Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Absurdity

Spoilers follow.

It’s been years since I’ve watched anything beyond mere segments of the individual installments, so I don’t profess to know anything about the essence of the Indiana Jones trilogy. Well, except for The Temple of Doom, which for some reason I always seem to catch on cable. But despite the campiness of heart grabbing & face melting, despite the uncomfortable racist caricatures, there’s an obvious pervasiveness of awesomeness to the series, with its thrills and romantic tension and airplane fights and mine cart chases and so forth. It’s just a kind of unbridled joy and charm that have inspired and – at the risk of blasphemy to those with better and fonder memories – undergirded more recent action-adventure epics such as The Mummy and National Treasure.

The problem is that The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull resembles The Mummy Returns, down to the annoying offspring and the awful special effects. The great parts of the pivotal chase through the jungle are overshadowed by the ridiculous sword fight taking place across two cars, not to mention the “is this for real” vine-swinging climax involving CG monkeys. Easing off the cliff, dodging bullets point-blank, and the waterfall drops all stick out like sore thumbs. Meanwhile, Mutt Williams is your standard rebel with something to prove straight out of a made-for-television movie, creepily aggravated when his mother shows any affection towards our titular hero. As with the second National Treasure, there are simply too many protagonists, with essentially no danger for any of them – and no tension for us – as we barrel towards the movie’s conclusion.

In a better movie, it would be easy to overlook the aforementioned nitpicks, the gophers and bouncing refrigerators and everything else. But Crystal Skull is a movie about mind-reading and brainwashing and aliens… fucking aliens. I understand the draw of that mythology, the mystery surrounding the history, and everything else, but it is fundamentally jarring to see scenes more suited for The X-Files or Alien vs. Predator than in a period piece about a professor and archaeologist. You either buy it or you don’t, and I couldn’t. Between the spaceships and the atomic bomb and everything else, this felt like Indiana Jones MEETS the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, in the vein of those fish-out-of-water Abbott and Costello comedies. I wouldn’t label it a terrible movie – it has its moments early – but an ridiculously awkward one, and at times an embarrassing and retarded one. 19 years, and this is the best they could do?

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