top of page

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull review


Directed by #StevenSpielberg

Film review by Nathanial Eker

And thus we reach the end (for now). The fourth entry in the Indiana Jones saga is infamous for its plethora of poor decisions and, in particular, its cheesy, mediocre script. But are such criticisms fair? Or is the film merely plagued by individual moments of lunacy that, had they been a singular incident, could've been forgiven by hardcore Indy fans? Alas, it isn't the beavers, the monkeys, the nuked fridge, or even the aliens that are to blame for Crystal Skull's failure. Rather, it's the uncharacteristically weak direction from Spielberg, as well as an over-reliance on CGI, and an ill-placed script that doom the sequel to the realm of universally panned follow-ups, alongside such stinkers as Batman and Robin and Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar's Revenge.

Harrison Ford returns as an older Indiana Jones, who has managed to outlive both the second world war and his father, Henry Jones Jr. In this time, Indy has stopped digging up artefacts and started digging up evidence on KGB spies, as he works for the American Intelligence agency. In the 1950s, he and his partner Mac (Winstone) find themselves kidnapped by Soviet agents led by Irina Spalko (Blanchett), who force Jones to identify the body of an alleged extraterrestrial being. This sets off a series of unidentified flying adventures that coincidentally see Indy reconnect with Raiders' Marion Ravenwood (Allen) and her son, Mutt (LaBeouf).

The very idea of Jones dealing with aliens seems to be enough to condemn the film to the depths of "non-canon" in the minds of some zealous fanatics. Indeed, the introduction of futuristic technology does jar tonally with the series' penchant for the voodoo dolls, ancient arks, and life-giving grails of the past. However, a new era requires new sets, ideas, and concepts. Though some may have preferred another religious-themed romp for Dr. Jones, Speilberg can't be knocked for trying something bold.

It isn't 7ft generic CGI aliens that signal Indy 4's failure, but the always lethal combination of an uninspiring script (courtesy of George Lucas) and sloppy direction. The plot seems promising at first, and the initial third is both nostalgic and reinvigorating, and seems to hint at a return to form for Spielberg and Lucas. Regrettably, the nonsensical script derails shortly after Marion is reintroduced, as its insistence on introducing triple, or even quadruple agents in a vain attempt to create a "gotcha" moment fall flat on their face.

Furthermore, the characters simply aren't likeable this time around. It's quite amazing that the cast manages to feel so dissonant, when this is undeniably the greatest line-up of actors the franchise has yet mustered. John Hurt, Cate Blanchett, Jim Broadbent, and Ray Winstone are all top tier actors, yet with the exception of Hurt who brings his trademark curiosity and wisdom, each feels like they're playing a caricature. Sadly, even returning veteran Karen Allen isn't given much to do, as Marion is reduced to a damsel in distress, losing all the jubilant feminism she boasted in the first film. While Ford brings his characteristic grumpiness to Jones, even he seems bored by the whole affair. It makes one wonder how much gusto he'll muster in Indiana Jones 5, unbelievably, coming next summer.

That film will also have to learn from Spielberg's mistake of relying on computer-generated monsters and set pieces, which simply don't gel with Indiana Jones' timeless aesthetic. The sparing use of CGI in the original trilogy, intertwined with real sets, real creepy crawlies, and real locations crafted a believable verisimilitude that simply isn't present in Crystal Skull. Like the Star Wars prequels before it, the film often feels like a cheap video game, cowering in the shadow of the wonderful, practical visual style that came before.

Fortunately, also like the Star Wars prequels, it's saved by the work of John Williams, who once again brings his trademark flair to an otherwise flawed film. Action pieces are appropriately "trumpet-y" and the use of prior leitmotifs to signal nods to Raiders in scenes featuring Marion or the Ark of the Covenant is once again most welcome.

Despite a strong first third and the always excellent music of Williams, Crystal Skull deserves its reputation as the weakest Indiana Jones film. It's flawed not for its infamous individual moments, but rather its grossly underutilised cast, an obsession with CGI, and a lack of directorial clarity. Sorry, Steven; everyone has one stinker, and this is unfortunately yours.

Here's hoping James Mangold can regain the franchise some street cred, this time next year. Until then, stick to Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Last Crusade for your dose of magical, adventurous excellence, in some of the best blockbusters Hollywood has ever made.



The UK Film Review Podcast - artwork

Listen to our
Film Podcast

Film Podcast Reviews

Get your
Film Reviewed

Video Film Reviews

Watch our
Film Reviews

bottom of page