Movie Review: <i>Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull</i>
05/20/2008 - 14:09 ||
Sorry if we don't immediately join the Indiana Jones fawn-a-thon that the rest of the world seems to be in on, but after getting a sneak peek at this summer's most anticipated blockbuster, we realized the swashbuckling adventurer needs a big lesson in Latin American history, Latina style. Our first clue to the historical/cultural inaccuracies in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull? Indy (Harrison Ford) lands in Cuzco circa the 1950's, a town depicted by director Steven Spielberg as a dingy street market filled with vaguely menacing men in woolen ponchos standing around and taking siestas while Mexican music plays in the background. We don't have Ph.D's in Latin American history or anything, but we're pretty sure the Peruvian city was a little bit more modern than Spielberg's condescending portrayal.
Now, we know what many of you might be thinking: "Indiana Jones movies are popcorn fun. If you're looking for archeological accuracy, you're missing the point. Get over it." But that's just your brainwashed-by-the-Man side talking, so listen in on the lesson:
Lesson #1: Indy, there's no way you learned Quechua from "a couple of guys who fought with Pancho Villa." Quechua is strictly a South American indigenous language. Pancho Villa was, of course, the Mexican revolutionary general who fought way up there in a place called North America.
Lesson #2: Mayans never, ever called Peru or any part of South America home, so those Chichen-Itzaesque pyramids and wall paintings in the middle of the Amazon? You're off by 2,000 miles.
Lesson #3: We know that you represent the Capitalist West and love to see people of different cultures as Savages, but there are no war-paint-wearing bands of martial-arts-knowing heathens roaming the Andes with spears and bolos. Maybe you were thinking of Sendero Luminoso rebels or the FARC? We'll give you the big-ass killer Amazon ants, though. Those are real.
Having said all that, as a summer popcorn flick, the long-awaited sure-to-be-a-blockbuster Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is not bad, if a bit corny. Harrison Ford is back as the archeology teacher/whip-cracking adventurer and though his 65-year-old body is a bit creaky—which is acknowledged with a few well-placed jokes early in the movie—he still looks pretty good.
Can't say that about the muddled Cold-War era plot, which has to do with beating some unsmiling Soviet types and their KGB-trained leader (Cate Blanchett's Galadriel-gone-bad Irina Spalko) to the titular cranium and returning it to the long-lost El Dorado for some reason or other. Along on the quest are a boy named Mutt (Shia LaBeouf), his mom, Raiders of the Lost Ark love interest Marion Ravenwood (the aging-but-still-spunky Karen Allen) and Indy's crazy mentor Professor Oxley (John Hurt).
But we don't watch Indy for plot, do we? We watch to see Indy and Co. fall into pits, accidentally trip on clever ancient traps and get chased by baddies, and there Steven Spielberg doesn't disappoint. Highlights are the great Atomic Age opening sequence, which is set in the mysterious Area 51 and includes a very Spielbergian scene of a fake plastic family getting incinerated by a test bomb, and a ridiculously long but fun-as-hell chase through the jungle and down some waterfalls, complete with vine-swinging monkeys and those ants. We smell a Disney ride.
After a start in which he tries a little too hard, Shia LaBeouf eases into the role of Mutt Williams, a rebel who may have the heart of a scholar for a really good reason. LaBeouf is clearly being groomed for Indy 2.0, which is probably a good idea. His natural combination of swagger and school-boy vulnerability may not be exactly be vintage Indy, but then, it's time for Harrison to become a museum piece himself.