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Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008): ***½

Directed by Steven Spielberg

I know a handful of people who say they like the Indiana Jones movies but didn't like this one. I don't understand that, because this movie feels exactly like the other Indiana Jones movies. If you liked those movies, then you'll like this one (and if you didn't like them, well, then I can't talk to you anymore). I liked those other movies. I like this one just as much.

Well, KotCS isn't exactly the same as the other Indiana Jones movies. It can't be; 19 years have passed since The Last Crusade came out, and so 19 years have passed since The Last Crusade took place. The first three movies all took place in the 1930s, a time of rickety airplanes, Nazi scumbags, waning imperialism, and mysterious unknowns. The movies are themselves patterned after B-grade movies and serials that were made in the 1930s. Crystal Skull takes place in 1957, and patterns itself after the B-grade movies and serials that were made in the 1950s, a time of Commie scumbags, McCarthyism, the FBI, atomic testing, UFO sightings, Harley Davidsons, greasers, and diners. The brialliance of Crystal Skull is that it includes all of the trappings and patterns of a 1950s B-grade movie (includin all of the things I just mentioned above). I loved it for that.

Plot-wise, Crystal Skull seems most closely related to Raiders. Its tone is more closely related to Last Crusade in that it's a bit more flippant (and in that it deals more with familail issues). It's a pretty good Indy story, with a central mystery that takes the heroes deep into the wilderness (a South American jungle this time) and old-timey ruins. I thoroughly enjoyed the action. After suffering through some crappily-directed action in recent years, it's so refreshing to watch the way Spielberg directs the action sequences in his Indy films. He actually films them in such a way that you can see everything that is happening and you can know where all the characters are in relationship to each other at any given time. And I thought it was a complete hoot how absolutely audacious some of the action scenes got (especially the climax of the opening action scene—whoo, man, that took guts to actually do that, and great skill to get away with it). I thought the whole movie had a great, fun energy.

It's nice to see Ford back as Indy, a role he slips on like a old but incredibly comfortable pair of pants. This isn't exactly the same Indy, either. He's a bit older and a bit wiser than he used to be. He's calmer and more reasonable. And a good thing, as his two traveling companions, Mac and Mutt, are mercenarily selfish and youthfully arrogant, respectively. They're both like parts of what Indy used to be but has since grown out of.

Still my favorite personality quirck of Indy comes shining through a few times in this film: his consuming love of solving mysteries and riddles. Indy almost loses in the end of Raiders because of his all-comsuming love of mystery (it's only due to a literal deus ex machina—and his knowledge of it—that he survives Raiders at all, let alone "wins" in the end). There are a couple of scenes in Crystal Skull where the villain presents Indy with mysteries that are so fascinating that he compulsively tries to solve them, even though it means that he will be giving his enemies exactly what they want. The second time it happens it is only because of the interference of Mutt, who is incredulous that Indy is actually trying to solve the puzzle for the villains, that breaks Indy's spell. If it weren't for that you truly get the feeling that Indy would have led the villains right where they wanted to go just so that he could solve the mystery; so that he could know. There's some good counterplay with Kate Blanchett's villain, whose ultimate goal is also to know. Will this obsession with discovering knowledge lead to both of their demises?

There were only a couple of things I didn't really like about the flick. I coulda done without the CGI monkeys (why not get real monkeys?). The scene with the ultimate fate of the villain was handled a little awkwardly. And I didn't like the actual crystal skull prop; it looked kinda like cheap plastic, not solid crystal. But I'm not sure how they coulda fixed that last one. Small quibbles, really; the film is just good, good, fun.

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