So, on Thursday night I watched new Indiana Jones film. This is going to be an angry, spoiler heavy review. If you wish for the experience to be preserved, I suggest you look away now. Those of you in the mood for bile, come back after the poster.
A little context is required for my first concern. One of the trailers was for Kung Fu Panda, a film that is being marketed solely on the fact that it has no discernable merits whatsoever. I was still on a trail of thought that started with 'Surely no-one wants to watch goddamn comedy animal movies any more' and was heading to a way of using a predilection for the things as the basis of a humane euthanasia program, when Indy started.
With comedy CGI animals.
Not so good. I'll get the CGI problem out of the way first of all. There is fucking tons of it, it's very badly done, for the most part, and is incredibly intrusive. I wouldn't have minded so much if the pre-release hype hadn't explained, over and over again, that there was going to be a huge focus on practical effects. This was a lie. A big blatant one. It's a big problem, because it really prevents Crystal Skull
from feeling like an Indy film.
There seems to be a strain of protest online blaming George Lucas for this. Which is preposterous. There are so many people out there claiming to see his grubby, ILM-coated fingerprints all over certain scenes they seem to be forgetting that they have no way of discerning this, and also that Spielberg is not exactly averse to using it himself. The idea that you can single out the bits you don't like, shrug and say 'Well, it's that George Lucas, innit?' strikes me as beyond preposterous.
The next problem is that, just like Temple of Doom, the film suffers for a lack of Nazis. Few things can be described as worse off from the absence of fascism, but right here is the exception that proves the rule. I'd have been happier with a weird jungle-dwelling cabal of aging Nazis (with head-in-a-jar Robo-Hitler) than the muddled communists that serve as the bad guys. Two main flaws. The first is that the America presented is one suffering under the peculiar scrutinies of McCarthy and his ilk, and there's no doubt left as to this being A Very Bad Thing. But then, if the communists have infiltrated the army, then it's kind of justified. It's meant to be pulp adventure - it simply doesn't support such a muddled message.
If the Russians were cackling Red Menace-style caricatures, then it would fit. But they're not, so problem number two rears it's ugly head. They don't have any character whatsoever. Nazis can be boo-hiss bad guys, and it's fine. Modern audiences won't accept that from the (lest we forget, non-combatant) Russians. So they're not inflated stereotypes (which I genuinely believe a film like this needs, or at least something approaching it), but they're not human either. As a result, they're simply fodder (in a couple of occasions this is literally true).
At this point, I feel that I should balance this out. The cast are all pretty good. Harrison Ford still clearly is Indiana Jones, there's no problem there. Shia LeBoeuf is even pretty decent. This surprised me, as I'd only seen him in Constantine and Transformers which didn't give me a whole lot of hope for him. The rest of the cast all fit their purpose in small and underdeveloped roles. They're not great, but they never really get the chance to be. One big character problem for me was Ray Winstone's comedy lag. He's supposed to be ex-secret service and ex-MI6, but he's shit. He's utterly incompetent. I get that he's meant to be a comic foil, but really, if that's the case then it wouldn't have been too much of an ask not to set him up as someone incapable of walking two steps without falling over. That would work. Don't make him superhuman twice over.
Cate Blanchett suffers too. Her character is fine, and she acts well (occasionally wandering accent aside), but really she's a sidekick in want of a moustache-twirling villain to stand behind. There's just not enough there to hang a movie off. She never really feels like a palpable threat. There's also a horrendously underdeveloped character point about her being psychic, but this just drifts in and out of the story as required.
The aliens (told you not to read on) that form the centre of the plot may as well not be there. There are a great many interesting things that could have been done with them. For some reason, 13 alien skeletons, when placed in an aztec centrifuge, become one live alien. One live alien that doesn't really do anything, it just serves to have fire shoot out of the bad guys eyes. Essentially, what's described as an advanced race that provided the entirety of human knowledge before a certain point in history (something that might warrant a certain level of explanation) acts only within the bounds of the film to ensure that the bad guy gets a suitably Indiana Jones-style death.
As always in an Indiana Jones flick, the bad guy must perish because they overreach. There's always been a sense that you shouldn't peek behind the curtain, that it'll always be the downfall of whoever and yaddah yaddah. More than anything here, I was disapointed. It would not take much to develop the aliens here. They are supposed to have crossed the stars and what have you to bring knowledge to the human race. Why do they then kill someone off for wanting to know some poorly-defined something?
This last (I promise) point is probably one that is only a problem to me. These aliens are meant to have provided knowledge of architecture, irrigation and so on to the films pre-mayan culture, and been worshiped for it. In mythology, those gods that provide knowledge to mankind are known as culture heroes, and occur throughout many strands of mythology (Prometheus, Hermes, the Japanese god of agriculture whose name I'm not going to look up just to appear smart on the internet). Typically these figures will be trickster gods, and will have taken this knowledge from other gods for mankind's benefit. Now, the fact that they missed this is something that only I care about, but hey - instant backstory. Better than having this ancient interstellar civilisation serve only as bad guy incinerators.
Basically, when all's said and done, the problem here is that they trampled on my inner child, and I can't really handle that. I wouldn't say that people should avoid it - there are a couple of moments where the old magic is there - but I can't see how anyone could come away from this less than disappointed.