Warning: Mild spoilers to follow. If you haven't seen it yet, stop reading now. Otherwise, you've been warned.
So, like the mindless fangirl zombie that I am, I accepted my company's social committee's invitation and snapped up a stack of tix for "that movie with the old guy in the hat with the wip" for my friends and I. Thing is, I really wasn't that excited about it. I had done my best to avoid reading spoilers, promotional interviews, advanced reviews or anything else that would rouse my interest beyond, "Yeah, I should probably try to see it before everybody else tells me about it." What I did absorb prior to last night was a) The plot had something to do with aliens and b) The critical mass was largely positive.
And I guess it was these low to no expectations that informed my enjoyment of the film because I was the only one out of the six of us who seemed to genuinely enjoyed the movie. Is it perfect? No. Are there moments of staggering, eye-rolling stupidity that I'm going to blame on Lucas? Yes. Is the climax kind of abrupt and not very satisfying? Yes, but that's okay because the climax isn't the end and the ending is just fine, thank you very much.
Also, and I really hate to admit this in public, but I think I'm getting over my irrational hatred of Shia LaBeouf. At least until the next Transformers movie comes out, anyways.
I won't bother rehashing the plot because everybody knows that that's not what's important about an Indiana Jones movie. What I am going to try to do is identify what it is I liked about this movie and why.
First off, it's short and well paced. I have to say that one of my biggest pet peeves with the current crop of genre/action movies is that they are all WAY TOO FRAKKING LONG. I'm pretty sure Peter Jackson is to blame for this one, but Michael Bay took it to new, redonculous levels with last year's noisy time-waster, Transformers. Everyone has forgotten that "less is more". I don't care if you can stretch the movie out to 3 hours to fit in more explosions and guys jumping around on unconvincing CG sets. Just give me a beginning, a middle and an end and get to the end before I start wondering where it is. Making your movie longer, does not make it more interesting or important. You are not making The Godfather, you are making a B-movie with a decent budget. And that's a-okay.
The other thing that struck me about Crystal Skull, and it's related to my first point, is that it was kind of old fashioned in it's storytelling. This, I think, is one of the strength's of the Indy franchise. It wears it's B-movie origins on its sleeve without veering (too often, anyway) into high camp. It's exciting and playful, and the humour is warm and gentle. No crass cynicism, no irony trying to cramp its way down. And it's cut more old-fashioned too. The camera is allowed to sweep majestically across the landscape (bonus points to those who spotted the Touch of Evil Reference near the beginning) and the cuts are organic and preserve the integrity of the action. You can tell who is who in a fight. This is all instantly attributable to Spielberg and what makes him stand out from those who would assume his place as blockbuster movie king. No one, and I mean no one, is able to blend artistry and action the way that Spielberg can and that is why he is and will always be king. His true reverence for the origins of American genre film making are obvious and reassuring to me in a way. His is a respect that is all but dead, and it makes me very sad to think of what we are losing the American film cannon becomes newer and newer.
I liked seeing Harrison Ford and Karen Allen together again. I liked that it had a sentimental ending. I liked that it was set during the cold war. I liked that the big bad was a girl and that she was played by Cate Blanchett with a Natasha Fatale accent. I liked that Mutt was a greaser, even if those first shots of him in the hat made me giggle like a grade-schooler. I liked that it was set in the Amazon. I liked that it had a sword fight. And I even liked the aliens, so sue me.
And now what I didn't like. The prairie dogs were too plentiful and cutesy. Ditto for the monkeys. And the less I say about the repeated shots of Shia grabbing his junk, the better we'll all sleep at night. That said, I think a lot of the current backlash really has to do with people my age having inappropriate expectations. Imagine if you were a 12 year old watching Indy 4 in a theater. You would freaking LOVE it. Or maybe you wouldn't. Maybe today's 12 year old would find the elegant pacing and old fashioned charms too quaint. Without a boyhood admiration for Harrison Ford and Karen Allen, would their reunion mean as much? Who was this movie really made for? The 12 year olds, now grown, who grew up on the Indy movies? Or the 12 year olds of today, whose fanboy dads (and moms) dressed them in Indy drag and trundled them to the theaters? Honestly, considering these dueling target markets, I think the film did a very good job of appealing to both simultaneously. Was it high art? No, but neither were the first three. Was it silly? Yes, but it was also a lot of fun and dammit sometimes that's good enough.
Could anything have lived up to 20 years of hype and speculation? I will say this, though, and I think it's important to keep in mind: warts and all, it was still a hundred times better than even the best bits of the Star Wars prequels. And yeah, I went there.