Laura CliffordIt has been closing in on twenty years since our hero, Indy (Harrison Ford), thwarted the diabolical Nazi plot to steal the Ark of the Lost Covenant. It is now 1955 and the Commies have replaced Hitler’s henchmen as the world’s bad guys. The Soviets are searching for a mysterious artifact that will give them world domination and it is up to our hero and a few good friends to save the day in “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.”
It may have been less than 20 years for Indy but it is 27 years for us since we were first roused by John Williams now famous score and the action-packed antics of Dr. Henry Jones, Jr., bullwhip and revolver in hand. Is the world ready for an older, though not much gentler, Indiana, as he sets out to stop the nefarious Commie plot and restore the titular object to its rightful place? It sure is!
Steven Spielberg, Harrison Ford, George Lucas and all pony up to the bar once again with a new Indy adventure that pushes all the appropriate buttons and delivers all the elements that made us love the first film (but not so much “IJ 2&3”). Just like the first, action is the key in this fourth installment of the lucrative franchise with a tremendously complex and thrilling chase through the Amazon jungles as the film’s set piece. Homage, such as the expected snake, is well paid to “Indy 1.”
Jonesd is joined by a whole bunch of new faces to the series and one from the original. Karen Allen returns as tough and resourceful Marion Ravenwood whom Henry has not seen for nearly two decades. This time, she has some information that she has kept from Indy all these years he’s a daddy. Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf) is, like his mom, tough, resourceful and is skilled with using a switchblade. Together, they must thwart Russian Dr. Irana Spalko (Cate Blanchett) and her heavily armed followers as they seek the secret of the fabulous crystal skull that could give the baddies unlimited power.
Wry humor, kitchy dialogue, fast-paced action, seamless special F/X, solid acting and homage to its original are all good reasons to see “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”. I rate it the best of the sequels kind of like “Rocky Balboa." I give it a B.
Nineteen years after his last adventure, the bullwhipping archeological professor is kidnapped by Russian Officer Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett, "Elizabeth: The Golden Age") who needs his top secret knowledge to progress her paranormal research. Indy's old colleague Mac (Ray Winstone, "The Departed," "Fool's Gold") warns the Russkies 'You don't know him!' and sure enough, Spalko's interference throws together "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull."
This long awaited followup is perhaps the most highly anticipated movie of the summer, but although it certainly produces the goods it also suffers from one of director Steven Spielberg's most common flaws - not knowing when to quit. Harrison Ford's age was anticipated to be the weak point here but he's more than up to bringing back an older but still spry and wry Indy and the forth installment has been lovingly crafted to resemble the old serial films it was based on (albeit given a 1957 polish), but some of the action sequences go on so long they become repetitive and Indy's reunion with Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen, "Raiders of the Lost Ark"), which should be the heart of the film, has all the depth of a comic book.
Spielberg lets us know right off the bat that we're not in the forties anymore, beginning with a group of teenagers racing down a desert road in a convertible, Elvis's "Hound Dog" blaring on the radio. They engage a U.S. military vehicle, with some suspiciously non-American looking soldiers, in a drag race, before that vehicle and its convoy turn off towards a remote Army barracks. Guards are gunned down, a trunk opened and an iconic hat hits the pavement. Indy's ordered to locate a crate of specific dimensions in an iconic warehouse with sliding doors labeled '51.' This leads to some nifty business where Indy employees gunpowder and bullets for their magnetic effects to locate the shrouded corpse of a certain famous alien before a terrifically staged escape sequence that features a glimpse of *the* Ark, an experimental vehicle that jet propels into the desert and an ill-timed entrance into a nuclear test site. If only the rest of the film lived up to its opening.
Returning to University, Indy learns he's been put on indefinite leave by Dean Stanforth (Jim Broadbent, "Moulin Rouge!," "Hot Fuzz," Denholm Elliot's successor) because of F.B.I. suspicions of collusion with the Commies. Bitter, Indy's about to leave the country when he's stopped by Mutt (Shia LaBeouf, "Disturbia," "Transformers"), a young man who fashions himself after Marlon Brando in "The Wild Ones," who says his mother, Mary, sent him for help. Seems he's the ward of Indy's old colleague Professor 'Ox' Oxley (John Hurt, "The Skeleton Key," "V for Vendetta") who has sent a mysterious missive which may or may not indicate he's lost his mind. This, is, of course, a puzzle pointing towards the titular crystal skull and its kingdom, so after a soda fountain fight staged for its era and a motorcycle chase through the school, Indy and Mutt are off to Peru (signalled with signature plane flying over map, route animated in red). After some typical spider-webby, hidden wall, live skeleton scenarios, the duo run back into the Russians and are brought to meet Ox where Indy also discovers that Mutt's mother Mary is really Marion and that Mutt is, of course, his son.
Screenwriter David Koepp ("Jurassic Park," "The War of the Worlds"), working from the story by George Lucas and Jeff Nathanson ("The Terminal," "Rush Hour 3") hits all the signature marks. There's a beaut of a sequence where Indy and Mutt fight the Russians for possession of the skull straddling vehicles racing through the rain forest and Mutt earns his stripes by getting hung up in vines only to rejoin the fight Tarzan style. He also turns in his switchblade for a fencing sword (Mutt's bullwhip? The film's final sequence literally passes the hat.) But there's also the bit where Marion drives their WWII amphibious truck duck over a cliff and they survive not one, but three massive waterfalls with nary a scratch nor any real feeling of danger. The final adventure sequence is well staged with some nice special effects and homage to "Raiders" end, but the film's ending is all wrong, the final capper to the Indy-Marion reunion that's played too broadly, in part due to an over-caffeinated performance from Allen.
Ford, on the other hand, is terrific, every bit the Indy of yore. He gets off more than his share of crackling line readings (I just about spit with his retort to Spalko's request to name her origin). Blanchett is also terrific as the film's villainess, a femme fatale in a Louise Brooks bob whose every eyelash is lovingly lighted by cinematographer Janusz Kaminski ("The Terminal," "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"). Also good is Spielberg protege LaBeouf, a nice rebellious foil for Harrison who obviously has more than a bit of dear old dad in his genes. Even so, as likable as the lad is in the role, I'd no more look forward to a continuation of the series centered on Mutt than I'd want a Henry Jones Sr./Sean Connery spinoff. Broadbent provides warm collegial support, but both Winstone and Hurt are saddled with pretty stock characters.
The best thing about this forth installment is its emphasis on education. There's a running joke about Mutt's having dropped out of school which Indy supports until he learns he's the lad's father and it turns out that the Mayan word for 'Gold' has another, richer meaning. In short, "The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" may not be the film that "Ark" was, but its (few) disappointments are overridden by the sheer joy of seeing Indy in action once again.
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