9 June 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Review

So, 2008 has rolled around, and 18 years after the last one, a brand, spanking new Indy film arrives at our cinema screens. What a wait, and totally worth it - more or less...

To summarise the story would probably be to tell you everything you've already read online - but let's go over it any way, mainly to get my word count up! Indy's been shot forward in real time, and it's the late 1950's. World War II's been and gone, and the cold war is now well under way. Unfortunately, Indy's neck deep in it, having been captured by the Soviets and smuggled into a secret location, where they attempt to force him to help in their schemes.

From the get go, it's immediately obvious that there's going to be at least some divergence from the standard Indy formula. Most obviously - and actually, it's the sole divergence - is it's general theme. Whist previous Indy films have taken a more semi-religious fantasy approach, this one seems content to take a vaguely sci-fi one, although there are still semi-religious overtones to it that keep it in line with the first three movies.

Not that this is a bad thing. The story fits in rather well with the over-arching theme of increasingly ridiculous plots as the saga moves forward. Although to be quite honest, the plots passed and waved goodbye to ridiculous a long time ago - that's part of what makes them entertaining, they're pure escapism. It does devolve into deus ex machina towards the end of the movie, but this doesn't detract from the whole experience.

Harrison Ford is once again fantastic as Indy, who - a few creaky acting moments at the beginning of the film aside - is still the hero we know and love. But at the same time, Ford and screenwriter David Koepp subtly change him - he's older, wiser, and unfortunately, a little slower than he used to be. Doesn't stop him from applying a spade to someone's face, but it's still there and it makes for an interesting experience. This is a hero who's past his glory day - think Batman in Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns - but still has a few cracks of the whip left in him. Ironically, this is also literally true, the trusty bullwhip only seeing use twice at the start of the film, and then languishing on Indy's hip for the rest of it like an over-paid extra.

Shia LaBoeuf is solid as the young buck that Indy's newfound oldness plays off - with LaBoeuf displaying the easy comedy that made him a fantastic foil for Michael Bay's Hulking Robots™. The references that his character Mutt bring to light - namely to today's pop culture references to the 1950's - is a particularly inspired piece of meta-surrealism. Particularly welcome, though, is Karen Allen, reprising her role of Marion Ravenwood from Raider's of the Lost Ark; and she too is older and wiser. Again, Allen takes a little while to warm up - and considering how late in the film she is introduced, this is something of a hindrance to the pacing - but once her and Ford are bantering back and forth as they're tied up in the back of a speeding Russian truck, you can't help but smile with unbridled joy.

Other famous faces pop up - Cate Blanchet chews, crunches and spits out scenery left right and centre as the primary antagonist. Ray Winstone is Indy's mate from the second Great War and delivers a trademark performance that, whilst good, still doesn't feel like much more than a way to make Indy's journey that much trickier. Criminally under-used, however, is John Hurt - his dry wit and watery voice more or less wasted on the bat-shit bonkers Harold Oxley; although he still brings a few moments of genuinely laugh-out-loud comedy to the character.

But the thing that I enjoyed most about Indy 4 is that Steven Spielberg has remembered exactly how to make an Indiana Jones movie. To say that they were my favourite movies growing up would be a massive understatement - and an even larger cliché - so the fact that this is the case is particularly pleasing. Everything from the wit and charm of the dialogue to the over-the-top sound effects, slightly shoddy special effects and the absolutely bonkers stunts - everything simply rings true of the first three movies. He's remembered that the Indy films are B-movies that are pretending to be A-list - that they're just pure entertainment and nothing more, and what's here is a truly magnificent achievement: a movie that is truly worthy of your attention.

Ross' Rating: 8/10

No comments: