Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
It's been a long, long time since Indiana Jones last threw his hat into in the ring and rode off into the sunset. Nearly 20 years in fact. Long enough for George Lucas to make three more Star Wars episodes and Steven Spielberg to put his name to three Jurassic Park movies, Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan, AI, War Of The Worlds and Munich, to name but a few.
Hard to imagine either man needed to resurrect the archeologist adventurer certainly not financially. Creatively? It seems unlikely. For all their popularity and craftsmanship, the Indy films never felt like they meant anything on a personal level; but perhaps it appealed as a technical challenge. Word has it that Harrison Ford was the most urgent agitator for the project and given his recent track record that would make some sense. Ford was also the biggest question mark hanging over this movie: Could he still crack the whip at 65?
Well, here's the scoop: Ford may be looking a bit more weathered these days, but when it comes to cracking skulls, trading punches and clambering in and out of hidden burial plots, it's the same old Indy. So much so, it's like he's never been away.
Sensibly, Ford is required to act his age or something like it. That doesn't require much of an over haul, Indy was always a bit of a grumpy old man. The movie opens in 1957, in Nevada, where Dr Jones is hard put to foil a daring raid on Area 51 led by Soviet agent Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett). He escapes with his life only to find himself out of the frying pan and into the fire: the US is testing the A bomb right over his head.
This bravura opening immediately rekindles the old magic; the mixture of bravado, courage and breathtaking action that made Raiders of the Lost Ark more than just a nostalgia trip. It's also the high point of the movie, or close to it.
Indiana's brush with the Reds makes him a person of interest to the FBI at the height of the McCarthy period (the movie's sole, passing nod towards a post 9/11 sensibility), and screenwriter David Koepp in effect starts the plot all over again, this time with Shia LaBeouf's brylcreamed biker Mutt making a clumsy pitch to Jones to save his mom from kidnappers in South America.
A graph representing the movie's highs and lows would resemble a mountain range with several precipitous cliffs. Whenever Indy stops running and starts hypothesizing about the mysterious Crystal Skull the outlandish McGuffin they've come up with for this one, the machine threatens to collapse in a heap.
Fortunately Jones does most of his thinking on his feet. Ford, or his stunt double, doesn't get a lot of downtime even after Indy's reunited with first love Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen).
Allen is easily the pick of Ford's leading ladies in this series and her presence lends the enterprise a little bit of heart that is sorely lacking elsewhere. It's just a pity Koepp can't find more for her to do - but then Indy is already forced to share spotlight with young Mutt (the movie's teen audience insurance policy), and there's only so much heroism to go round.
A long jungle chase is another highlight, but Spielberg and company misjudge the film's climax, which I won't spoil here, but which is bound to figure prominently in post-screening discussions. Let's just say we have seen this before, from Spielberg himself, and done better too.
That sloppy anti-climax aside, Indy IV has enough going for it to secure the bronze medal in the series and even compete for the silver. (The less said about Temple of Doom the better.) Cate Blanchett makes a memorable villainess, a bob-tailed brunette with a penchant for long rubber gloves and a rapier. LaBeouf holds his end up, though not high enough in a series of wincing bodyblows. Messrs Winstone, Hurt and Broadbent carry on the tradition of strong British support set by Denholm Elliott et al in bygone times.
In short, for a throwback to a throwback, Indiana Jones is holding up reasonably well.
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