Review: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

I’ve been looking forward to this movie for 15 years, and it is entirely possible that my expectations were completely unrealistic (much as the expectations for Star Wars: The Phantom Menace were completely beyond the ability of anyone to match). Still, I went into the theater to watch the latest Indiana Jones flick attempting to keep as open a mind as possible.

I didn’t hate it.

I am sorry to say that’s the most rousing endorsement I can muster. This film definitely veers into more sci-fi territory than the previous ones, which were more fantasy, but that’s not a weakness, and it was done about as well as could be expected. The basic plot was fine, although it took them way too long to get there. Thinking on it purely subjectively, the initial sequence in Raiders of the Lost Ark was maybe a third fewer minutes than the pre-plot sequence here, and a helluvalot more believable.

I found the “big chase” in the late-middle of the film (equivalent to Indy trying to get the truck carrying the Ark, or the mine-car race) to be just a little too long. There was also a nasty peril that seemed very derivative, both conceptually and special-effects-wise, of the first Mummy film with Brendon Frasier. Note to parents; my 7-year-old was able to stomach it just fine (my 30-something wife is another matter). From a purely technical point of view, the special effects were of course outstanding (and my players can expect a few new traps to populate my Castle Greyhawk thanks to the film), but the crystal skull itself seemed a bit light whenever the actors lifted it. Like it was made of plastic and not, well, crystal (which is heavy as all get-out in real life).

But the biggest problem was the alterations in the characters. Marion Ravenwood went from one of the finest “strong woman” characters in film history, plenty able to keep her own whether drinking or fighting, to a meek wallflower who essentially spent her life waiting for the Man Of Her Dreams(tm) to come back into her life. Indy seems to have transitioned from the quintessential confident man of action into… well… into his father. I realize that twenty years are supposed to have passed, but these are simply not the characters they were, and no real explanation is given other than the implication that the torch is about to be passed to the next generation and you’d better get used to it. To me, that was the biggest disappointment.

And Nazis are definitely better villains than Commies.

In the scale of Indiana Jones films, I rank ’em thus:

#1 Raiders of the Lost Ark
#2 Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
#3 Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
#4 Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

Give it three stars out of five.

Written by 

Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

2 thoughts on “Review: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

  1. I liked the movie a great deal. I’d probably rank it as the second best of the four, just barely edging out Last Crusade, although, ironically, I think much of what made this one work was its riffing off of things in Last Crusade, including the transformation of Indy into a version of his father. I saw this as part of the point of the film.

    I imagine I was predisposed to like it, because I like 50s B-movie sci-fi and I always enjoy movies that touch on the passage of time. And I think the Commies make great villains, especially in a story that’s all about Science! and how it’ll change the world.

    My feeling remains that only Raiders is a good film in its own right and, even there, much of its greatness comes from simply being first. I’m reminded of Indy’s explanation to Marion as to why no other woman ever displaced here in his life, “They weren’t you.” I have the feeling that a lot of people feel let down by this movie, not because of its flaws (which are many), but because it’s not Raiders of the Lost Ark.

  2. Heather and I enjoyed the film, and she got into it even more than I did (which is always fun 😀 ). Definitely inspiring for the traps and trappings, and the funky, not-what-I-expected connections for the Crystal Skulls (I was thinking new age hokiness, not X-Files aliens). I was entertained, but not astounded, which is about what I expect from Indiana Jones in general.


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