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Fun with Franchises: Final Thoughts on Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

All right… we’ve watched the film, talked about it, had fun with it, and then we went and listed our favorite images from the film yesterday. Now all that’s left is to finish up with what we actually thought about the film as a whole.

This is our space to go over what we liked and didn’t like about each film we watch for Fun with Franchises. We talk about specific things as we get to them during the articles, and we’ll mention our general thoughts during them, but we don’t really ever get to sit and do broad strokes during the articles. So this is why we do these Final Thoughts. We get to take a step back and talk about the films as a whole, rather than discussing specific scenes or images. We’ll talk about how we felt about the film, how we liked it as a film, how we liked it as a member of its franchise, and where we think it falls within that franchise.

Again, it’s not very complicated, but it is a place to find out what we actually thought about certain movies, since, while we’re having fun with them in the articles, it may get difficult to tell sometimes. Because we’ll just rip things to shreds for fun, even if we love them.

So here are our final thoughts on Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull:

Final Thoughts on Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull:

Colin

I don’t want to talk about this movie. I want to pretend that this movie was never made. I want to remember what life was like before this movie came along and altered our perceptions of the franchise forever. We all took it for granted, how awesome this franchise was as a trilogy. They just had to get itchy. They just had to make another movie so they could make more money. I don’t even really have a lot of disdain for Harrison Ford for money-grubbing – if you haven’t seen him on Conan in 2010, watch that interview for his shameless admission that making a fifth film would be all for the money. “It would be MORE than fun,” he said, rubbing his thumb and forefinger together. Also, he was baked. But like I said, it’s not his fault. We need to fault the guys who decided to make this thing. Lucas and Spielberg are phoning it in at this point because they’ve made it. Lucas gave up his rebellious streak years ago, and he jumped into this project at the back end of ANOTHER trilogy that people were freaking out about. Spielberg is also pretty clearly in the stages of winding down. He’s well past the point of having to prove anything to anyone, and coming off of Munich, heading into War Horse, his effort here looks like a little side effort. In fact, that’s what this was for all of them, but for Lucas and Spielberg in particular: a long, elaborate vacation with buddies that they threw $185 million at. Just a $185 million cabin at the lake where you get together with your friends and relive the good old times. So, yeah, this was the Grown Ups of making big-budget franchise films. And George Lucas was Kevin James, if you couldn’t figure that out.

This movie did a lot of new things. That’s not always bad, as I pointed out in my Crusade thoughts. Sometimes a new thing like a father-son relationship can signal a franchise’s maturity. The new things that we had in this movie did nothing like that. First, we start with no opening sequence. That’s a choice on the part of the filmmaker that really changes the pacing of the film. Remember that the first three movies began with unrelated opening sequences that helped us get into the story by reminding us that we were watching an Indiana Jones movie. Going through the tomb with Molina, sparring with Chinese mobsters in a Shanghai club, or realizing a childhood goal of liberating a precious artifact from archaeological thugs – these mini-episodes were important in setting the tone of the film we were about to watch and didn’t involve the bad guys that we would meet later in the film, because sometimes a story needs to unfold.

So we start with the bad guys killing people, which takes care of THAT reveal. Then there’s this guy Mack in the trunk with Indy, which – who is he? Why do we care about him? He’s not an effective foil because he’s only ever with the story for about 10 minutes at a time, and every time, he seems to be changing sides. We don’t care about this guy, and I don’t know why they ever thought that we would. At the end, when he did the overly dramatic, “I’ll be all right, Jonesy,” and they had him die tragically, accepting his fate and coming to terms with his flaws, I snorted quite audibly. It was almost comical, the way they inserted him into the story with this tragic moment like some random, unwanted neighbor trying to join your family reunion photo. Ray’s a great actor, but his character had zero arc and probably should have been replaced with this other character called ‘a better script.’ He was one case of several wasted talents in this film.

Cate Blanchett, why were you in this movie? You have enough money. You don’t make this movie. You’re not this person. Why would you wear an awful jumpsuit and play a weird Russian woman? Please don’t tell us that you thought this role somehow empowered women. Because it didn’t. I’m sad you were in this movie, and I don’t know why I’m addressing this just to you.

Do we have to talk about all the stupid shit? I mean, monkeys, ants, the SKULLS? How about how over the top all the communist stuff was? You make them bad, but you don’t have to shove it in our faces with the anti-communist rally on the campus. And for shit’s sake, they did something so ridiculous that “nuked the fridge” replaced “jumped the shark.” In both instances, a fictional American icon getting a bit long in the tooth did something insane. I didn’t want any of the craziness in this movie. Harrison Ford blowing the dart back into the crazy native’s throat…sure. Whatever. But then it’s all about fucking ALIENS, which I don’t think any of us wanted. Note that the two movies in this franchise that try to be different genres fail.

Like many other things in this movie, Shia’s character is poorly conceived, but I’m inclined to give him a pass for acting. Like, you know how a lot of people say that Anakin sucked, but Hayden Christensen did a good job with what he had? I question that, but not so much with Shia. I think he actually did the best with what he had here, and I don’t hold this movie against him at all. Especially now that I’ve seen more of his stuff, I’m sufficiently convinced that he approached this with good intentions and was pushing for something a bit better than what we got. Good for him.

I think we need to view this whole endeavor as a manufactured failure on the parts of the decision makers involved with the project. The fact that people like Lucas, Spielberg, Ford and David Koepp are basically secure in these legacies at this point may have lowered the stakes for making an enjoyable movie in the spirit of the franchise. A lot of people blasted Shia for this movie’s issues, but I think he’s probably the only one who had the right idea. After voicing what I might call an ‘alternative view’ of the way things were going, Spielberg supposedly gave him the sellout speech. I don’t usually put actor quotes in these things, but Shia said of Spielberg: “He told me there’s a time to be a human being and have an opinion, and there’s a time to sell cars. It brought me freedom, but it also killed my spirits because this was a dude I looked up to like a sensei.” Ford had some nice things to say about Shia, but he called him a “fucking idiot” for not supporting the film wholeheartedly. And that hurts to hear, cause you’ve basically got a confirmation – as if we needed it – that this whole film was an exercise in commodifying one of cinema’s most beloved characters. Now, you can make the case that the other two sequels were money grabs as well, and that may be. But after such a long hiatus, there were plenty of really good reasons to not make this movie, and the filmmakers ignored all of them. And for that matter, they were able to come back from Temple and hit us with Crusade, which was worthy of the praise it received. I’m very, very, very sorry that this film was made, and I can only end this unfortunate experience by noting that this movie is the reason I’m optimistic about Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

I still have more things to say about this movie. I’m just going to stop here because I could write 10,000 words about why this was such a disappointment, and I don’t think you guys want to read that much. Just know that not since the Star Wars prequels, for me, has any movie been so anticipated and then been such a letdown. And with the prequels, I was too young for the first one to understand the letdown at the time, so this is the first that hurt to watch in the theater. Thanks for that.

My Final Thoughts

I really wanted to just say, “This movie sucks,” and nothing else. But I feel like I need to talk about the glaring problem with this movie. Which is that Spielberg and Lucas forgot what got them here. And they started working from the mythology instead of the character. They don’t realize that less money and more creativity is what got them here in the first place. And instead, Spielberg wanted to make another one before it was too late, and Lucas had all these dumb ideas he wanted to try, and since they all figured the story was decent enough, they just went ahead. It wasn’t about getting it right, it was about just making it while they still could.

Despite what some people would say, this isn’t actually entirely about the money. They did waive a lot of their fees up front until the film made a certain amount of money back (which it did. Insanely fast). The real problem is that Lucas wanted to make it about aliens, and Spielberg didn’t do what he used to do and say, “Maybe let’s tone that down a bit.” Colin made a good point, which is — they used to make each other better, by tampering each other’s excessive instincts and focusing on what would make the film better. Here, they had too much money and were trying to make an Indiana Jones movie that would appeal to today’s audiences and make a lot of money. Even though no matter what they did, it would have made a lot of money.

But again, the real problem this movie has is that Spielberg and Lucas wrote an Indiana Jones movie trying to celebrate the character they created. They write in all this elaborate backstory — he was CIA, he was with Pancho Villa, he was at Roswell, he won all these army medals — why can’t he just be a teacher who also desecrates tombs?

The writing is awful, even for Lucas standards, and makes everything way worse than it needs to be. And then they made these bizarre choices — and I’m not even talking the aliens — like the fucking prairie dogs and the monkeys. I don’t understand where their heads were at. I’m going to assume they just wanted to make it, and were motivated by 30 years of how to make a blockbuster instead of their creative instincts. They tried to manufacture a movie rather than make one.

That’s really all I need to say about this. No reason to rail against all the stuff we know is terrible. I probably should have just ended with, “This movie sucks.”

– – – – – – – – – –

Tomorrow we start our next franchise. Or, I guess a more appropriate term is “Universe.” Which is the bullshit that they’re calling it.

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3 responses

  1. BlueFox94

    Oh shit, you guys are finally going to tackle the MCU!

    Honestly, while I’ve come to understand how the “universe” puts forward really useless works of cinema, I still have trouble trying to convince my peers with more concrete reasons other than calling the films “safe” why the MCU movies (GOTG, anything to do with RDJ, and–to a lesser extend–Captain America) are not doing the art of film any favors. However, I totally get how they’re ruining the film industry by convincing studios that it’s worth it to churn out too much of a good thing and then try to be creative by stringing them together over the next decade (or at least until the general public gets tired of them), further widening the gap between blockbusters and indie films/the (nonexistent) non-Oscar-bait middle budget films.

    This dilemma is why I love Birdman so much. That film just hits that issue pretty square and they rallied a virtuoso performance by the first great cinematic Caped Crusader himself Michael Keaton to lend support. I think the industry giving that film Best Picture was a bit of a subliminal message saying that “yeah, we’re totally sinking ourselves in this world-building “entertainment”, but a good number of us also empathize with those who aren’t or used to be involved with that”. I think if we weren’t watching comic book franchises become the industry, then Boyhood might’ve held on to Best Picture to the end.

    Can’t wait to get this started. =D

    April 20, 2015 at 12:50 am

  2. kirksroom

    I have yet to find a single Indiana Jones fan or casual movie-goer that is indifferent about this film. Nobody loved Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull; people either liked it or they hated it. After listening to the reviews and hearing public opinion I can see both sides, but ultimately I have to choose one.

    The curiosity over how I felt about this film has been so intense I have almost shied away from expressing how I feel about it at all, after all no matter what I say I’m bound to alienate half the Indiana Jones fan base. But then, controversy has never stopped me before, so here – once and for all – is where I stand on the film… I’m with the people that liked it on this one. I thought it was good.

    Merely the first twenty minutes in I was surprised both by how early and how often I was laughing and enjoying my self. The pace of the film was excellent except for a few places, and the story was at least interesting enough to keep you in the seat. I was also astonished by how closely this film followed the Indiana Jones format. Unlike the dreaded Star Wars prequels this is an addition to a franchise that does not feel like it’s on an island all by it’s self; it was unmistakably Indy.

    The chief complaints I’ve heard about this film have to do with the outlandishness of a lot of the scenes, and of the films theme. But try as I may (with one vine swinging exception) I was unable to locate a single scene in the film that was anymore outlandish or ludicrous than any other Indiana Jones film ever made.

    The theme of course has to do with the aliens. I would worry that that was a spoiler if I thought there was a single person left in the world that wasn’t aware there were aliens in this film (apologies if you are it). The alien motif had me worried as much as anyone else, and for a while I really wondered if this would not be to the films detriment. But as I sat there watching this play out I asked my self “Is this really anymore hard to swallow than a load of Ghosts flying out of the arc of the covenant?”. Ultimately, my answer was no.

    There was also some concern over Shia LaBeouf ‘s performance. LaBeouf has been another Jason Biggs (of American Pie fame) for me. Biggs irritated me in every type-casted role he had ever been in, and it wasn’t until I saw him in something more serious that I actually found him to be good. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was worlds away from serious, but LeBouf plays a much more serious role, and he wears it well; much better than Transformers at least.

    The film was certainly not perfect, but unlike most I did not think the problems were in the silly set ups and ‘get out of jail free’ solutions to perilous situations. If this film has a serious problem it was probably the story. It’s just plain hard to keep track of most of the time. There is a tremendous amount of exposition (probably more than in any other Indy film), and if you aren’t paying attention – and I mean like there’s gonna be a quiz on this at the end – it’s really easy to get lost. Particularly when it comes to a crucial plot point about someone taking the skull, bringing it somewhere, failing to unlock a puzzle, and taking it right back again.

    Another interesting fact about this film, in fact what may have been too big a hurtle in the eyes of some, is that the ‘deal breaker’ scene comes very early in the film, and to protect those who have not yet seen the film, this deal breaker comes in the form of a refrigerator. As soon as this scene
    was over I said to my self “this is the point of no return. If the audience cannot accept this, they won’t be able to accept anything else in the film”. I did accept it, and once I sat back and said “whatever” (Indiana Jones films typically require extra suspension of disbelief) I had a great time at the movies. The Indiana Jones franchise has never been about the stories; not really. Indiana Jones has always been about having as much fun as you can in a movie, and I have to say this movie was a lot of fun.

    When I came out of the theater I said that it was at least better than Temple of Doom. I’m gonna go ahead and take that back only because I feel that Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was really just a revisiting of the franchise rather than an addition to it. It was a reunion film which is weird for me to say because I generally feel that no franchise should ever do this; no franchise should ever get the cast back together for the sake of a reunion. But Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a very rare exception in my view; it really does work on that level.

    This film is hardly a classic, and will never grasp the adoration of the public the way the original trilogy did, and rightfully so, it’s not in that league. But taken as a fun time at the movies as well as one of our favorite Icons coming back for one last adventure, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a
    success in my book. To those who hated it, I sympathize with a lot of the criticisms, but I liked the film. It inspires no standing ovations, it breaks no new ground, but it was a hell of a lot of fun.

    April 21, 2015 at 10:29 pm

    • BlueFox94

      I can sympathize with this.

      But the moment that I remember and let sink in the misguided intentions that Spielberg and Lucas had with this film, that’s when I feel guilty that I’m having fun at any moment during this movie. And I want fun gained through excellent art, not through needless indulgence or straight-up heinous art (which, for Crystal Skull, is a lot of column A and a lesser amount of column B).

      May 13, 2015 at 4:37 pm

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