No DaVinci Code Horse-Whipping

Sections of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull are a great deal of fun. I felt jazzed and charged during a good 60% or even 70% of it. I was more than delighted at times. What a pleasure, I told myself over and over, to swim in a first-rate, big-budget action film that throws one expertly-crafted thrill after another at you, and with plotting that’s fairly easy to understand, dialogue that’s frequently witty and sharp, and performances — Harrison Ford, Shia LeBouf and Cate Blanchett‘s, in particular — that are 90% delctable from start to finish.

I heard some guys say as they left the theatre, “It’s okay…it’s fine…it’s good enough.” I talked to an Israeli journalist who kind of wrinkled his face and went, “Not really…not for me.” But nobody hates it. It gave me no real pain, and a healthy amount of serious moviegoing delight. (Although I was, from time time, slightly bothered.) Fears of a DaVinci Code-styled beat-down were, it turns out, unfounded.
I’m hedging because Indy 4 doesn’t have the stuffings of a great adventure film. It’s fine and appropriate that it stays in the good groove of an old-time action serial, but (and I’m really trying to stay clear of snooty, high-horse attitudes because they really don’t fit the occasion) I only wish that Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, David Koepp and Jeff Nathanson had attempted at least a superficial injection of a little heart and soul. Just a stab, I mean.
What they’ve done is certainly okay or good enough. I didn’t go into this thing expecting something by Euripides. Plus I had such a good time with Spielberg’s immaculate architecture, choreography and editing that I was just charmed and off-the-ground during much of it. The “old-school” character of it is pretty damn sublime. It felt wonderful to watch an adventure flick untouched or uninfluenced by time or post-Matrix or Tarantino-ish attitudes.
But it would have been that much better if they’d faked just a little personal or thematic weight — the old traditional “who I am and what I really need” stuff — and thrown it in for good measure.

The weak link is Karen Allen‘s performance as Marion Ravenwood. She’s never been a great actress, and her energy here feels a little forced and lacking a center — she’s too energetically “up.” Plus she looks like she’s had some work done, and that in itself throws you out of the movie’s 1957 setting. I’ve never hankered over the last 27 years for a reunion between Indy and Marion, largely because I’ve always felt hugely irritated by her “Indieeeeee!” scream. They made a pretty good team in ’81 but let’s not get all sentimental about this.
I’m not going to reveal the ending, but it ties in with Allen’s character and it just doesn’t work. It’s delivers a very odd vibe, the finale does. There’s a little hint that LeBouf will take over the series down the road, but everyone had this half-guessed…right?
It’s a superficial thrill ride, this movie — more of an out-and-out comedy with thrills than a solid adventure thriller with sly, wink-wink humor, which is how I always regarded Raiders of the Lost Ark.
But don’t believe for a single second that they tried to keep this film grounded in recognizable physics. Spielberg & Co. keep to the 1957 milieu and all, but they throw everything imaginable at the audience, including a huge nuclear explosion. There’s a triple dose of huge-waterfall plunging, and there’s a scene at the end that rivals the parting of the Red Sea sequence in Cecil D. DemIlle‘s The Ten Commandments. It’s a very high-energy, high-gloss, big-whoosh entertainment and enjoyable as hell for everyone except the crab-heads.
That said, the truth is that I’m partly one of those crab-heads. I wanted more than what I was given. Maybe the word for my attitude is “greedy” or “demanding.”
Flashback to initial iPhone Indy 4 review written from salle de press conference while being shoved and elbowed by photographers, about an hour ago: My ideal version of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull would be (a) just as beautifully shot, choreographed and CGI’ed as the film everyone just saw, but (b) grittier and snarlier with a stronger investment in good old classic machismo. Alas, Spielberg & Co. have decided, as far as (b) is concerned, on a lighter, more frolicsome tone — lots of eye-filling thrills and acrobatic derring-do but with an almost cartoonish emphasis on slapstick goofery. (Although this is delivered with great snap and panache.) The tone is a little less “classic Indy” and a little more (this dates me, I realize) Tom and Jerry.
Raiders was about a tough-guy archeologist; this latest installment is a family film — about Dad, Mom and Junior (i.e., Shia LeBouf’s “Mutt”) — with a very family-friendly, fun-time-at-Magic-Mountain tone.
The first two action sequences — an extended Indy vs. the Russians run-around and a wild motorcycle-and-car chase through New Haven’s Yale campus — are delightful. And the action sequences in the Amazon jungle that occupy the last 35 or 40 minutes are great also, if a little outlandish. Truth be told, a lot of the action is outlandish. But that’s the fun of it also.
Bottom line: it’s not the equal of Raiders of the Lost Ark or, frankly, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. (The more times I watch that film, the better it seems.) But it’s better than Temple of Doom, and that, at least, is a welcome thing.

  • wildphantom

    Jeffrey Wells and the Lost Cannes review!!

  • Bilge

    Jeff, there’s no need to italicize Euripides. It’s not a title, it’s a guy.

  • diesel

    I’m starting to look forward to the things they might do with Shia’s lead in the future.

  • wildphantom

    and there it is!
    thanks for ranking it in where you think it stands Jeff
    Better than Temple of Doom – omg!!!! Bring it. Bring it NOW!!!

  • Markj74

    Yeah but cinematically Temple stomps all over Crusade.

  • wildphantom

    I’m just happy everyone seems to be either rating it better than Temple or Crusade, and I love both of those for different reasons.
    I honestly didn’t believe I’d ever be making the comparisons, so to think I will on Wednesday night is immensely exciting

  • Mgmax, le Corbeau

    Damn, Jeff wiped the discussion of which James Bond film this is.

  • MathewM

    Good to see that Jeff “liked” it. His review sounds on the mark. Spielberg and Lucas didn’t care so much about character arc (there was never really one with the Indiana Jones character) but to deliver a good, old fashioned adventure romp. It will be interesting to see how well it plays though. I suspect it will open big but then drop off considerably. However there’s a lot of old fans out there who don’t go to see movies regularly so I could see it hanging around in theaters sipping at 5-10 million weekends on average for a couple of months.

  • Zimmergirl

    Odd for a guy who has been trashing Spielberg for years to both have ads for the film on the site AND give it a good review? Could it be we’re all friends now?

  • Movie Watcher

    I wonder if the next Indy will be in the 60’s or the 70’s. Shia dressed, maybe, a hippie, or in a disco? I hope they do it in 3 or 4 years. They can wrap up Indy’s story(Is he alive or dead?) and do away with Marion. Maybe introduce new characters; Shia will need a sidekick.

  • Jeffrey Kunze

    I knew Karen Allen was gonna be a weak link. Every single still I’ve seen for this film has her smiling a big, fake looking smile. Ugh. What is she, zonked out on Prozac.
    Now that that’s off my chest, I’m glad Jeff liked the movie.
    No mention of Ray Winstone?

  • http://www.obsessedwithfilm.com Ray

    I am getting trashed for my review of the new Indy box set for basically saying the same damn thing about the sequels: too funny and slapstick, not grounded in reality or believable physics, etc. For some reason, people cannot seem to see the glaring difference in quality and storytelling between RAIDERS and the other two films. Perhaps that owes to Harrison’s uniformly great performances in these, but whatever.
    http://www.obsessedwithfilm.com/movie-news/ray-devours-the-new-indiana-jones-dvd-box-set.php

  • http://actionman-nickspix.blogspot.com/ actionman

    Just bought my tickets for next Saturday in the dome. So f’ing excited to see this movie.

  • mutinyco

    Nice to see they let Fidel Castro participate in the press conference…

  • Dzayson

    “I only wish that Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, David Koepp and Jeff Nathanson has attempted at least a superficial injection of a little heart and soul”
    Wells, isn’t that where Lucas and Spielberg tend to get themselves into trouble? Those two, moreso than perhaps any other A-list fillmakers in the biz, really struggle walking the line between heart and blatant sentimentality. They rarely wind up on the right side, obviously. Saving Private Ryan, for example, could have been one of the absolute greatest films of our time had Spielberg not insisted on shoving the flapping American flag/”tell me I’m a good man” bullshit down our throats. So if it’s all-or-nothing with these two, I’m for no heart rather than too much.

  • Roman

    Excellent, I’m counting minutes to this movie. One correction though, Good Temple of Doom is much much better than Last Crusade.

  • T. S. Idiot

    “No mention of Ray Winstone?”
    Winstone gives the best performance in The Departed, but few reviews even mentioned him. Same for Cold Mountain.

  • rockne

    MGMAX: Post the Bond thing again…that was a decent comparison between the two franchises.(Though i’ve never seen Moonraker)

  • Geoff

    Fidel Castro on the far left there?

  • jimjonesiii

    “Though i’ve never seen Moonraker”
    doesn´t matter. mgmax hasn`t seen Skull

  • calraigh

    For what it’s worth Jeff, and everyone else, Karen Allen hasn’t had any work done.She’s fiercely anti-surgery and she’s a yoga affcicianado, so if she looks good, well it’s good genes and a good lifestyle I’m afraid.It’s a little lazy and tired to go the ol’, ”She’s had work done” when you have absolutely no evidence to back it up, isn’t it?Harrison Ford looks like he’s had ‘work’ done too but nobody really wants to talk about that, do they?Of course, I have no evidence to back that up…

  • markj

    Yeah but cinematically Temple stomps all over Crusade.

  • calraigh

    For what it’s worth Jeff, and everyone else, Karen Allen hasn’t had any work done.She’s fiercely anti-surgery and she’s a yoga afficianado, so if she looks good, well it’s good genes and a good lifestyle I’m afraid. It’s a little lazy and tired to go the ol’, ”She’s had work done” route when you have absolutely no evidence to back it up, isn’t it? Harrison Ford looks like he’s had ‘work’ done too but nobody really wants to talk about that, do they?Of course, I have no evidence to back that up…
    However I can’t account for the ‘upness’ of her performance and have to admit, it does sound a little grating.

  • calraigh

    Emm, sorry for posting twice-goddamn server in Ireland is a nightmare for some reason today..

  • Mgmax

    Damn, Jeff wiped the discussion of which James Bond film this is.

  • BurmaShave

    What the hell happened to Harrison Ford’s hair between yesterday and today? He’s a really handsome guy still, it’d be nice if he’d comb it every morning. And yeah, the Winstone as Fidel thing is gloriously apt.

  • http://www.mustardayonnaise.com lazespud

    “The more times I watch that film [last crusade], the better it seems.”
    How many times, exactly, have you seen the film? You generally hate Spielberg. Why would you subject yourself to that? I’m not like the guy above that is basically accusing you of selling your opinion cuz they’re advertising on your site… I’m just genuinely wondering how many times you’ve seen the film. It reads like you’ve seen it at least three times, which seems like a lot for someone who dislikes a director…

  • jimjonesiii

    California Wells and the Flip Flop Review.

  • Dan Revill

    Hopefully it’s as fun as Wells seems to say it is. That’s all I want from an Indy film.

  • D.Z.

    “I heard some guys say as they left the theatre, “It’s okay…it’s fine…it’s good enough.” I talked to an Israeli journalist who kind of wrinkled his face and went, “Not really…not for me.” But nobody hates it. It gave me no real pain, and a healthy amount of serious moviegoing delight. (Although I was, from time time, slightly bothered.) Fears of a DaVinci Code-styled beat-down were, it turns out, unfounded.”
    So it’s just mediocre, instead of awful? I guess Lucas was going for the approach he used on Sith.
    diesel: “I’m starting to look forward to the things they might do with Shia’s lead in the future.”
    It’s already been done. It was called Young Indiana Jones.
    mark: “Yeah but cinematically Temple stomps all over Crusade.”
    Except for the whiny supporting characters and a buffet left over from Mondo Cane…
    Zimmer: “Odd for a guy who has been trashing Spielberg for years to both have ads for the film on the site AND give it a good review? Could it be we’re all friends now?”
    I think it’s because it’s Spielberg channeling Lucas, so it’s not as sappy as usual.
    Movie Watcher: “I wonder if the next Indy will be in the 60’s or the 70’s. Shia dressed, maybe, a hippie, or in a disco? I hope they do it in 3 or 4 years.”
    Isn’t that basically Austin Powers?

  • T. Holly

    Zimmergirl, you’re so right and you’re so in trouble, but probably not in nearly as much as that guy who live-blogged, which D.Po called out. Wonder how you feel about it. I’ve let my positive feelings be known.

  • Markj74

    D.Z. – I did say ‘cinematically’. The camerawork, FX and action are miles better in Doom than they are in Crusade. Doom still has Spielberg firing on all cylinders whereas Crusade has a lazy Spielberg smarting from the failure of Empire of the Sun.
    The action sequences in Crusade are pretty poor (apart from the opening train sequence, which is a lot of fun), the tank sequence is a bloated and less effective version of the truck chase from Raiders. Ford doesn’t even seem like Jones in Crusade, he’s too busy being a stooge for Connery’s schtick.
    Crusade’s FX work really suffers from Dennis Muren not being onboard, the zeppelin and plane sequences are particularly uninspired and badly matted. Everything is relative of course, an ordinary Spielberg film is better than 90% of the supposed blockbusters we get these days, but Crusade really is the weak link in the Indy series.

  • D.Z.

    The only noteworthy effect in ToD was the glowing rocks. Everything else was a bunch of long-winded chase scenes.
    Grail actually had intelligent scenarios which the other two films lacked. In the first two films, Indy escapes through the use of mysterious forces in his favor; the last flick required him to be more cautious and think his way out of each situation. That’s why it works.

  • monsieur hire

    Just saw it and loved it. Disagree with Jeff about the “heart” issue, however — didn’t need it, want it or otherwise, and felt like there was just enough there (that ending included) to make it work.
    The action sequences really thrill (fire ants by the billions and motorcycles sliding under library tables) even when they overextend (swinging from vines with monkeys).
    Of the three sequels, this one struck me as the most unabashedly entertaining, filled with rotting corpses, great chases, funny generational squabbles, impeccable period design, a riot of a villain in Cate Blanchett and a pretty cool climax though it does feel a bit like Raiders redux for a sec.
    Jeff — KAREN ALLEN looks to have had no work done — where are you getting this from? I thought she looked at least her age, saggy though still fine, and agree that her performance was a bit on the pushy side though you could feel the audience’s enthusiasm when she hit the screen over an hour in.
    And there is no way you can’t love the “rope” thrown to Indy during the quicksand scene. Great stuff.

  • scooterzz

    saw it this morning and agree with monsieur…..it’s a blast….competely over the top and that’s just fine……
    also agree that karen allen appers to have had no ‘work’ done at all (unlike ford, who looks great, btw)……
    and, shia labeouf acquitted himself nicely……
    hard to imagine that any other movie this season could deliver more bang for the buck……

  • berg

    Mutt Jones and the Kingdom of the Atomic Groundhogs

  • ZacharyTF

    No comment about the suggestive way in which Cate is holding the water bottle while talking to the Bearded one?

  • scooterzz

    berg — um,…yeah….i guess we coulda done without the groundhogs……i was trying to forget that part……

  • Jimmycrackcorn

    I hate to jump on the “makes a mockery of the laws of physics” bandwagon, because I like to suspend disbelief as much as the next guy, but it’s really hard to go with some of the idiotic stuff this movie throws at you. A 65-year-old guy getting punched in the face and gut about 50 times each and coming up fine? I can watch that and say “hey, it’s a movie.” His surviving the projectile force in the atomic blast scene without a scratch? I can deal with that. But I’m sorry, it lost me about the time the main characters go over a succession of three Niagra Falls-sized waterfalls, each while sitting inside a jeep. I realize the movie is based on old serials that weren’t ripe with verisimillitude, but come on…. the movie would actually be better, not worse, without this kind of crap taking intelligent adults out of it. Once upon a time, characters had to find ways to avoid going over waterfalls. Here, no one ever has to avoid danger, because they’re invulnerable.

  • Aladdin Sane

    Hopefully it’s as fun as Wells seems to say it is. That’s all I want from an Indy film.

  • markj

    D.Z. – I did say ‘cinematically’. The camerawork, FX and action are miles better in Doom than they are in Crusade. Doom still has Spielberg firing on all cylinders whereas Crusade has a lazy Spielberg smarting from the failure of Empire of the Sun.

    The action sequences in Crusade are pretty poor (apart from the opening train sequence, which is a lot of fun), the tank sequence is a bloated and less effective version of the truck chase from Raiders. Ford doesn’t even seem like Jones in Crusade, he’s too busy being a stooge for Connery’s schtick.

    Crusade’s FX work really suffers from Dennis Muren not being onboard, the zeppelin and plane sequences are particularly uninspired and badly matted. Everything is relative of course, an ordinary Spielberg film is better than 90% of the supposed blockbusters we get these days, but Crusade really is the weak link in the Indy series.

  • scooterzz

    jimmy — the phrase ‘in for a penny, in for a pound’ comes to mind……

  • Mgmax, le Corbeau

    I realize the movie is based on old serials that weren’t ripe with verisimillitude, but come on…. the movie would actually be better, not worse, without this kind of crap taking intelligent adults out of it. Once upon a time, characters had to find ways to avoid going over waterfalls.
    If it were REALLY true to the old serials, it would show a clear shot of them going over the waterfall in the Jeep, then cut to them standing on the cliff’s edge watching the Jeep plummet….

  • DavidF

    I’ll concede that “cinematically” ToD is better than Last Crusade but I’ve been rewatching the movies this week and I don’t care what some people say: ToD is just weak.
    On one level it’s DARK and people love that as opposed to the SILLY Crusade. On the other hand it’s got lots of smelly elephant jokes and things like the buffet scene that are just over the top in being silly (and I’m not Indian but I could see why some Indians might be offended).
    There are some great gags and some great sequences but mostly it’s just too absurd. The prince with the voodoo doll? The Sleep of Kali which can be negated by magic fire which wakes people up without burning them? A small Indian village where everyone speaks English?
    The insects ain’t the snakes, Capshaw ain’t Karen Allen and the bad guy sure ain’t Paul Freeman. Crusade has faults (including the afformentioned weak FX) but at least it’s FUN.
    (Also, I like Gruver’s shot of Shia’s nametag, ensuring that never again will he spell his last name wrong. Never, ever.)

  • berg

    I actually liked the GROUNDHOGS, and I liked the way the Paramount logo (based on Ben Lomond Peak in the Wasatch Range near Ogden, Utah?) morphs into a rodent mound at the very beginning – very Caddyshack

  • berg

    I actually liked the GROUNDHOGS, and I liked the way the Paramount logo (based on Ben Lomond Peak in the Wasatch Range near Ogden, Utah?) morphs into a rodent mound at the very beginning – very Caddyshack

  • http://www.lytrules.com Luke Y. Thompson

    Surprised Jeff didn’t mention that Indy basically turns out to be a Republican in this. Talks about how he has a history of spying on the “Reds,” and when asked to deliver his last words, says “I like Ike!” and boasts about his war record.
    Though I guess if I had the immune system to survive the immediate aftermath of a nuclear bomb merely by being scrubbed in the shower, I wouldn’t mind righties as much. Maybe drinking from the holy grail gives you immunity from cancer.
    Nonetheless, I liked the movie a lot.

  • D.Z.

    David: The Indians speaking English isn’t out of the question, given he history of the British there.
    LYT: Well, it’s not really surprising, since the villains are commies.

  • Mgmax

    I realize the movie is based on old serials that weren’t ripe with verisimillitude, but come on…. the movie would actually be better, not worse, without this kind of crap taking intelligent adults out of it. Once upon a time, characters had to find ways to avoid going over waterfalls.

    If it were REALLY true to the old serials, it would show a clear shot of them going over the waterfall in the Jeep, then cut to them standing on the cliff’s edge watching the Jeep plummet….

  • http://www.lytrules.com LYT

    Surprised Jeff didn’t mention that Indy basically turns out to be a Republican in this. Talks about how he has a history of spying on the “Reds,” and when asked to deliver his last words, says “I like Ike!” and boasts about his war record.

    Though I guess if I had the immune system to survive the immediate aftermath of a nuclear bomb merely by being scrubbed in the shower, I wouldn’t mind righties as much. Maybe drinking from the holy grail gives you immunity from cancer.

    Nonetheless, I liked the movie a lot.

  • alan

    I just saw a new TV spot:
    The must-see movie of the summer!
    “Action packed! A thrill a minute!!! A roller coaster ride of laughter and excitement!!!!!!!” – Harry Knowles
    “It gave me no real pain.” – Jeffrey Wells
    Don’t miss it!
    Ok, not really, but that would be awesome.

  • Richardson

    “A small Indian village where everyone speaks English?”
    I’m not calling you a liar, but I find it unusual that you would say this if you had actually watched it again, since there is only one person in the entire village who speaks English, the guy that the villagers bring Indy to so that he can explain to Indy (who speaks their language somewhat) what’s going on.

  • jenyamato

    A mediocre-to-bad Indiana Jones is no Indiana Jones movie at all. We deserved much better than Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls. I left the theater defeated, dismayed, disappointed…
    I don’t see how anyone can acknowledge the glaring failures and misfires of Indy IV and still recommend it (three separate Caddyshack groundhog shots in the opening alone, wimpy sidekicks, a terrible main villain demise, too many “Indiana Jones is ancient” jokes, locations that look like sets, lack of heart, and a killer bug sequence right out of The Mummy).

  • DavidF

    Richardson & DZ: I’ll revise. TWO people in the village explicitly speak English.
    The children from the village also speak fluent English in the mine (though, perhaps that’s just from being exposed to the maharja who speaks English?). Mola Ram also speaks English.
    I’m well aware of the British involvement in India, but one senses that Indy et al arrived in a rather remote location. Anyway, it’s the least of the problems with Temple of Doom.

  • DarthCorleone

    So I just saw it last night and was now able to come back to read this.
    I’m confused. Very confused.
    I’m repeatedly one of the staunchest Spielberg defenders around here. When it comes to genre pics or tentpole films of the Indiana Jones ilk, Jeffrey Wells and I often differ with him on the negative side.
    But he gave this more than a pass. He gave it an almost glowing review.
    And me? This was the most unpleasant cinematic experience of my life. So disillusioning. I’ve been talking and writing about it enough the last twelve hours, so I’ll spare the indepth analysis, but I’m just floored by how much Spielberg and Lucas completely dropped the ball. It is such a complete upheaval of the spirit of its predecessors – a pale, pathetic shadow really – that I don’t know what to say.

  • Daviddb

    I snuck into a theater tonight, not to see Indy Jones 4 again, but to see the exclusive trailer of “Curious Case of Benjamin Button” playing in front of it…suprised no one else has caught it yet…not surprisingly, it looks absolutely stunning.

  • shawnlee

    A mediocre-to-bad Indiana Jones is no Indiana Jones movie at all. We deserved much better than Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls. I left the theater defeated, dismayed, disappointed…I don’t see how anyone can acknowledge the glaring failures and misfires of Indy IV and still recommend it (three separate Caddyshack groundhog shots in the opening alone, wimpy sidekicks, a terrible main villain demise, too many “Indiana Jones is ancient” jokes, locations that look like sets, lack of heart, and a killer bug sequence right out of The Mummy). HP0-M36 \ HP0-S30 \ 1z0-539 \ 156-910.70 \ 642-067