15 years ago, this movie proved that critics aren't always right
This is what you might call "reverse Star Wars prequels syndrome".
"Nineteen years after their last adventure, director Steven Spielberg and star Harrison Ford have no trouble getting back in the groove with a story and style very much in keeping with what has made the series so perennially popular," said Variety.
"It miraculously pulled off the effect of feeling like a surprise: The picture both fulfilled some vague, unexpressed hopes I didn't know I had and also left me with the sense that I'd just seen something I wasn't quite prepared for - the kind of contradiction that great showmanship can bridge," gushed Salon.
"This movie makes a better move: It goes back to the future. Once again, the series is the rare franchise that treasures knowledge and embraces the unknown," praised the Baltimore Sun.
We have previously covered on JOE movies that critics got very wrong - in that case, it was something that reviewers absolutely slated, but won audiences over in the end - but this is the opposite. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull scored 77% on Rotten Tomatoes after it debuted at the Cannes Film Festival, and it has a higher Metacritic score than Temple of Doom and equal to that for The Last Crusade!
But once the movie arrived for general audiences on 22 May 2008, it didn't take fans of the Indy series, or fans of good movies in general, to key into the fact that something was... off. And that happened about ten minutes into the action, upon the arrival of the now-so-infamous-it-has-its-own-name, the "Nuke The Fridge" scene...
Audiences still turned out massively for Indy, as it banked over $790 million at the box office that year, becoming the second-biggest grossing movie of the year, behind only The Dark Knight. But something had changed, and to this day, unlike the Star Wars prequels for example, it seems very unlikely that there will ever be a chance for this movie to be redeemed in hindsight.
Five months after the movie came out, South Park had already parodied it with their episode "The China Problem", while Time Magazine ranked the phrase "Nuke The Fridge" as the fifth most important word or phrase of that year, defining it as "to exhaust a Hollywood franchise with disappointing sequels."
By the 2010 Cannes Film Festival, Indy's son in Crystal Skull, Shia LeBeouf had effectively turned on the movie itself, telling the LA Times that: "You get to monkey-swinging and things like that and you can blame it on the writer and you can blame it on Steven [Spielberg]. But the actor’s job is to make it come alive and make it work, and I couldn’t do it. So that’s my fault. Simple."
"I’ll probably get a call. But he needs to hear this. I love him. I love Steven. I have a relationship with Steven that supersedes our business work. And believe me, I talk to him often enough to know that I’m not out of line. And I would never disrespect the man. I think he’s a genius, and he’s given me my whole life. He’s done so much great work that there’s no need for him to feel vulnerable about one film. But when you drop the ball you drop the ball."
15 years on, the opinion on the Crystal Skull has done nothing but get worse, becoming a shorthand or punchline for lazy sequels. And while LaBeouf is indeed correct about Spielberg - no-one in Hollywood has a perfect report card - it is telling that so many movie critics at the time seemed to want to love the movie... to the point where they actively convince themselves of its quality, despite its obviously lacking in that department.
We have higher hopes for Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, which is also to get its world debut at the Cannes Film Festival this year, before landing in your local cinema on Friday, 30 June.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is available to rent on Google Play, Apple TV and the Sky Store right now.
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