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Indiana Jones
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 father.

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.

Derek McCaw

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