Chris "The Tingler" Capel investigates:
"Amongst the enthron'd gods on Sainted seats.
Yet some there be that by due steps aspire
To lay their just hands on that golden key
That opes the palace of Eternity.
-- John Milton, Comus
Short review: I enjoyed it, but it's got plenty of flaws, and I understand why some reviewers might hate it. Now let me elaborate.
If you've somehow managed to avoid every single spoiler or rumour about this film, well done, you're a god amongst men. Hell, when going to see the damn film there was an advert at the start for the Lego sets that showed the bloody ending!! I however swear not to spoil anything specific here. There is one thing you have to know though that is crucial to your enjoyment of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, at least if you've enjoyed the other Indy movies and think you know what to expect. In the Indy timeline it's now 1957, and the filmmakers wanted to "update" Indy to that period. The original trilogy were based on the adventure serials from the '30s, but the '50s were all about Communism, paranoia and Science Fiction B-Movies. In short, expect Raiders of the Lost Ark meets The X-Files (with Russians). It's still identifiably Indy, but there are definitely sci-fi elements which may jar with a lot of people.
BETTER DEAD THAN RED
With the Commies now replacing the Nazis, they do a pretty good job at menacing our hero, although it's only the supposedly psychic ice-bitch Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett, mostly doing a convincing accent) who talks. A Toht-like Evil Russian would've been welcome, although there is one soldier than Indy grapples with a few times. Dovchenko here rarely speaks though, so it's very hard to hate him as much.
What is cool though is the Crystal Skull itself. It really is a scary little bastard. Its power though is never properly explained, and I got the impression that even the Russians didn't really know why they were going after it. Mac (Ray Winstone) at least is just understandably after the wealth of El Dorado (the fabled City of Gold that is convincingly linked to the legend of the Crystal Skulls in the movie). At least the Crystal Skull looks cool and follows the movie all the way.
There are plenty of moments though when you think "well, that was pretty easy wasn't it?" One thing all the original Indy films have in common is that every step of the way is a struggle for Indy, and overcoming that struggle is what makes the films (or indeed any good action flick) enjoyable. KOTCS could've done with a bit more struggle and a touch more overcoming. The first recovery of the Crystal Skull is a good example, in which there is barely any peril at all and mostly involves just finding the door. Twice.
"LINES IN THE EARTH THAT ONLY THE GODS CAN SEE"
The action scenes are all pretty good and the film absolutely never gets boring, but far too many moments aim for fun over shocks, so prepare for some silly moments. Shia LaBeouf's Tarzan impression springs to mind. One insect-based moment is ripped off from The Mummy, and when Indy starts imitating an Indy imitator I worry that universe will explode.
The cast in general do an excellent job, although that really depends on your opinion of Shia LaBeouf. I think he does an okay job here and never really gets annoying. Karen Allen's Marion makes a wonderful reappearance, John Hurt is nicely mad (although if they make another film I want him centre-stage), Ray Winstone is nicely morally ambiguous and Harrison Ford... is Indy. I can't think of a better compliment.
John Williams' music deserves a special nod as usual, weaving his usual magic, pressing the 'Raiders March' button whenever needed, and even throwing in the Grail Knight music from Last Crusade a couple of times. The theme for the Crystal Skull is nicely creepy and otherworldly, and I swear at one point it's a scary version of the Close Encounters tune! The effects are equally good as I think we all expect from ILM, and are about 90% real. That 10% CGI though does stick out a bit, particularly in the finale.
On the technical side though, David Koepp's script is clearly the weak link. Even the experienced cast struggle with a couple of lines, although the dialogue is usually good and it's just the general plotting that falls down. For example, one of the great things about the Indiana Jones series is the globe-trotting, seeing many exotic locations and troubling them equally. Here we're treated to America and Mexico. That's it. Bit of a gyp really. I can't really go into detail about the script without spoiling things, but let's just say Frank Darabont or Jeff Nathanson should've been given a second chance.
"YOU'VE GOT TO GET OUT OF THE LIBRARY!"
Surprisingly, the closest comparison I can find is actually Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine of all things. A psychic who never actually proves that she's psychic, Russians as villains, US government paranoia about the Commies, Indy starting off digging for dull artifacts (not shown on screen though)... heck, even the Infernal Machine itself makes an appearance! I'm skipping on the edge of a spoiler there, so I won't go any further. The sad thing is, a couple of those elements are actually done better in Infernal Machine than they are in this film! Volodnikov for example has a lot more depth than Spalko, which is a pity as I'd really like to have seen more to her (steady down, I don't mean in that way). The McCarthy-era paranoia of the US government appears briefly at the beginning but then gets forgotten, which is a pity as having the US searching for the Lost City and turning out to be the real bad guys (like that gangster rat, Turner) would've been a really cool twist and added more suspense in a film light on both.
Nevertheless, I enjoyed myself so much that I went to see it again. And do you know what? It was immensely better the second time around. When I stopped looking for flaws I enjoyed it a whole lot more. I can't remember which review I read it in, but they said that kids would hate this film. That is b******s. I saw a school's worth of kids coming out of the cinema and they all loved it, plus once you remove the expectations the original films bring you can accept the Sci-Fi and the film a lot easier and see it for what it is – a damn good slice of cheesy fun.
Still think Atlantis would've made a better MacGuffin in every way, though.
Second Opinion by Jason H.
Combine god-awful screenwriting with great set pieces and you wind up with an extremely average Indy movie. Not good, not bad, and not worth a 19 year wait. Obviously the experience of seeing Harrison Ford (who is great) on the big screen with his hat and whip again is irresistible, but as much as I wanted this movie they shouldn't have made it if they weren't going to make it something special that their hearts were actually in.
Also, what's up with the film's look? The cinematography was hazy, soft, digital-ly, and made the movie feel like a giant dream sequence. Granted, recent Spielberg films have this look, but what works for War of the Worlds and Munich doesn't work for comic book inspired Indiana Jones. Where's the color and the vibrancy? I realize the DP of the first three films has retired, but they still could have made the film's palette less drab and subdued and, well, Photoshoppy. Just really bothered me.
Second Opinion by Gabriel S.
This wasn't so much a fourth film as an epilogue to the first three. But when I say "epilogue," I don't mind a farty J.K. Rowling style one: I mean a long, powerful J.R.R. Tolkien sort, that's a story in itself, and in some ways more important than the previous parts of the story.
It was a movie that was both new and old at the same time. It was obviously interested in its past, and that's evident enough from the soundtrack, the cinematography and the script. This was a real thrill. Probably my favourite moment occurred when Dr Jones was looking at some photos on his desk. It was a film made for fans of the series, and played cleverly with their expectations.
On the other hand, this is a very new film. It is looking back at the past, but in a new way. We haven't seen this sort of perspective in an Indiana Jones film before.. The result is, I think, very good. It's a film partly about change: getting older; losing loved ones; forming new relationships with people; and being in a different world. 2008 is a vastly different world than 1989, though in many ways it's also exactly the same. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a vastly different film from the other Jones movies, but in many ways it, too, is also exactly the same.
The short word: I loved this film. It made me go "wow." It even made me say it backwards: "wow." I just can't wait to see it again. And a sequel? Please please yes.