Directed By Steven Spielberg
Starring Harrison Ford, Shia LaBouf, Karen Allen, Cate Blanchett, Ray Winstone, John Hurt
Indy 4 is a movie I have really been anticipating with a good amount of trepidation. While seeing another film the trailer played and a friend screamed out from the back of the theater “don’t destroy my childhood”. Normally this kind of asinine behavior in a theater is irritating to say the least but this instance struck a chord with me, because I was feeling what he yelled.
There’s valid reason to fear that this new film would be a detriment to the franchise. Lucas tarnished the Star Wars franchise with the subpar prequels and he’s back here working on Indy. Spielberg has been on a solid roll lately with dramas but he flopped a bit with AI Artificial Intelligence and War of the Worlds. There is something though about magical partnerships. You can bring two creators together who have specific talents and weaknesses that compliment each other in such a way that they can create masterpieces. This is what happened with these two creators with the Raiders of the Lost Ark and to varying degrees Temple of Doom and The Last Crusade. So, I crossed my fingers and sat down in the theater for an early screening of the film.The Movie
Indy 4 starts off in that classic Indy way with the old Paramount logo match cut to the film and a simple title for the film with font that matches the original film. The series starts of with a bang following communists invading the hanger where all of the United States secrets are kept, including the Ark from the first film. They are looking for a sarcophagus and they have Indy with them to help out. It’s here that we meet Indy’s nemesis, a Communist Psychic played by Cate Blanchett.
The film does a great job of establishing Indy’s age even if he does still manage to do some things that a man half his age might not be able to pull off. But remember, Indy has a military history that affords him some training that even in his advanced years still helps him make decisions and execute moves that save the day.
This franchise is one based on old pulp serials. In those old shorts the heroes and villains are drawn very sharply with the franchise featuring some of the most memorable villains ever put on film. Cate Blanchett is a blast here, perhaps playing one of my favorite roles for her. She is in search for the kingdom of the crystal skull, a place where she can return a skull she has in her possession and by doing so she believes she will gain the ultimate power over humanity.
This is a film about endings being most likely the last film in the franchise. The character of Indiana Jones is coming full circle for this ending meeting his son for the first time and being reunited with Ravenwood, his one true love. As an Indiana Jones fanboy I was thrilled to see her back on screen. Karen Allen and Harrison Ford had fantastic chemistry in Raiders of the Lost Ark and that chemistry is back for this film. Once they are back together a lot goes unsaid, and it can go unsaid because of their history together. Unfortunately she gets reintroduced into the film as the action is reaching maximum burn so outside of a few touching moments between them she gets very little character development. That’s ok for hardcore fans who know her personality from the first film but she could come off a little thin for new fans. Sure there are some beats where we learn what she’s been up to in the years since she and Indy parted but we don’t learn what kind of person she ahs become. Why didn’t we see her throwing more punches? In Raiders she could throw a punch as good as any man on screen. She just plays mamma and girlfriend here, although she’s one not shocked by rocket launchers and perfectly fine to drive a jeep right off a cliff. This film is intent on introducing Indy’s son Henry played by Shia LaBouf so we see Henry sword fighting rather than Henry’s mom. No complaints though; I have to say Labouf played the part perfectly and he’s a perfect sidekick to Indy. As I said this is a film about endings and by the end of the film everything is tied up. I don’t believe I’m giving anything away here because in this franchise, and in the serials the franchise is based on, the hero saves the day. Normally tying things up so nicely would bother me but for this kind of film it worked quite well.
Yeah we know that Indy will save the day. These films have never been about whether he will or won’t. These films are all about the journey to that inevitable climax. Mostly Indy 4 doesn’t disappoint in the action department. Spielberg has a way of shooting action that’s immersive and still detailed. There’s never any question about what’s happening on screen. So often with modern action films things happen on screen so frenetically that it’s hard to tell exactly what’s happening. I really hate that sort of filmmaking, it seems amateurish to me, especially when you look at how well Spielberg can track action and make everything cohesive and easy to follow while still being adrenaline pumping.
So, basically I loved this film. I believe it’s a fitting addition to the franchise, but there are some things that bother me that I have to mention. I won’t go to much into plot nitpicks because none of the Indy films will hold up under heavy plot scrutiny. They pulp action movies that just so happen to have great characters. I have to say in this film there’s a crazy professor that knows a bit too much at times. Sure Indy often ahs to utilize his skills to work out the puzzles but even more often he just follows this crazy man. I mentioned earlier that Lucas and Spielberg compliment each other, and they do, but the changes in Lucas as a filmmaker play a bit to heavy of a role in this film. My biggest complaint is all of the cgi and green screen shots. Some of the action is fantastic, but just as you get really sucked into it there’s a bit of cgi that stands out to heavy. There’s also a few shots that feel like the actors are separate from the backgrounds, standing in front of a green screen. These are kind of OK only because in my mind I justify them as being throwbacks to the old serials where the actors stood in front of painted backgrounds. The final complaint is that in the past it seemed that Spielberg was able to keep a grip on Lucas’ desire to throw in cute stuff. Here it all starts with little critters on a roadside and moves to cute monkeys that teach Henry how to swing through the trees and even further goes to way to many hits to the crotch in one action scene. This stiff ahs Lucas written all over it. I’d also place al the heavy use of cgi on Lucas’ shoulders.
Outside of the complaints I have about the film overall I have to say it was a great romp with more heart and sense of adventure and fun than any action film you’re likely to see this year. Spielberg knows how to build relationships and tweak dialogue and Lucas knows how to build awe inspiring worlds. Both of these abilities aren’t at the best the two directors have ever done here but they are at a higher level than most other directors could ever hope to reach. Add to that a top notch cast with Harrison Ford falling back into that natural every man charm he created for the Indy character, Karen Allen bringing back the chemistry her character had with Indy, Shia Labouf doing a surprising job as sidekick/son, and Cate Blanchett playing a fun and truly evil villain and you have a must see film for not only Indy fans but for fans of action/adventure in general.