Thursday, May 22, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Bitter Realities of Aging

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

This was a parody, right? Not a sequel.

If you view it as a sequel, and not just that, but a sequel that was 19 years in the making, well, sorry, folks, but it sucks.

So view it as a parody.

This isn't a bad movie, honestly. If you were a fan of National Treasure, The Mummy movies, or Danger Island from the old Banana Splits show, you'll probably love watching this. It's a fun ride, and worth a couple of hours of your time.

But I'm sorry, this isn't just a movie. It's an Indiana Jones movie. This movie set its own bar too high.

Let me start off with my opinion of the Indiana Jones series as a whole. It was one phenomenal first movie, followed by number 2 rushed out to capitalize on the surprise success of the first, and the third vainly attempting to recapture the lost magic of the first.

Raiders of the Lost Ark wasn't just a good movie, it was Iconic. It was Epic. It stands out as one of maybe three or four movies from my youth that truly drove me to the theaters time and time again, driven by the hope that somehow, all the other pap I was sitting through could break through and match the wonder and amazement it opened up in my impressionable little head.

The shame of it all is that I don't think even Spielberg/Lucas realize what it was about "Raiders of the Lost Ark" that made it so damn good. It wasn't the car chases, or the cliffhanging sequences, or the cartoonish bad guys, or the seemingly invincible hero who got out of scrape after scrape more on his luck than his skill. Instead, it was the over-arching sense of Awe that served as the backdrop for the rest of those elements. And not just awe, but GOD-awe.

Throughout the first movie in the series, you had a sense that something greater than us all was at work. You felt like there was an underlying mystery of epic porportions beneath all of the action you witnessed on the screen. Indy's quest had a sense of importance; he didn't seem like some greedy treasure hunter, he seemed like God's unlikely last hope to save mankind from the evil of the Nazis. Even the music conveyed this feeling.

And along with that sense of Awe, there was suspense. Every so often, the action stopped, and you were allowed to just stand and behold something magical and wonderful, with that edge-of-your-seat feeling of "hurry up, Indy!" driving the adrenaline into your bloodstream. (The scene in the maproom comes to mind, or the ending sequence when the Ark was opened.)

By the second film, that magical sense of awe had been completely discarded. Indy was no longer a hero, but a curmudgeon who reluctantly gave in to moral turpitudes in the end, obviously begrudgingly. There were no more stand-and-behold moments. There was just car-chase-shoot-out-fight-scene-Indy-gets-the-girl. Even at age 12, I knew they had lost the magic.

Now here we are, 26 years after the first masterpiece, and I sit once again disappointed. And not just that the magic is gone, but that even the elements that should have been slam dunks were bungled and wasted. The witty banter was forced and uncomfortable to sit through. The scenes of Indy's school-teacher life lacked the warmth and comfort that always contrasted so brilliantly with the danger he later got himself into. The humor was predictable and bland. Even the chase scenes were dull and plodding. It's as if Spielberg has aged even worse than Indy himself. He used to know action like the back of his hand; now you stare disinterestedly at the action like a liver spot on the back of his hand.

And the reunion with Marion? Marion, the ultimate heroin? Marion, with her raspy voice and sexy-tomboyish charm? Marion, who had as much fight in her as any guy in the film? Marion, the heroin who you wanted to see in all of the sequels, instead of the dumb, whiney eye candy they replaced her with?

Yeah, she's a fat dumpy hausfrau now, and her character is entirely useless. She does nothing but ride along. There is no spark or chemistry between her and Indy whatsoever. She might as well have been a mannequin. Even the reunion you have waited 26 years to see was, in the end, a disappointment.

So like I said in the beginning, take this as a parody. If you go in expecting very little other than some goofball characters lampooning a decades-lost greatness, mixed in with some good flash-bang special effects, then you will be entertained. But if you're looking for Indiana Jones's last hurrah to go out with the luster that he came in with, you're only going to learn the sad reality that even the greatest among us just grow old and wither in the end.

I give it a 6 out of 10. That nuke blast was cool.