Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: could this be one of the most ridiculous films ever?

It’s quite probable that almost everyone from my generation grew up with the original Indy movies- they were cheesy and a bit silly, but they were from the eighties, when we were young and such things were common. Come 2008, however, and into a more mature and sophisticated world was born a brand new film, starring a much older Harrison Ford as an older and wiser Indiana Jones. Unfortunately, it’s common knowledge that you can’t go back, and indeed, this film seemed determined to become the most ridiculous of them all. And of course, where ridiculousness dwells, Azure Flame is there to mock it.

The film begins, for some reason, with a race between a convoy’s escort car and a random passing group of American teens- a completely pointless display of high speed driving that inexplicably ends with the rest of the convoy catching up when it comes time to turn off- even though mere moments before they had all been left behind. Equally mysterious is a lingering shot of a CG mongoose- just one of many animal appearances that have nothing at all to do with the actual story.

Anyway, with that little prologue over, the time comes for the real story (such as it is) to begin. The US colonel in charge of the convoy is actually a traitor leading a force of Russians to Area 51, where a kidnapped Indiana Jones is supposed to lead them to a bizarre artefact he recovered some tens years previously. With the film being set in 1957, this would make said incident take place in 1947, and what do we all associate with 1947? That’s right, the Roswell incident and the weather balloon that might have been a flying saucer. But this is Indiana Jones, and even though we’ve had the Ark of the Covenant and the Holy Grail, we wouldn’t have aliens and flying saucers…would we?

For the time being, however, let’s get back to the artefact, which for some reason is highly magnetic, enabling Indy to just toss some gunpowder in the air and have it lead him through the warehouse to the relevant crate. Upon opening the crate, the magnetic effect increases sufficiently to attract the Russian guns, overhead lights and so forth, because of course thin wooden crates are well known for their incredible magnetic shielding capabilities. Not that the magnetism makes much sense, given that the substance in question is quartz (a non-magnetic crystal) which somehow has the ability to magnetise equally non-magnetic metals such as gold.

Naturally, Indy isn’t one to hang around while the bad guys conduct their nefarious plans, but unfortunately for him, his sidekick Mac has other ideas, and after an unconvincing delivery about how a run of bad luck with the cards forced him to sell out to the Russians, he turns on our hero. Fortunately, without basic training in combat and marksmanship, the villains (led by the evil scientist Colonel-Doctor Irina “severe bob and a rapier at her side” Spalko) are no match for Indy’s whip skills, and an extended fight scene commences.

For some reason, during the fight, Indy manages to accidentally flip a switch that launches a jet propelled vehicle- because of course you arrange it so that such a powerful object can accidentally be launched by so little as a bored worker fiddling with the controls. Even more amazingly, Indy ends up getting carried along on the front of the vehicle, and doesn’t even get thrown off by its rapid deceleration at the end of the track. Still, this is only the warm up for what comes next, as our hero makes his way to an atomic testing village mere moments before a bomb is about to be set off. Whilst all the pursuing Russians sensibly run away, Indy has no recourse but to hide himself in a fridge, which somehow withstands the blast and being thrown several hundred in the air to deliver its human cargo intact and unharmed. Indy even gets out moments after the explosion and manages to get away without experiencing a lethal dose of radiation!

One decontamination and a debriefing later, and the FBI now suspect that Indy may be colluding with the Russians- didn’t any tell them that he’s the hero? Before you know it, Indy’s even been given an extended leave of absence from his teaching position at Marshall College, but on the train out of town he is approached by a motorcycle riding greaser named Mutt Williams. Before you know it, Indy has somehow got off the train and is meeting with Mutt in a café, where the young man reveals that former colleague Harold Oxley has gone missing, and that the villains also went to the trouble of capturing Mutt’s mother and then letting her ‘escape’ so that she could sent a letter to Indy via Mutt. Surely there was a less convoluted way of communicating their wishes?

Unsurprisingly, as soon as the letter progresses, two generic evil lackeys who just happened to teleport into the café moments earlier (the camera rather amusingly cuts to two out of place men in suits sitting amongst a bunch of college students) make their move, resulting in a chase through town and then Marshall College, complete with guns, high speed antics and a motorcycle ride through a library. Only then are Indy and his new sidekick Mutt able to shake off their pursuers and head to Peru to find Oxley (cue the cheesy low budget depiction of the journey as a red line across a map).

In Peru, our heroes discover that Oxley went mad and was admitted to a sanatorium (or rather a stone cell), only to be busted out by the villains after conveniently leaving a cryptic clue carved into the walls and floor. It seems that Oxley found the previously hidden grave of the Conquistador Castellana, and from the vague clues he leaves, Indy and Mutt are able to pinpoint its exact location and pay it a visit. Even more mysteriously, the graveyard is inhabited by half-naked attackers, who seem to hang around for no reason other than to attack the extremely minimal number of visitors that show up every year.

By the time they make it to the actual tomb and slice open wrappings able to miraculously preserve a body in a near-perfect state for hundreds of years, Indy and Mutt find what Oxley left there- a magnetic crystal skull made entirely of quartz, and stuffed with what looks like tinfoil. The skull is more elongated than a human’s and looks too perfect to have been carved- wait, does this mean there really are aliens in the movie after all? Please say it’s just a human-made artefact.

By this point, it is time for the Russians to make a reappearance, with the captured Oxley (who has been transformed into a raving madman with a tendency to point out what to do next in cryptic riddles thanks to his contact with the skull) and Indy’s old flame Marion Ravenwood (now Williams), who just happens to be Mutt’s mother. It seems the skull is important to Spalko, who believes that it will spearhead psychic research that will enable the Russians to control the minds of people worldwide. What a shame, then, that Spalko spends so much time hesitating and posturing that she cannot possibly hope to defeat our heroes.

After being forced to stare into the skull’s eyes in an attempt to communicate with it, Indy and his allies finally make their escape in the form of a painfully extended chase scene through the jungle that includes the ridiculousness of a group of monkeys attacking Irina but happily swinging through the vines with Mutt as he miraculously catches up with a car that has long since driven away. There’s even a scene in which Mutt must rescue Indy and Marion from quicksand by pulling them out with a snake, during which time Marion reveals that Mutt is Indy’s son. An old flame returns with a son whose father turns out to be the main character- boy, like we didn’t see that one coming.

Anyway, after Mac rejoins the team by claiming to be a double agent (predictably he’s lying about the whole thing and even drops large, bleeping transmitters for the Russians to follow even as the heroes fail to notice them), our heroes avoid unrealistically large killer ants and take a ride over no fewer than three waterfalls in an amphibious vehicle before finally reaching their destination- a Mayan temple in the middle of nowhere. Naturally, the temple is not without its hazards, and as they make their way through a set of tunnels, they are attacked by yet more mysterious half-clad people who waiting in ambush in the walls. What they were living on in the meantime and why anyone would spend all their time sealed in a wall waiting on the off-chance that intruder might chance upon their well hidden temple is anyone’s guess, but fortunately these generics are eventually fended off, enabling our heroes to make their way to the innermost chambers.

If you thought all that was pretty silly, however, it was only a prelude to the conclusion, which defies sense even by Indiana Jones standards. You see, in the deepest chamber of the temple sit thirteen quartz alien skeletons (somehow the magnetism aspect has been forgotten), minus the one crystal skull that Indy and the others have been bringing. Naturally, this is the point where Spalko shows up for the conclusion, even going so far as to place the skull back on the skeleton from whence it came whilst revealing that she somehow knows that the aliens were a hive mind- a single consciousness shared among many bodies. God only knows how she deduced that from her research on dead alien corpses.

With the skull returned, somehow the consciousness of the thirteen aliens is restored, and they decide to bestow a gift upon our hapless heroes. Being not perhaps as mentally stable or sexually satisfied as she might like, Spalko demands to know everything, a demand which somehow causes all thirteen alien skeletons to merge together into a single living alien (molecular transmutation?), which pumps so much knowledge into her that our ambitious villain becomes completely incinerated.

Should you be a Stargate SG-1 fan, then at this point you might have noticed that not only have we had crystal skulls (recall that Daniel Jackson once encountered one) and aliens that look a bit like the Asgard, but that the inter-dimensional portal that opens at this stage in the film is not too dissimilar to the eponymous Stargate. Rip-off or not, the portal is about to draw all our heroes in, and so the only choice is to run for it, leaving the predictably greedy Mac to get drawn in whilst he tries to fill his pockets with gold. Everyone else manages to make it outside, however, where they somehow manage to find a spot to stand completely unharmed whilst a giant flying saucer rises out of the ground and vanishes into the void between dimensions, leaving large rocks to rain everywhere.

With Indy’s latest and most ridiculous adventure thus concluded, our hero gets to go home, become assistant dean and even marry Marion- but he isn’t quite ready to give up the legendary hat just yet. What does that leave us, the viewers to look forward to? Perhaps a sequel involving 85 year old Harrison Ford clutching his walking stick as he scales a cliff? Endless spin-offs starring Shia LaBeouf as Mutt Williams? I can hardly contain my excitement.

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