbelief. The audience got restless.
Unfortunately it doesn’t get better from there. When we learn the secret of the crystal skulls, it’s an empty promise. There are 12 other skulls, and when they are reunited, they are a font of endless knowledge; but they show way too much. Irina Spalko chanting “I vant to knooowww!!” over and over doesn’t help either. We don’t want to know. Do we know what the power of the Ankara stones was? Did we learn why the Grail can’t pass the Great Seal? We learn more about the skulls than we ever learned about the Ark.
The movie has some other flaws; Indy is a lot more deadpan now, burned out. It grated on me then, but I like it now. It goes with his history of being a hard-working and unappreciated OSS agent. There’s an underwhelming ending to Marion and Indy’s reunion; their meeting is one of the more memorable parts of the movie, and they recapture the chemistry they had 26 years ago. But they end it in a way that feels crafted for the fans. They tease you with the very last scene, but it is very satisfying. Indy isn’t ready to give up the fedora just yet.
If you don’t want the secret spoiled for you, stop reading now.
If you couldn’t figure it out from the metallic mummy they unwrap, Indy mentioning Roswell, the shape of the crystal skull, or the Hangar 51 the movie starts at, the skulls are the remnants of an alien intelligence that came not from space, but from “the space between spaces” to teach us how to farm and irrigate, build the pyramids, and ruin a perfectly good series. When they finally return the skull to the secret city, the temple becomes a flying saucer that disappears to the 8th dimension, but not before the 13 crystal skeletons merge into one alien that apparently resembles the one from the special edition of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The alien tells Spalko vhat she vants to knooow, and her head explodes. Apparently there are some things we are not meant to know. Like what the fuck happened to Lucas and Spielberg’s fucking minds after 1989.