Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull - **1/2
Nineteen long years after last gracing movie screens, the powerhouse team of George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Harrison Ford have reconvened to bring us the next chapter in the adventures of Indiana Jones, “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.”
Was it worth the wait? Well, yes and no.
When it’s re-capturing the magic of the earlier films, it’s a spot-on good time. But when it tries too hard to compete with today’s high-octane action powerhouses, it falls short.
I think the thing that made the original “Raiders” so much fun was that it genuinely tried to re-create the magic of old time movie serials – those old movies that relied on cliffhangers to get you back in the theater the next week. It’s built on those conventions of daring escapes, good guys and bad guys, and the love interest, and they projected them into the new blockbuster sensibility. Yet, the old-fashioned aspects of those movies were very much still onscreen.
Afterwards, the sequels then seemed to lose their connection to the past and only referenced the previous films. That trend continues in “Crystal Skull” and, as a result, the film lacks the kind of spark that could elevate it above the pack of other summer action movies.
In the film, we see Indy, much older and wiser, but still out adventuring. At the beginning, he’s forced to escape the clutches of the evil Irina Spalko (played to the hilt by the fantastic Cate Blanchett), who’s forced Indiana Jones to help her locate the mummified remains of “something.” Once he’s escaped (as you know he will) and back at work at the university, it isn’t long before he’s back in action when a young man named Mutt Williams comes looking for him.
Shia LaBeouf plays Mutt, and his entrance on motorcycle a’la Marlon Brando in “The Wild Ones” doesn’t make the impression I think the filmmakers were going for. Mutt brings news that one of Indy’s old colleagues is in terrible danger.
And we’re off. What follows is the usual and expected collection of close calls, double crosses and fantastical escapes. The problem is, even though it’s been nineteen years, it seems as if nothing’s really changed. We’re back at the same sorts of jungle locations, the same religious temples filled with elaborate mechanisms to keep people out, the same ultimate secret that results in someone’s head exploding at the end.
There are some clever sequences, to be sure. This IS a Spielberg film, after all, and he can still pull out some clever visual touches. A fight in a soda shop early on is well-staged, and the early sequence set in an Army storehouse is quite fun. But as the film progresses, it all starts to lose steam, even as the action ramps up. An extended chase through the jungle grows tiresome as dangers upon dangers (cliffs! Killer ants!) pile up and result in…well, not much.
Harrison Ford (and Indy) is older now, and he looks amazing. There are some references to his age, but for the most part he’s as vital as he’s always been. Labeouf has some presence onscreen and makes the most of what’s required of him. Most welcome in the cast in the return of Karen Allen, playing Marion. We haven’t seen much of her in the last few years, and she’s clearly enjoying her return. She brings a nice spark of fire to the proceedings.
Overall, the film is a comfortable return to form, and it’s fun to live with these characters again. Still, with the level of talent involved, I was hoping for something a little more old-fashioned and fun. What I got was a thrill-ride with very little of the original’s heart and soul.
INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL Dir: Steven Spielberg; Scr: David Koepp (story by George Lucas and Jeff Nathanson); Stars: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Shia LaBeouf; Cate Blanchett. Rated PG-13