When I first heard that Lucas and Spielberg were making a new Indiana Jones film, I wanted to track Lucas down and give him my $6.25 so I wouldn’t have to watch another classic franchise become lost to bad dialog and not-really-believable digital effects. I left our local movie theater 20 minutes ago after seeing what I hope is the final Indy film, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls, and I am pleased to say that my fears were misplaced–sort of.
My original worries did materialize to some extent. More than once the dialog falls flat. Occasionally this seems to be the fault of the script, but other times it feels like the actors, particularly the returning love interest, Karen Allen. Even Harrison Ford struggles with some of his lines, perhaps a sign of his age? The Jones we find in this film is considerably older, which is not necessarily bad, although it is different. Ford runs and talks like an old man. Thankfully, Lucas and Spielberg don’t try to pretend that Jones is young. His action sequences are not as demanding as the scenes from the previous films, without losing the inhuman courage that makes Indy’s character so appealing. There are a few points in the movie where the action does slip from classic Indiana Jones style exaggeration to absurd however. Specifically, two action scenes with newcomer Shia LaBeouf who plays Marion’s son, were too bazaar or absurd for my tastes. Interested viewers might watch for the episode with the monkeys and the scene with LaBeouf standing over two vehicles, both of which took me out of the adventure.
The relationship between Indy and his father which made The Last Crusade such a great film is conspicuously missing here. The banter between Indy and Mutt (the name of LaBeouf’s character, seriously) or Marion lacks a bit of the charm that made the other movies enjoyable. Ford is a decent action star, but he is best when he is exchanging witty banter, whether as Han Solo or Indiana Jones. And here that banter is not quite as good as it has been in previous efforts. But there are still more than a few clever Indy comebacks that had my wife and I in laughter.
In addition to the dialog and action, some of the shots are noticeably digital and a few scenes have an eerie glow that I believe comes from shooting the movie digitally instead of with actual film. These shots remind me of scenes from Episode II or Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. Luckily, these are brief, minor annoyances that might not bother most viewers.
What truly surprised me was that I enjoyed the film–a lot. And what I liked best about it was the adventure. Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls is just over two hours long, but the pace is wonderful. The audience is deftly moved from one location to another without slowing down or losing the story. Most of the problems I have listed with the movie did not take me out of the action. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and was thrilled at the imaginative adventure of it all. And as a believer, that is what I most loved about Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls.
When Christians talk about engaging films, they often privilege films with spiritually significant content at the exclusion of stories that are just engrossing adventures. This approach to cultural engagement misses a serious aspect of the world God created: there are many things in this world that serve no other useful purpose except to glorifying God with their existence. Beauty in nature, the pomegranates on the Temple walls, the vastness of the stars, our world is created with many things that are valued because they are lovely, because they enrapture us, because they are playful. In a similar manner, there are many songs, stories, and films that don’t lead us to contemplate Christ’s work on the cross, or the human need for salvation, or the lostness of the world, but they do delight our imaginations. They are lovely because they invite our minds to imagine other worlds. The Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls is just such a movie. It is playful, imaginative, fantastic, silly, and fun, and it doesn’t need any spiritual or moral content to justify it. In fact, some of the worst parts of the film are the brief attempts at being moralistic (in the end we learn that knowledge is our greatest possession).
I would encourage believers to watch this film, not as an opportunity to start conversations with unbelievers, not to learn about man’s need for a savior, not to contemplate the mystery of Christ’s love, but to enjoy playfulness and imagination–both gifts from a God who loves to delight us with His creation.