Indiana Jones and Mutt Williams Shine

I’m warning you right now. I am going to gush over Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. And I’m going to gush hard.

It’s not that I find undying love for George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. Each has made his fair share of blunders (like Willow and Howard the Duck for Lucas, and The Lost World and all the crappy 80s cheese that he lent his name to for Spielberg). Instead, all of my love goes to Indiana Jones, the iconic character that he is, and his triumphant return to the big screen.

I have a history with Indy. I was getting ready to turn 10 when the first movie came out. I was a pre-teen when the second came out. And I was well into high school when the third one came out. Raiders of the Lost Ark was the first movie I ever bought on videocassette, and my incessant watching of that film is the reason why my parents are generally irritated with the whole Indiana Jones franchise.

I was the perfect age for Indiana Jones, and considering that so many films are made today that cater to everyone from preteen girls (e.g., anything Hannah Montana) to the arthouse crowd (e.g., award-winners like There Will Be Blood), forgive me for being a bit giddy over a film that was made entirely for me in mind.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a movie for the fans. Not necessarily the younger fans that grew to love the series on video, but the children of the 80s who remember Indy cracking his whip on the big screen in initial release.

With that said, I can’t say that the film is without its flaws. But for me, seeing the classic Paramount logo fade into the first moments of the film was as much a thrill for me as seeing a new Star Wars crawl and hearing John Williams classic score for Episodes I, II and III.

This installment of Indiana Jones shows an aged hero in 1957. The Nazis are all dead and gone, and the new villains are the Russians. The film opens in Area 51, where a Russian agent named Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchette) has kidnapped Jones and forced him to help her uncover some secret military artifacts. After a daring escape, Jones returns home to find the U.S. Army questioning him and his colleagues about Communist involvement.

Jones is then visited by a young punk named Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf) who asks for Indy’s help in tracking down an old professor who was searching for the lost city of El Dorado, and a crystal skull that will unlock its secrets. Reluctantly, Indy helps him and starts on an international search for the legendary skull, with the Russians hot on their tail.

I am certain this film is going to be criticized for its Red Scare paranoia and the alien creature subplot. But I reminded myself that the first film featured a mysterious arc that melted people’s faces when it was opened, and the Last Crusade featured the literal cup of Christ and medieval knights that lived for centuries in a cave. This film takes place in the 50s, and the story has been adjusted appropriately. And to be fair, we discover the Area 51 connection in the first sequence, so it is not a goofy surprise at the end.

The other scene you might have heard about that is drawing criticism is the Tarzan moment in which Mutt Williams takes to the vines in the South American jungle. However, I will defend this as well. Sure, it’s a bit silly, but making an homage to Tarzan is another nod to the adventure films of the 40s, as much as the series is a nod to Flash Gordon and the old movie serials.

Really, my only complaint is that the film doesn’t have a clear gross out moment. There’s no melting faces or hearts being yanked from a person’s chest. But this is forgivable, considering this seems to be as much a family adventure films as any of the previous ones.

It’s clear that Shia LaBeouf is being groomed for future films, and after seeing how he came across in this movie, I welcome that (as long as the worst thing that happens to him off screen is to get arrested at Walgreen’s in the middle of the night). Harrison Ford is getting a little old, and his presence of Indy isn’t necessarily the strapping hero of the previous films. Rather, he comes across as Indy from the last five minutes of any of the first films… exhausted, beat up and run down. But I loved it all nonetheless.

If this installment had come out in 1992, it would have only been so-so. This movie serves as a piece of nostalgia for fans, and there are so many tongue-in-cheek call-backs to the first films that it was a hoot to watch. It would be useful for anyone to watch the first three movies to remind themselves of the tone and flavor of Indiana Jones films because Lucas, Spielberg and company captured the essence of the classic movies, which were nothing more than throw-backs to the adventure films of the 40s.

Last summer, our illustrious Executive Editor Neil Miller cheered on Transformers, saying that it brought him back to his childhood, reminding him of the wonder he felt when seeing Jurassic Park on the big screen when he was but ten years old. Similarly, Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull elicited the same response from me. This movie was worth the wait, and it is everything I ever wanted from a fourth Indiana Jones movie.

THE UPSIDE: A movie that was made for the fans, and it took me back to my childhood.

THE DOWNSIDE: No face melting or heart stealing.

ON THE SIDE: Mutt is named after a dog. So was Indiana.

Grade: A+


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