Apparently because the Star Wars prequels didn’t teach him to leave the old classics alone, George Lucas decided that what Indiana Jones needed was another sequel, even after Last Crusade ended the series on just about the best possible note twenty years before. Why it was deemed necessary to resurrect such a great trilogy, and not even bother to do the new film properly, is beyond me. Let’s not mince words: this is not a good film.
Set in 1957, the plot involves evil Communists capturing Indy and breaking into a warehouse to steal a mysterious crate containing the titular Crystal Skull. After managing to escape, Indy teams up with Mutt Williams (Shia LaBoeuf) and goes after the Russians to try and stop them from unleashing the skull’s power, pursuing them through the Amazon Rainforest and eventually ending up at an ancient Mayan temple.
Things immediately start to seem slightly wrong when the viewer notices that the crate the Russians are stealing has the word Roswell printed on it. If ever there were a time for a character to utter the immortal words, I have a bad feeling about this, now would be it. The fact that the warehouse seen at the beginning is apparently the same one as at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark is a nice touch, as is the fact that the Ark itself has a cameo, but it doesn’t do much to help the sinking feeling that the religion whose artefacts Indy is investigating this time is apparently Scientology. I understand that Crystal Skull is intended as a homage to 1950s sci-fi B-movies rather than the ’30s adventure serials of the original films, but it still feels incredibly out of place in an Indiana Jones film: we expect him to be investigating ancient civilisations, not future space ones. It just doesn’t feel right, and that statement applies to most of the rest of the film as well.
The special effects are a particularly important area where Crystal Skull just doesn’t feel like an Indiana Jones film. In keeping with the standards set by the Star Wars prequels, the wonderful practical effects of the old films have been entirely jettisoned in favour of dull CGI which you won’t believe for a moment is actually there. There’s a jeep chase through the Amazon which in theory could have been quite exciting, but the fact that pretty much everything in it is computer generated robs it of all the visceral thrills it should have had; it’s actually quite depressing that an Indiana Jones chase scene “ words which should be exciting “ could be so boring. Especially when compared to the mine car chase in Temple of Doom, it just doesn’t hold up. Similarly, the final scene, involving the alien spaceship, is conceptually a nice idea, but the computer-generated unreality of it means it has absolutely none of the impact of Raiders of the Lost Ark‘s face melting, even if Belloq’s exploding head hasn’t aged well at all.
And the comparisons to the Star Wars prequels wouldn’t be complete without mentioning that Crystal Skull even has its own Jar Jar Binks in the form of Mutt Williams, Indy’s new sidekick. He would probably be more annoying if he had any screen presence, but since he’s played by Shia LaBoeuf he’s so uninteresting that it’s easy to forget he’s even there most of the time. I suspect the main reason he’s in this film is that the suits thought Indy himself was now too old for the target demographic to identify with; frankly, I find the idea that I am expected to identify with Shia LaBoeuf instead rather insulting. The worst part of his character is that the film ends with the Indy hat, and hence the torch, being passed to him, which still gives me nightmares of a hypothetical The Adventures of Mutt Williams at some point in the future.
The hatred I felt for Crystal Skull when I first saw it has since cooled to a kind of slightly depressed indifference, but it’s still a real shame that they couldn’t have let Indy’s adventures end with Last Crusade. In spite of all my complaining, it’s not actually a terrible film. It’s just a bad one.