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Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) – Movie Review

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull poster


Written by: David Koepp, based on a story by George Lucas and Jeff Nathanson, which was in turn based on characters created by George Lucas and Philip Kaufman
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Harrison Ford, Shia LaBeouf, Cate Blanchett, Karen Allen, Ray Winstone

My Advice: Matinee it. If you must.

It’s 1957 and Indiana Jones (Ford) has been busy since we last saw him, all the way back in 1938. Among other things, he appears to have fallen in with the wrong crowd (again), somehow getting himself and his partner, Mac (Winstone), kidnapped by a gang of Soviets led by a would-be psychic/doctor Spalko (Blanchett). The bad guys want Indy to help them locate something that he helped recover from a crash site in Roswell some time before. They think that this is the key to figuring out…yes, you guessed it…a super-weapon which will help them rule the world. Moohoohahaha.

[ad#longpost]Let me take a moment to explain where I came from to get to this film. The original Raiders is a classic. It’s exactly what Lucas and Spielberg set out to make: an homage to vintage serial heroes. It’s fun. It’s timeless. And its rewatch value is through the freaking roof. The prequel, Temple of Doom, I recently realized that I didn’t care for it as much. Rewatching it when the boxed set came out on DVD, I found myself turned off by its darker sequences. I know that sounds weird: me, getting turned off by darker sequences. But I thought they were too dark for an Indiana Jones film, if that makes sense. Last Crusade I was never crazy about, despite enjoying Sean Connery.

So when it comes to the Indy Trilogy, to me it’s all about the first film, because that’s the nearest and dearest to my heart. Also, as modern filmgoing audiences, we’ve been taught to regard all films, but especially sequels like this one, with a great deal of suspicion. Throw George Lucas into the mix, who dashed the hopes and dreams of a generation with his crap prequel trilogy, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

Here’s the bottom line: I really wanted to like this film. How can you not like Indiana Jones? Even in a poorly written cobbled together mess like this, the character still shines and Ford can still bring him to life. The action sequences, even the most implausible ones, I was fine with. Even the overarching McGuffin of the piece, I was fine with. It’s just that…if you try to actually think about the plot of the film and why things are happening the way they’re happening, it doesn’t make a lick of goddamn sense. And that’s because the script, I’m afraid to say, is rubbish.

Unfortunately, I’m held by my own desires to write spoiler-free reviews from pointing out any of the finer details as to why it’s rubbish. But I will say this: once you get to the end of the film, you realize that the titular crystal skull shouldn’t be out and about in the first place. And that the special properties it possesses seem to only take effect when it serves the plot for it to do so. Handy, huh?

I’d also like to point out here that I’m not a big stickler for plot holes and nonsense when it comes to films like this. Because it’s not like the basis for films like this were the bastions of continuity and reality-based adventure. But this isn’t just a few shreds in the storyline–the entire thing is flawed from the ground up and just makes no freaking sense if you stop to think about it.

And there’s the rub: I could stop and think about it. Perhaps if the character of Mac hadn’t been given just a few lines about how he and Indy were such buddies and long-standing partners and I was supposed to care about him for his twists and turns–that might have helped. Maybe if Blanchett’s Russian accent had been better. Maybe if Karen Allen’s much vaunted return had been given a little bit more breathing room before bygones were bygones. Maybe if anytime somebody stopped getting hit or action slowed down the film didn’t start to grind into a slow, limping halt. But that’s just it–all of that was problematic and finally, my brain woke back up and was pissed.

LeBeouf isn’t at fault–he does well here, although I think he actually was given more to work with in Transformers, sadly enough. And the Tarzan bit was just way, way too much. I know I’ve seen lots of people complaining about the copious amounts of CG used–I don’t have the same problem. I figure when your beginning, middle and ending don’t even hold together in a light breeze, your problems are much more fundamental.

It’s a damn shame that Spielberg couldn’t get it together enough to make this better. Either the filmmakers are idiots for not realizing that they’re making a flawed film, or they think we’re idiots and won’t notice. Whichever it is, Henry Jones Jr. deserved better.


  • Your review is spot on. My brother-in-law and I both had similar problems with the film as you pointed out. For him it was the “George of the Jungle” scene that completely soured him to the film. For me it was the first time I saw the Crystal Skull. Up until that point the film was a fun adventure. All events in the US and at the university were fine, but as soon as I heard Mariachi music in a Peruvian village (this was pure laziness, it’s as if nobody working on that film knew the difference between Chicano music and Andean indigenous music) I knew things were going to get worse. And I was proven right as soon as that stupid skull appeared. From that point forward it was one mess after another. There were still some good action sequences, but the plot, character dialogs, and the overall feel of the film seems haphazard and irrational. It was just plain dumb and boring. When my children started losing interest I knew the film was a failure since this was the target audience they were aiming for.

  • Brian: Thanks for the comment. Yeah, I suppose that was more George than Tarzan, wasn’t it? Probably left over from somebody’s Pitfall video game movie script…

  • The writing is poor. We can only hope when we hit 60 something we can do all that Indy does.

  • I see all my movies for free so it’s usually easy to be a little forgiving. But this was a bit messy. I liked what they were trying to do with it, liked the few sort of Lovecraftian undertones (I’m a sucker for Lovecraftian undertones) but they certainly fell short. Points for trying but not much else. Also big points off for the monkey bit, that was just painful.

    Who reads and greenlights the scripts for these things anyway? I really wonder if people just can’t approach these “legendary” directors/writers with basic and/or glaring flaws in their movies or do the writers/directors have their heads so far up their own asses that they just won’t hear any criticism because they produce nothing but cinema masterpieces?

    All said, I had fun watching it for nada while waiting for The Girlfriend to get done work. I don’t know if I’d have been very happy shelling out real green paper for it though.

  • FF: Your second paragraph there describes Lucas to a tee. It saddens me to have to include Spielberg in that company.

  • This review came too late for me, I saw the midnight premier. Still, it wasn’t a total loss, I got to show the 3rd annual Sad Little Man Film Festival, which I mention because I created it to replace yours, needcoffee. Anyway, I’m trying to keep this spoiler free so:

    1: The scene where the temple gets destroyed, because of that thing? Yeah, doesn’t belong in an Indy film. I blame Lucas.

    2: Skeletons do not a person make. I don’t care how many you have, they just don’t.

    3: Yeah, I drive my car off cliffs onto trees constantly. That’s just more convenient, I say.

  • I agree with another reviewer who said it’s mostly WE who have changed, not Indy. Still, wouldn’t you think that Spielberg would have given that fact a little consideration, giving us a movie that met just a FEW more adult expectations? After all, he had almost 20 years to think about it.

  • I’ll agree it was the weakest of the four movies. But there were enough elements that were very funny like the snake episode that because of Ford remind you why we go see Indiana Jones movies.

    I would like to say that I feel that Temple is underated and is the second best film of the 4.

    Finally the main thing that bothered me was how the movie seemed to slow down pacewise at the temple portion. I agree with blank-mage the temple destruction scene and interdimensional brooha don’t belong in an Indiana Jones movie. At least it seemed to be done poorly.

    Finally this movies feels slightly like the Spielberg/Kubrick film AI in that there were two distinct movie visions. IN IJ4 the visions belong to Lucas and Spielberg. I believe i had difficulty with the input that came from Lucas. I beli9eve at times he only makes movies for himself and that he has forgotten how to make them for an audience. The elements I really liked had the touch of Spielberg who I think still can make a movie audiences will love.

    I think Lucas’s idea to make Shia the star of the next IJ movie is terrible. I like Shia and all but like Ford was quoted as saying he is Indiana Jones. I would like to see a 5th movie though call me a glutton for punishment.

  • Halloweenie: While I agree that we’re obviously not the same audience we were 20 years ago–nor are the people who were the ages we all were respectively 20 years ago the same as we were–and I agree that Indy as a character is the same…if you put the first film and the fourth film side by side, I think the people who’ve changed the most are George and Steven, sadly.

    Thanks for your comment.

  • Dan: Thanks for your comment–and you’re absolutely right. “Just call it a rope” is one of the best moments.

    And I admit freely–like I said, Doc respectfully disagrees with me–that TEMPLE has its defenders and if the film works for people, then rock on. I don’t hate the film–it’s inhuman to hate a film with a character as cool as Short Round in it.

    By the time you got to the IB (interdimensional brooha), I was so far gone I could barely care.

    And I wouldn’t mind any IJ movie just so long as it was a good one. I just fear the fifth one will be an even more dramatic slide from quality.

    Again, good comments, many thanks.

  • I agree with most of these comments. As a die hard Indy fan I wanted to love this movie. Wow, was I let down!! The sad thing is they could have had a good story line but it was overshadowed by the absolute riduculas action scenes. In all the Indiana Jones movies he has always got himself into somewhat impossible situations to get out of and pulls it off. The way he gets out of them has always been far fetched but yet done in a way that you can believe it ie: jumping out of the plane in the inflatable boat in Temple. However this latest film was just over the top and intellegence insulting in the escaping death scenes. Comon!!, surviving the nuclear blast in a fridge then to watch the mushroom cloud to the distance. I found myself concentrationg more on forgetting all the stupid scenes so much that I lost track of the story line. Then Shia (Mutt) swinging from vines and Marion driving off the cliff to a perfectly placed waiting tree to lower them down to the water..I almost walked out!!!!…I honestly think that Sly Stallone totally succeded in his Rocky and Rambo return were Spielburg and Lucas failed BIGTIME!!!

  • This review and these comments are spot on…


    Do you think Spielberg is losing his marbles? Every movie he’s done recently has had aliens in it. Maybe he should go rerelease “Saving Private Ryan,” and add a bit at the end where the soldiers catch up to Hitler, Tom Hanks pulls the mask off, and we see an alien’s face underneath. WEAK. As someone else said, Indiana Jones was never, ever about aliens…lost treasure, jungles, the unknown, sure, but never aliens.

    Blanchett’s Russian accent made me cringe, it was was though she was almost mocking Russian accents, doing a stereotypical bad Russian accent rather than trying.

    LeBeouf I like but was miscast. He just, at this age at least, cannot pull off an action-hero in waiting. Mischevious kid, yes, but not more.

    Also 2 people in the movie were under retirement age: LeBeouf and Blanchett. Want to watch a bunch of old fogeys run around in a jungle and kiss and mess with aliens? Is that what Indiana Jones has come to? Jeesh.

  • Redline: You know, I was fine with the aliens. Better than I thought I would be, since to me, aliens are just another slice of the paranormal. I thought Shia would have done a better job with a better written character, personally.

  • There comes a time when life stops giving you things and starts taking them away. In this case, it is your fond childhood memories: and you can never get them back. :(