The second real tent-pole movie of the summer has come and gone. I saw it alone in a relatively packed theater. The crowd was energetic, but not talky or obnoxious, so I had that going for me. I wanted to really, really like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but I didn’t.
As I walked out of the theater, I was not smiling by the energy and fun of another Indiana Jones movie. I walked out with a general feeling of disappointment… potential squandered…a touch of sadness. After letting my subconscious percolate for a few hours on why I felt this way, I had a revelation. I know exactly what’s wrong with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: The script fucking sucks.
David Koepp turned in an annoying, borderline incompetent and meandering script that doesn’t make sense, doesn’t answer a plethora of questions, and treats the audience like we are morons. I’m not sure how much of Koepp I can blame. I know George Lucas had a hand in the story because all the ridiculous cuteness and over the top stupidness screams Lucas. Spielberg could make a competent movie in his sleep, so I’m not inclined to drop much blame on his shoulders other than essentially going through the motions.
Koepp/Spielberg/Lucas steal from a bunch of movies and sometimes even from themselves. We get nods and winks to Star Wars (I’ve got a bad feeling about this…), American Graffiti and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but also Caddyshack, The Mummy (the new one), Star Trek The Wrath of Khan (“It’s a long story.” “We have plenty of time.”), The Wild One, The Untouchables (“Brought a knife to a gun fight”), Dr. No (scrubbing scene) and Tarzan (the damn vine swinging scene). Unfortunately, they don’t steal from the one movies they should have stolen from: Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Lets start with motivation of your main character. Why does Indiana Jones do what he does in the movie? He heads out with this kid in tow, but why? The audience knows (or guesses) Mutt is Indy’s kid and we know that “Mary” is Marion, but Indy doesn’t. It’s not even Indy who cares about the crystal skulls, but some other character who we meet via a photograph and a ton of dialogue. The audience is frequently ahead of the characters and the story and that’s bad.
The entire scene with Mutt and Indy in the diner is bland, boring and bloated. The first rule for writing is to show not tell and there’s a shitload of telling in this scene and it’s not even done in an interesting way. We get the entire story of Oxley and Mutt, we learn Mutt’s mom was also kidnapped, we get a letter from Mutt’s mom and then a whole bunch of crap about the skulls. It is confusing and convoluted. Why not just say, “My Mom’s Marion Ravenwood, and she’s missing.” There’s the motivation for your lead character and the audience would have loved the reaction scene from Harrison Ford, plus the audience would then be waiting for the big scene with Indy and Marion together.
As it stands, there are just too many damn characters to keep track of in this flick. Oxley is totally superfluous to the story. Indy should be the one interested in the crystal skulls. At the very least, it gives him even more motivation within the confines of the story. There is no motivation for Indy to want the crystal skull, hence the audience doesn’t care either.
The other wasted character is Mac. The double-crossing sidekick is a time-honored tradition, but here he’s boring and predictable. Everyone knew he was going to betray Indy again and I was pissed Indy was taken so easily twice. Why even have this guy in Peru watching Indy? Shouldn’t his services have no longer been required? Shouldn’t the Russians have killed him? He didn’t even need to be in the flick. You could have rewritten nearly everything with him in the movie and it would have been stronger and leaner.
I was interested in having a female villain in the story, but I didn’t quite understand Irina Spalko’s motivation. What does she want and why? I don’t know. The audience doesn’t have a clue except they already know going into the movie she’s the baddie. As a character trait we are lead to believe she is psychic, but it goes nowhere. Why keep it in the story? Was that her motivation for wanting the skull? Her sword prop was interesting, but dammit couldn’t she have used it somehow? She could have killed Mac early in the film to motivate Indy to finding the Hanger 51 box (By the way, Hanger 18 is where, allegedly, the Roswell crash stuff is/was held and it’s Area 51 where they test the aircraft/flying saucers/etc). In retrospect, she was rather weak and uninspiring.
Another weakly written character is Marion. She seems more like a guest of the Russians in Peru than a kidnap victim. She’s none the worse for wear for her ordeal and in no real danger. The reunion scene seemed unrealistic and forced, plus I didn’t understand Marion’s motivation for keeping her son’s identity a secret. It’s a plot point that never really rang true.
Okay, we’ve established we have an ambiguously motivated lead character, too many supporting characters, a weak villain and a damsel in distress that doesn’t seem all that distressed. Not a good start.
Lets talk about the story. Nearly every one of the story beats is handled wrong. I can’t believe this script did not get another re-write. Seriously.
The entire warehouse/bomb/FBI scene is unrealistic, forced and boring. The most important part of the scene from a story standpoint is all the explanation from Indy about being on a bus and seeing mutilated bodies. I’m pretty sure he is referencing the Roswell crash. Hey, I have an idea! Why don’t we start in 1947 with the Roswell crash and ditch this whole warehouse/nuclear test/under investigation by the FBI bullshit. It will also help lessen the impact of the flying saucer ending since the audience already knows aliens might be involved.
One the great moments in any Indiana Jones movie is Indy getting past all the traps and puzzles. We have none of that in this movie and it is sorely missing. Even finding the skull was sloppy seconds. If we ditch the Oxley character then Indy can do all the cool death-defying escaping from the traps, except we don’t have any of them anyway. Worse still, all Indy has to do to find the damn skull is lift a corpse and a blanket? That never happens in an Indiana Jones film. It’s too easy. Besides, shouldn’t all the metal in the damn room be drawn to the skull as was established early on?
Also, I’m also confused about the natives in the walls. Were they there for hundreds of years? Did they tie into the graveyard protectors? Just who the hell are they? Poor storytelling.
Of course there were age jokes and I expected them. The problem is that all these older characters are doing things that are nearly superhuman. The fist fight scenes are entirely too long and Indy never seems to be hurt. As a character, Indy used to feel the pain. Here, he’s superman.
The whole sword fight between the Jeeps was so over the top I thought it must have been a hold over idea Lucas didn’t get to do in the Star Wars prequels. Storytelling 101 – If there’s an important character trait we should know about like sword fighting, the audience has to have some sort of knowledge about it previously. Spinning around a switchblade isn’t enough.
The worst part of the film for me as a whole was Indy’s ease at helping the Russians at nearly every point. He’d ask for something and they’d get it for him. Why doesn’t he misdirect them? The worst scene was the damn sandpit. It’s just terrible with Indy delivering lines a la Data from the first season of Next Generation and a snake joke that wasn’t funny. Okay, the vine swinging was a more stupid idea, but the sandpit was the worst scene. Also, don’t get me started on the prairie dogs. As soon as they appeared I thought I was going to hear either Kenny Loggins singing “I’m Alright” or someone yelling, “Alvin!!!!”
I’m not one to talk, cheer, clap or do much other than laugh at the movies. However, I made one exception. When Marion says, “I’m sure there were plenty of other women…” and Indy says, “Sure, but there was just one problem…” In the dramatic pause, like I was watching the Rocky Horror Picture Show, I said loud enough the couple three rows away could easily hear me, “None of them are you!” After Indy repeated the line I said, “I could have fucking written this movie…”
As for the climax, if someone can explain to me the whole 13 skeletons becoming one living alien/dimensional being and melting Spalko I’ll be forever in your debt. I mean, I’m the guy who digs and understands the ending of Vanilla Sky and I didn’t get this at all. Wasn’t there some sort of gift they were supposed to give?
The final straw for me wasn’t the wedding per se, but the tease of Mutt holding the fedora. I might have audibly said, “No. No. No. No. No. No. No.” right up to the point of Indy taking the hat from him. I’m not sure I like the implication.
Quick Thoughts Because I’m Too Tired to Keep Bitching:
- Surviving a nuclear explosion by sealing one self inside a lead-lined refrigerator seems impossible
- What was the point of the scorpion stinging Mutt? It offered nothing. By the way, scorpions don’t bite, they sting.
- What was the point of the FBI/Person of Interest idea? It went nowhere.
- Why did the skull “speak” to Indy and not to Spalko?
- How did Oxley get passed the natives in the walls?
- How did two elderly gentlemen survive falling down three waterfalls of dizzying heights?
It’s sad. I’m actually thinking of not buying this movie on DVD. I don’t think I can honestly say I would have ever thought that would happen with an Indiana Jones installment.