and the Kingdom
of the Crystal Skull
Welcome back, old friend.
Oh, sure, it's not like we felt we'd missed
you terribly so much as we thought of you from time to time
with fondness. But now that you're here, you're as comfortable
as that brown felt hat must be, and may I say, sir, I still
get a thrill when you shrug your shoulders and place it
bravely on the top of your now grey head.
Enough of the love letter and down to business,
because that's the way Indy would want it.
After 19 years, we feared that the time
for Indiana Jones was past. Forget that; Director Steven
Spielberg has used all Producer George Lucas' resources
to move our hero forward in time. The CG and green screen
work looks so much better than it did in Indiana Jones
and the Last Crusade. Yet it's not intrusive, a feat
less well-crafted movies do not achieve. Or maybe it's just
that computer generated or not, flesh-eating fire ants are
not something I'm willing to focus on long enough to wonder
if they're real. The heebie-jeebies are enough.
That's not the only familiar feeling watching
this. It's also clear that after years of almost sleepwalking
through movies that made us sleepwalk out, Harrison Ford
enjoys being in a movie again. As an older, perhaps wiser
Indiana Jones, Ford infuses a bit of Humphrey Bogart into
the role. It's 1957 and Jones feels both the weight of his
adventures and the pangs of lost mentors - including his
As current University Dean Charles Stanforth
(Jim Broadbent) tells him, he's at the age where life starts
taking away instead of giving. Of course, Charles could
not be more wrong, as this movie subtly stresses its theme
of life continually unfolding and offering new surprises
as long as you're willing to look.
Moving forward in time also changes the
feel of the film a bit. Lucas wanted to give this installment
the feel of paranoid sci fi films of the '50s, and that's
definitely there. But he also owes a debt to Marvel Comics
of the early '60s in places; the first couple of minutes
of the film could just as well have been the origin of The
Hulk, with crazy teenagers in a jalopy taunting and daring
soldiers. Later on, Indy even gets an assist from a General
Ross (Alan Dale), though he never gets called Thunderbolt.
Spielberg manages to cleverly make the
Soviet antagonists almost as colorful as the Nazis of Raiders
of the Lost Ark, but Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
doesn't quite have the breathless pace of the original.
Instead, it feels like the sweeping fun of Disney's best
adventure films from that period, recalling 20,000 Leagues
Under the Sea and In Search of the Castaways.
However, when Spielberg gives in to the
action, he does not skimp. Filling in location shots with
computer graphics, he delivers an incredible chase that
begins with Soviet jeeps in the jungle and ends…well, that
would be telling. But along the way, he also seals Shia
LeBouef's fate as a credible action star.
The kid can handle it. Though it might
have been unfair to have him make an entrance decked out
like Marlon Brando in The Wild One, the character
of Mutt holds his own with Indy without becoming obnoxious.
Lucas has already talked of delivering another film that
would shift the weight of the action on Mutt, and it isn't
as horrible an idea as you might be thinking.
Of course, this movie still belongs to
Indiana Jones, and well it should. The other supporting
roles aren't quite as memorable as in times past. Ray Winstone's
"Mac" has a good reason for not being Sallah, but his motivations
- and his affection for Indy - never quite gel.
Nor does Karen Allen get to do much with
her return as Marion Ravenwood. Instead, she has two major
expressions - anger and a goofy grin that says she enjoys
the thrill as much as we should. It doesn't get in the way
of things, and it does awaken a boyish charm in Ford, but
she can't hold a candle to the film's villain.
As the dark Irina Spalko, Cate Blanchett
does manage to be more than a cartoon. Though clearly evil,
she has a respect for Indy's abilities. Even when he manages
to foil plan after plan, Spalko can't help but show slight
admiration before she makes her countermove.
David Koepp's screenplay also makes those
countermoves fairly logical, one steady line through a few
other plot holes and moments that giddily defy belief. You
might think it's giving a free pass, but it really wouldn't
be Indiana Jones without a few moments of "wait, that doesn't
really make any sense!" It's a credit to this one that those
stray thoughts will only come afterward.
During the movie, all you'll be doing is
having fun. This summer, adventure takes back its old name,
and you don't even have to call him Dr. Jones.