Friday, June 27, 2008

FanBoyWonder Film Review—Indiana Jones & The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Next to apple pie and baseball, there’s nothing more pure American than Indiana Jones. Sure he’s a fictional film character but he’s an icon. FanBoyWonder practically grew up with Indy—having first saw the original Raiders of the Lost Arc on our 11th birthday in 1981.

So FanBoyWonder was quite pleased this past weekend when Brianna The Girl Wonder chose (with absolutely no influence from Grandpa FBW) to see Indiana Jones rather than Kung Fu Panda during our long-awaited movie time together. (Worry not, we’ll be taking her to see the martial arts panda sometime next week during our vacation).

More than anything else we wanted to share with her the experience of seeing an Indiana Jones movie in the theatre—the only way to see some classics.

Rated PG-13, there were a couple of times—especially during some particularly gruesome bad guy endings—that we questioned the wisdom of us taking a just turned 7-year-old to this movie.

To her credit, Brianna said she was scared at times—we figured that out when she jumped our lap and held on for dear life—but she was very proud of herself for seeing it and very glad she did it. Indy got a big thumbs up from The Girl Wonder—the highest of high praise indeed.

Here’s the Upshot from Paramount Pictures: “The newest Indiana Jones adventure begins in the desert Southwest in 1957 – the height of the Cold War. Indy (Harrison Ford) and his sidekick Mac (Ray Winstone) have barely escaped a close scrape with nefarious Soviet agents on a remote airfield.
“Now, Professor Jones has returned home to Marshall College – only to find things have gone from bad to worse. His close friend and dean of the college (Jim Broadbent) explains that Indy's recent activities have made him the object of suspicion, and that the government has put pressure on the university to fire him.

“On his way out of town, Indiana meets rebellious young Mutt (Shia LaBeouf), who carries both a grudge and a proposition for the adventurous archaeologist: If he'll help Mutt on a mission with deeply personal stakes, Indy could very well make one of the most spectacular archaeological finds in history – the Crystal Skull of Akator, a legendary object of fascination, superstition and fear.
“But as Indy and Mutt set out for the most remote corners of Peru – a land of ancient tombs, forgotten explorers and a rumored city of gold – they quickly realize they are not alone in their search. The Soviet agents are also hot on the trail of the Crystal Skull. Chief among them is icy cold, devastatingly beautiful Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett), whose elite military unit is scouring the globe for the eerie Crystal Skull, which they believe can help the Soviets dominate the world... if they can unlock its secrets.
Indy and Mutt must find a way to evade the ruthless Soviets, follow an impenetrable trail of mystery, grapple with enemies and friends of questionable motives, and, above all, stop the powerful Crystal Skull from falling into the deadliest of hands”.

In a word, this film was “cute.” We don’t mean that in a condescending way but rather we left the theater feeling good. It was a nice nostalgia trip for those of use around for the first adventure but an amusing tale for both veteran and newcomer alike.

It’s not exactly a light-hearted romp but the filmmakers closed the book one of the most beloved adventure serials with a wink, a nod and a crack of the whip.

This was the last chapter of Indiana Jones and he goes out with style. SPOILERS WARNING BELOW

While Harrison Ford looks great at 65, Team Indy was smart in not pretending that Dr. Jones was still the 30-something action hero. Indy acknowledged that it’s “not as easy as it used to be” but he never dwelled on his being the aging adventurer.

We were oddly reminded of the Batman from the Dark Knight Returns but in a decidedly lighter tone. Make no mistake, Indy may have many more miles on the odometer but he’s still one tough customer.

Our arse-kicking archeologist gives as good as he gets to those red commie bastards who—given that it’s 1957 during the hottest time of the Cold War—have replaced the Nazis has the bad guys.

Speaking of the Red Menace, Cate Blanchett was kind of cute (there’s that word again) as the sassy Soviet who at times is more than a match for our guy Indy. She wasn’t given much to work with but she managed to keep her near-cartoon of a character, Col. Dr. Irina Spalko, from digressing into a total imitation of Natasha—as in Boris’ other half from the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show (Is Grandpa FBW showing his age here????).

We are more aware of than familiar with her body of work, but Blanchett is an English actress (yeah we know she’s an Aussie but “English” as in the classic old school sense) so almost by definition she can phone in a role (which she seems to have done here) and still be as good or even better than the flavor of the month would-be starlet that Spielberg & Lucas recruited as the fem fatale during the last film—1989’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine the Indiana Jones from the original Raiders of the Lost Arc not only eating Comrade Spalko’s lunch but making her like it. But the 1957 Indy model has lost some of his edge—in every sense of the word.

It’s not just that he’s not as agile as he used to be but he’s—if not kinder and gentler—wary and worn-down. The world is changing around him and his professional accomplishments—as well as his record of service during “The War” (World War II) as “Col. Jones” for the OSS (the Office of Strategic Services—the counter-espionage predecessor to the CIA) doesn’t seem to count for much in this fearful new world of the Red Scare.

Professor Jones finds this out “at work” at Marshall College as J. Edger’s Bureau has concluded that Indy’s kidnap by the Soviets, their forcing him to help them break into and steal an alien (as in Extra-Terrestrial) body from Area 51 and his subsequent escape and his association with pal turned traitor Mac (Ray Winstone) of course make him guilty of being “a Red” and a security risk so they lean hard on the college to fire Dr. Jones.

It falls to the dean of the college and Indy’s friend Charles Stanforth (Jim Broadbent) to break the news. Broadbent’s character takes the place as Indy’s academic colleague and confident Marcus Brody, who like the actor who played him, the late Denholm Elliott, has passed away.

We learn that in recent years Indy has also lost his father Henry Jones Sr. (Sean Connery who remains very much alive but who passed on coming out of retirement for what would have been a cameo for the film).

Stanforth points out to his friend and to the audience that Indy has reached the point of life where life takes away more than it gives back.

Jim Broadbent does a good job as Indy’s loyal friend in ever treacherous academia but he’s no Marcus Brody.

In a touch that we most enjoyed, the script remembered Brody’s character and placed his image prominently in a couple of scenes—including a laugh out loud moment with a statue of Brody and the bad guys on campus.

Henry Sr. and Marcus Brody were important characters in Indiana Jones’ life and it impressed us to no end that the script not only did NOT contradict (to the best of our knowledge) events of the previous films but it actively sought to incorporate Indy’s history into this film.

Here character continuity was Job One—two thumbs up guys.

We especially liked seeing more than just a tease of how “Professor Jones” lives. Shot on the campus of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, FanBoyWonder’s old college stomping grounds (New Haven, NOT Yale) and dressed up to look like 1957 anywhere U.S.A.. We tell ya, the Elm City never looked so good us.

It’s not too long after the introduction of the Rebel Without A Clue young Mutt (Shia LaBeouf) that a wacky chase with Indy on the back of Mutt’s Harley ensues as those darned Reds want the map that Mutt has just given Indy in exchange for Indy’s help finding Mutt’s mother Marion.

It was actually quite thrilling to watch the chase though the timeless campus of Yale and onto Chapel Street.

It’s takes longer into the movie than it should have to for Indy to realize that “Marion” is Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) his love interest from the very first movie and that Mutt is actually Henry Jones III—but don’t call him “Junior.”

It’s good to see Karen Allen again. The years have been quite well to her and she actually had a couple of significant action things to do, although they could have and should have found more for her in the film.

We learn that Indiana ditched Marion a week before their wedding (damn fool) BEFORE he learned that she was preggers. So she moved to England and married another man to raise Indy’s baby—Mutt. Yet even though he left her at the alter, Indy has carried a torch for Marion all these years.

It would have helped to actually have Indy and Marion spend more time together on screen as they weren’t quite able to re-capture the chemistry they shared onscreen during the original Raiders given the time constraints.

Nonetheless, Marion’s return brings the Indy franchise full circle and we never thought that the other Indiana Jones films were quite as good without her.

What is the treasure that Indy and company are chasing? It almost doesn’t matter as we were just so damn glad to see everyone again but as soon as we saw Area 51 and heard about Roswell, we knew it would be aliens.

Indy and company must return the Crystal Skull to it’s temple of origin in South America in order to rescue the mind family friend and Mutt’s surrogate father Professor Herald “Ox” Oxley (John Hurt) and try to stay ahead of the evil Soviets for good measure.

Three guesses how that return of the Crystal Skull turns out and the first two don’t count.

The film wraps up back at Marshall College with wedding bells. Twenty years and four films later, Dr. Henry Jones, Jr. and Marion finally tie the knot and it was cute (yes that word again). It really was like watching two old friends march off together into the sunset.

When we asked her afterward what her favorite part of the movie was, Brianna The Girl Wonder answered immediately. “The wedding.”

In a bit of shameless commercialism, Lucas & Spielberg leave the door WIDE open to continue the franchise with Mutt Jones but as far as we’re concerned this is the end of the line for Indy and he went out in the best way possible—leaving us wanting more.

Thanks so much for the ride…. “Junior”.


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