The great thing about the movies is that our heroes never age. We can keep going back to Chaplin, Newman, or Hepburn (either one), and with the exception of some dated slang, they remain as fresh as the day they stepped foot in front of the camera.
And so, when a bona fide classic character like Indiana Jones, last seen on the big screen 19 long years ago, makes his big return (with all the itinerant hype), fans of the series are faced with a painful mix of emotions. Of course there's joy: Another episode of what might be my favorite childhood movie series is a delightful prospect. But then there's despair: Indy may not age, but Harrison Ford does. Indiana Jones is no longer a spry young guy but a veritable senior citizen. And if Indiana Jones is old, that means I'm getting old, too. Article continues below
No, seriously: At 65 years old, Harrison Ford
now qualifies for Social Security. Fortunately, there's no one involved with this production that doesn't realize Ford is getting a little too long in the tooth for this stuff, and the "grandpa" jokes come pretty fast and furious in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Ford takes it all in stride, of course. He's a consummate professional, but if you paid me the kind of money he must be getting for this movie you could crack wise at my expense all day long.
Said wisecracks come over the course of two hours, as Indiana finds himself out of the 1930s and World War II and into the Cold War in 1957. The Red Scare is on high alert, and instead of loathing Nazis, he now hates Russians. We meet his nemesis in the first sequence (historically where some of the best action in each of the previous films takes place, and that's also true here), a severe Russkie name Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett
), who's kidnapped Indy and hauled him to Area 51 so he can find a mysterious box secreted away in a warehouse there. (Indy films don't waste a lot of time with subtlety and shades of gray: Blanchett's pseudo-dominatrix getup, complete with sword, will undoubtedly be this Halloween's top costume.)
You needn't be a conspiracy theorist to deduce what somewhat might be searching for down the road from the Atomic Café, and when we learn of Irina's interest in forbidden knowledge and otherworldly, psychic powers, the overarching story of Crystal Skull begins to take shape.
But before we make it back to X Files territory, Indy ventures way down south, on an adventure that takes him into Peru and the Amazon Basin as he hunts for the legendary Crystal Skull, which offers untold power to he who returns it to its rightful home. Too bad no one knows where that home is, and the one guy, Oxley (John Hurt
), who seems to know where to find the skull has gone totally insane along the way.
Along for the ride is young Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf
), a writ-large '50s greaser whose purpose for appearing here should be painfully obvious to anyone who's bothered to read this far.
In the end, Irina will make her return to go face to face with Indy, and we'll have a lot of great chases, some impossible feats of physics and physicality, and some of the usual leaps of logic that both casual moviegoers and die-hard fans won't have trouble accepting on face value. Despite Indy's age, this is a grand old adventure, and it goes down easy with plenty of action, sight gags, references to prior episodes, and one-liners galore. And God bless Karen Allen
, who reprises her role as the hard-drinking Marion Ravenwood, though she's clearly sobered up a bit since 1981's Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Despite its many plusses, the movie isn't without its problems, many of which are pretty obvious if you take away the first part of the title. Would you go see a movie just called The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull? Seriously, it sounds like it ought to star Casper Van Dien. Despite all attempts to make this into an epic story, the adventure becomes more of an eye-roller the longer it goes on. Sure, Indiana Jones can often fall into high camp, but this one's just too far over the top. The ending will be as controversial as any you're likely to get into an Internet message board flame war over this year. No, not every adventure can end with the discovery of the Ark of the Covenant, but with this iffy finale, one can't help but feel like we've lost some of Indy's best adventures to time, never to be recovered.
In the final analysis, Crystal Skull is at least as good as the kind-of-silly Temple of Doom, which had more than its share of goofy plot points, complete with a bad guy that could take your heart out of your body without you dying. I guess the best recommendation I can ultimately offer is this: As I write this review two days after the screening, I'm still humming the theme song.