In one sense, today’s topic is a bit like beating a dead horse. The fourth installment in the Indiana Jones movie series is a well-known disappointment. Millions of fans have echoed their disappointment in the film, enough so that it’s been cited as one reason why George Lucas is giving up film-making and seeking retirement. While it’s unfair to say that Crystal Skull was a terrible movie, it may be one of the most disappointing movies ever released. The real question is: “How did the movie fail so spectacularly?”
While much has been made of the “nuke the fridge” meme, and it certainly did the movie no favors, I’m going to skirt that this time out and focus instead on what is really the weakest part of the film: the overall narrative. The real plot of the film can be summed up as “Mutt Williams must recruit Indiana Jones to save his mother from Soviet Agents who are looking for the secret of the Crystal Skulls”. And that, honestly, becomes the main problem.
The plot of the movie is technically resolved about a third of the way in, where the Jones Boys meet up with Marion and have their reunion. The personal tension and character drama that the audience should be hooked with, as well as the primary motivation for the main characters, just completely disappear. Instead of throwing in a solid twist in that relationship and hooking the audience in deeper with Marion, the movie simply throws everything out there and calls it “done”.
What’s left after that point is a hodge-podge of unfulfilled characters (particularly Mac and Irina), a poorly-explained threat (the Skull), poorly thought-out gags (the Tarzan yell), and a very long chase sequence which movies absolutely nothing along. Worst yet, much of the dangling plot threads are just left hanging. The audience has so little invested in the characters of the movie by the end that when Mac makes his big sacrifice no one really cared. Even Indiana Jones himself seems utterly disinterested in what happens during the film’s climax. Like the audience, he’s more interested in figuring out his new family and the whole “Soviet Chick versus the Alien” bit is dismissed with him simply walking away.
The failing of the overall narrative is really what kills the impression of the movie. There were bad gags in the previous three films, of course. There were bad character moments and some very iffy scenes and plot threads as well. But each movie also had great and motivated characters, emotional sequences, and clear tension throughout. By relying too much on empty actions sequences, gags and sub-par CGI to pad the movie, Crystal Skull let itself and its audiences down.