You can’t keep a good man down. So, nearly 20 years after his last outing, Indiana Jones is out of mothballs and back in search of high adventure. With the Hollywood triumverate of George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford back on board, viewers can rest relatively assured of some serious summer movie fun.
Kingdom of the Crystal Skull picks up 27 years after the original film. It’s the post-war ’50s in America. Our man Indy is no longer plagued by Nazis; but as the film clears the opening credits, it seems he’s been kidnapped by nasty Russkies. They’ve dragged Jones (Ford, of course) and his adventuring buddy George McHale (Ray Winstone) out to (minor spoiler) Roswell, N.M. Seems an overstuffed (and vaguely familiar) warehouse there is the final resting spot for one of Dr. Jones’ more unusual discoveries.
Without giving too all-fired much away, the Russians (led by a “moose and skvirell”-mouthed Cate Blanchett) are after a mysterious crystal skull from South America. Legend has it that whomever returns this skull to its lost Mayan city of origin will be the recipient of some great power. Naturally, everybody wants to get their hands on it. Naturally, Indiana Jones is caught in the middle.
The opening sequence of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull manages to fit in evil Russian spies, Area 51, a car chase, a massive gunfight, a rocket sled and an atomic bomb. It’s an early indicator that the filmmakers might be trying a bit too hard.
In short order, Dr. Jones has teamed up with James Dean-wannabe Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf). Seems Mutt’s mom was one of Indy’s old girlfriends and she’s been kidnapped in South America by some evil Russian spies. Sense a trend here? The film remains coy for a majority of its running time about who Mutt’s mother might be, but if you don’t already know going into the film, you haven’t been paying much attention.
After this initial setup, the film unfolds as one giant chase scene. There are plenty of thrilling moments, but many viewers (particularly the older ones) might find themselves missing the subtlety of Raiders of the Lost Ark. (Remember, people, a “roller coaster ride” is noted for its ups and downs--not its constant upward movement.) With so much uninterrupted action on display, there isn’t nearly as much humor and character development in this go-around. One could argue we already know these characters pretty well. True enough, but Kingdom still lacks the quotable dialogue (“Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?”) and indelible scenes (Indy shooting the Berber swordsman) that made Raiders such an all-time classic.
Twenty-seven years on, the series is starting to show its age. Characterwise, the filmmakers are smart enough to acknowledge that Indy is getting a bit past his prime. (“It’s not the years, it’s the mileage,” he noted in the first film.) But plotwise, this outing feels less like a loving tribute to the movie serials of yesteryear and more like a rapid-fire collage of the last 10 action movies you saw.
Still, it’s Indiana Jones. Niggling details like character motivation, moral message and what I’m pretty sure is a whole other entirely forgotten crystal skull fade into the background when Harrison Ford starts cracking that iconic bullwhip of his. Crystal Skull is certainly better than Temple of Doom with its gruesome sideshow atmosphere and arguably better than Last Crusade with its terrific Sean Connery perf (but recycled Biblical quest). It’s summertime, and Indiana Jones is like ice cream on a hot day. You don’t just want it, you need it. Are you really gonna complain if it turns out to be soft-serve instead of hand-cranked?
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