I’ll be honest. I don’t really get the geek hate for this film.
Granted, it’s not as good as “Raiders” but that’s a charge that could easily be leveled by every other film in the series. And none of the set pieces are as strong as the ones in “Temple of Doom”. (A film that manages to pull off the trick of having the worst script and the best action scenes of the series at the same time. A feat that, to my knowledge, no other film series has ever matched.)
If anything, the second biggest problem with the film is that way too much time elapsed between “Last Crusade” and “Crystal Skull”. Anytime you wait more than ten years between sequels, the long time fans are old enough to see the last film not just as a film but as a piece of their lost youth. A symbol of a faded Golden Age When Things Were Simpler. When George Lucas started making the prequels, he should have known that any film he made had to match the ones that the fans were making in their heads for years. No film, however good it is, can stand up to that. (The fact that the prequels weren’t even that good just sharpened the disappointment. They didn’t just not match expectations, they made you feel like a sap for having them in the first place.)
So, in a post prequel world, I adjusted my expectations. I didn’t expect “Crystal Skull” to be as good as “Raiders” and magically transport me back to my teenage years. I just wanted a fun, action adventure film. And on that level, it worked.
Yes, there are some silly elements to it. Every time Cate Blanchett opens her mouth, I feel like I should warn her to look out for Moose and Squirrel. (Although in fairness, that does kind of add to the Cold Way mystique.) The whole subplot with Ray Winstone has one double cross too many. (Although, again in fairness, It’s Ray Motherfucking Winstone!) And yes, I sincerely doubt that anyone could have survived a nuclear blast from the inside of a refrigerator. (Although, once more in fairness, this leads up to that insanely awesome shot of Indiana Jones looking up at a giant Goddamn mushroom cloud! An image that screams to be slapped onto the cover of a fifties pulp adventure magazine.)
What I’m saying is that the silly stuff isn’t so silly that it sinks it. And the good stuff is really good. After a decade of sleepwalking through movies, Harrison Ford splashed some water on his face and showed up, ready to play. And while I’ll admit that he looks like a granddad, he’s thankfully the granddad who can bench press 200 and still kick your ass at Thanksgiving if you give grandma back sass about the turkey being dry.
And blessed be the writer who pitched Spielberg the idea of bringing Marion back. Giving Indiana Jones a new girl friend at this late would have been silly. And the minute Ford and Allen step into frame with each other, it’s like they never stopped sniping at each other.
And again, I will sing the praises of any filmmaker who refuses to succumb to the Shaky-Cam ascetics of action filmmaking. You can almost hear Spielberg yelling behind the camera, “SPACIAL DYNAMICS, BITCHES!!!”.
However, there is one big problem with the movie and sadly, it’s Mutt Williams.
And actually, it’s two problems.
One: I don’t buy Shia LaBeouf as a greaser.
And no, I’m not going to jump on the “Shia LeBeouf is a bad actor” bandwagon. He’s a perfectly capable actor who I just don’t buy as a leather jacketed tough guy. (The fact that Spielberg introduces him with a shot that recalls Marlon Brando in “The Wild Ones” does him no favors.) He’s a solid actor with good physicality but he lacks…I don’t want to say machismo… the manliness to pull it off.
Let me put it this way.
It’s the same reason that I’m happy to see Steve Carell in an Action Comedy like “Get Smart” but I would be loath to see him at the center of an actual action movie.
Now, you could make the argument that Mutt isn’t a tough guy but a kid trying to put on being tough as a defense mechanism. And that sort of tracks. But it doesn’t negate my second problem with Mutt. Which is I don’t believe that Indy and Marion’s kid would grow up to be a Greaser!
The Greaser in fifties iconography was meant as a reaction to the period’s regressive social mores. The Eisenhower/suburban/mom and dad behind the picket fence with the two car garage. Now the film is somewhat vague on the subject of Mutt’s home life. (Because it’s an adventure film, not a kitchen sink drama called “Mutt’s Life”.) But I honestly can’t imagine (School issues not withstanding.) a Marion Ravenwood-Williams run home being that repressive. If anything, I can imagine Marion being the fun Bohemian mom. The one who reads Kerouac out loud at birthday parties. Dances to Charlie Parker while getting tea time ready. (Remember, he grows up in England.)
And you know given her past, when she sees someone sipping a martini at a faculty mixer, she’s thinking, “Bitch, half a bottle of tequila and I will own your ass!”.
You don’t rebel against Bohemian mom by becoming a greaser. You rebel against Bohemian mom by becoming an Tory Accountant.
So the question becomes, how do you change Mutt Williams and make him a more plausible Sidekick/Son for Indy?
Well, you can’t make him a full academic who’s had no experience in the field because he’d just spend the entire bitching and moaning. And if we’ve learned nothing from “Temple of Doom” Bitching and Moaning are the twin cockblocks of action. But you do want him different from Indy so that there’s some form of character conflict. And you have to have him have some experience in the field so when shit goes down, he can at least hold his own.
My answer: Young Stanley Kubrick!
Kubrick never went to college due to low grades and instead wound up working for Look Magazine. It wouldn’t be that much of a stretch to imagine Mutt choosing photojournalism and using the opportunity of this adventure with Indy to try to make his bones with the magazine he’s working for. (While trying to save his mom, of course.)
And as long as we’re filching from Kubrick, give Mutt his chess playing skills and the tactical thinking that comes with it, contrasting with Indy’s more improvisational style. (For a change, you’re making the kid the cool-headed rationalist while the parent is the impulsive one.)
And you know that nice “Follow your Bliss” beat that takes place outside the Peruvian Jail? Swap out Photography for Motorcycle Repair and it still works!
And let’s be frank, a nerdy but game photographer with a predilection towards over thinking? LeBeouf could have played the hell out of that.
(Seriously, Lucas? You want to go back and fix this. Give me a call. I’m in the book. Also, I have some ideas on how to salvage JarJar.)
So, yeah. “Crystal Skull” isn’t perfect. But it’s a perfectly enjoyable pulp adventure that works provided that you view it as a movie and not an attempt to recapture your lost youth.
Because seriously, you’re getting that back.
You’re not eighteen anymore. You’re in your forties. You got kids, a mortgage, a Dodge Dart that needs new tires, you’re having your prostate examine next week. That temp red headed hipster chick temp who helps with filing at the office looks at you with pity. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, LET THE DREAM DIE!!
(4:31. Fixed the title. I was thinking about splitting it into two parts but decided against it.)