Why Indy 4 Doesn't Live Up

So I saw Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull last night, and I have to say that it really doesn’t live up to expectations, which is disappointing, to say the least. Of all the movies that I’ve been looking forwards to this year, I think that it had the most to live up to, and so far, it’s a shame that it didn’t really hit the high mark that it should have.

Caution, spoilers follow. The movie opens showing us that the world of Indiana Jones has moved forwards 20 or so years. It’s now 1957, and the Cold War is in full force. Unfortunately, the reminders don’t stop, from the constant tidbits and hints that are dropped throughout the film. Apparently Indiana worked for the US government, fought in the war, won some metals, and continued to teach. (There was a fun cameo by the guy who plays the Janitor from Scrubs). The Nazis are gone, replaced by the Soviets.

The movie’s fast paced, exciting and holds no surprises. Indy films have a certain number criteria – you need a couple car chases, agents with foreign accents, some fist fights some sort of mythical elements and of course, a mass of small, creepy animals. This time, it’s giant ants who cart off anyone who strets on their turf. This film pretty much has all of the above.

Unfortunately, while this movie has all of the elements of an Indy film, they seemed to leave out the emotional essence that has really defines the prior films in the franchise. In Raiders of the Lost Ark, we see Indiana Jones motivated somewhat by greed, the need to save an artifact from misuse (thus saving the world), and the desire to save the girl, and this is somewhat replicated in the Temple of Doom and The Last Crusade. Here, Indy himself is just along for the ride, brought into things by Mutt (a horribly craptacular name) who turns out to be his son. Indiana has been busy already, being kidnapped and taken to Area 51 to identify a crate containing the remains of an alien from Roswell, where we first see our Russian foes.

Indiana is showing his years. He’s gray, and doesn’t sound like he used to. There’s a certain wariness to the character. Once he gets his leather jacket and fedora on, the action picks up a bit, but the core of the movie is just not there. Indy’s not motivated, not by love, not by the desire to protect the past from misuse. He’s essentially along for the ride.

There are some moments that work out here. The grave yard scene is fun, as is the jeep chase through the jungle (despite the fact that no jungle would ever be that open), Indiana surviving a nuclear detonation, and seeing some tidbits from the last couple movies, such as the glimpse of the Ark of the Covenant, the picture of Sean Connery and Marcus (another reminder that 20 years has passed). It was also neat to see South America again.
I’m not sure yet what I think about the UFOs and Roswell connection to the franchise. While I’m all for mythical elements, I think this was a little overboard, and it reminded me far too much of the movie Stargate. Indiana Jones and Aliens just don’t sit right, not when there have been stories with a lot more depth. There was a neat little biblicdal reference with the red ants parting when they came across the skull, a sort of parting of the red sea. The story here doesn’t come close to the one that comes together here.

One big reason why I think that I’m a little annoyed was the constant reminders to who Indiana Jones is, and what he’s done. The original Trilogy is sufficiently old and well known enough that most elements of Indiana are pretty well known. We know he doesn’t like snakes. We know about the Ark, we know about his father and Marcus. Plus, after the beginning, we know that this is all in the Cold War, yet there are reminders everywhere in the movie. To me, that is pretty sloppy screen writing.

Yet, even here, there are some classic indy moments. “Damn, I thought that was closer” and “I Like Ike” will probably go down as such. Actually, the whole first act might qualify someday.

Finally, the worst aspect of the movie was Shia LaBeouf. Alternating between irritating kid and helper, he didn’t add too much to the movie, and I was really annoyed when the hat rolled to him, a sort of passing the franchise onto a newer and younger audience. I hope that doesn’t happen. While I’d like to so see Indy continue, I’d like to see good movies.

Indiana Jones has come to the atomic age – he’s made the transition from the adventure pulps to the science fiction ones, and I’m not sure the transition made the jump all that well. This is a new Indiana Jones, and while there are traces of the old one, there’s many differences. This isn’t a bad movie, but it’s not entirely what I, or most fans of the old movies hoped for.


3 thoughts on “Why Indy 4 Doesn't Live Up

  1. You made one new and excellent point that no one’s brought up with me before: the motivation. You hit that on the money, and if Indy had proper motivation, the movie would have had more of a passion and urgency to it that was indeed missing.The alien bit also bothers me. It’s been argued with me that Indy always has these mysterious and mythical things, but I do feel it’s like we’re mixing the foods on our plate in an unappetizing way. Indy and aliens don’t quite go together…and people would have all seen the giant saucer, and witnessed the destruction of a site that was open to the public. I think when they get rid of something in Indy movies, it should be quiet…a nice, smooth cover-up.As for the passing on of the hat, yeah, I was upset, too. But you knew it was going to happen. It happens elsewhere…how many have played James Bond? We can only hope that in the past 20 years they’ve developed a few promising plots.

  2. I’m going with the idea that Indy as a pulp hero just doesn’t translate well into the Sci-Fi pulp era. (I’m talking about magazines here). There were a lot of science fiction pulps in the 30s, but Indy seems to have been based off of the adventure ones, which were then overtaken by the SciFi ones. I think that there were ways to make the story better, but the whole of the matter is just that the character and general stories just don’t translate as well. As for passing the hat, in my mind, there can only be one Indiana Jones, and that’s Harrison Ford. I’m not that big of a Bond fan, but I don’t like it when the same character is played by a gazillion different actors. Oh well. I’m a little worried that they’ll do the same thing with the Jason Bourne movies, and go with a new actor there when Matt Damon decides that he doesn’t like beating up people with tea towels.

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