In preparation for the new Indiana Jones movie, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, I spent a Saturday watching the first three films in the series. Here is what I learned: They are great fun, but not great films. They are an ode to pulp novels, which are: great fun, but not great literature. The first three Indiana Jones films were a series of wonderful set pieces and great chase and adventure sequences led by a pure red-blooded, rough and tumble, brilliant, everyman. These movies are good popcorn flicks–nothing more. I have read a good many reviews on this new Indy, and some don’t recognize this real heritage of the film and give it overly poor reviews, and others recognize its true nature, but let it off the hook for the mistakes it makes because it is meant to be a fun, frivolous ride, and give it overly good reviews. Let us talk about why this is a film that ultimately does no disservice to the series, but doesn’t add a great deal to it either.
First, there is not much in the way of plot here. This does not bother me much, though it would have been nice had the ‘legend’ (every Indy is based around a legend) that is being uncovered been related to all the attention paid to how old Indy and his cohorts have become. I suppose there is a lose connection dealing with wisdom, but this is weak. As I think about it, it is unfortunate that the third Indy film had already used the fountain of youth as its legend because it would have worked really nicely in this new film. Anyway, what bothered me more than the lack of plot was the convoluted story based around the legend. This is similar to the problem facing the worst of the first three films, The Temple of Doom. The legends surrounding the ark and the fountain of youth are familiar tales to us in the Western Hemisphere, making the basing of a story around these legends much easier to unfold. There is much less or no familiarity with either a temple of doom or a crystal skull, and so much more explanation is needed and in both cases both films suffered for it. I do like, and I will try not spoil anything even though it is really obvious very early in the film, what the crystal skull ultimately stems from–it fits well with pulp set in the 1950s–I just wish they could have found a different, simpler way to get there.
Second, Harrison Ford was only intermittently Indiana Jones. This was never a problem in the first three films, but in Crystal Skull he was about half Indy, half Harrison. Luckily, he was mostly Indy in the second two acts of the film.
Finally, and this is an odd statement but, there was too much action. It almost got boring. After the initial 30-45 minutes of the film where there was a balance between action and acting, it was all action for the last hour and fifteen minutes of the film and it really wore thin. Some of the action was classic Indy and great fun; other action sequences were tedious (I did not have the problem with all the CGI that many a reviewer has had. I did hate it when they used with animals though.). This problem obviously relates back to the failings in story and plot, but the action still should have stood better on its own.
These are the problems with the film, but it is still definitely worth checking out. It is nice to see some old familiar faces (I wish there could have been more; I especially missed Marcus Brody), there are plenty of fun references to films past to pick out, and when Indy lands one of his classic quips or performs another death-defying act a good chuckle or a collective awe is sure to be heard throughout the theatre.