INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL (which, because of the annoying and unnecessarily long title will hereby be known in this review as INDY 4) may or may not be the best in the series, but it almost doesn't matter. That Harrison Ford, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas could even pull off a halfway decent Indiana Jones film 20 years after the last one is good enough for me. And INDY 4 is much more than halfway decent. It does have some preposterous moments, and the last half hour relies too much on the cast standing around reacting to special effects in that patented Spielberg CLOSE ENCOUNTERS way. But for most of its running time, INDY 4 is an exciting blend of rummaging through caves and catacombs, interrupted by over the top action sequences. In other words, it's an Indiana Jones film.
Set in the 1950s, INDY 4 finds Indy firmly in the middle of the Cold War, with the Russians looking for an ancient crystal skull (a what?) that could (stick with me) give them the power to take over the world. (Yeah, the plot's that deep!). Of course, Dr. Henry Jones, archaeologist and adventurer, is well aware of this skull, if not its mystical properties. The chase to retrieve the skull, find a kidnapped colleague and save a young boy's mother, takes Indy from Roswell, New Mexico to Peru to other parts of the world while battling primitive tribes, red fire ants, and carloads of angry Communists with machine guns. It is initially a bit of a shock to see a 65-year-old Harrison Ford back in the role of Dr. Jones, and for the first few minutes, you may wonder if it was such a good idea to base an action film around an actor just five years from being a septuagenarian. However, as soon as Indy kicks the first commie out from behind the wheel of his own vehicle, all doubts fade away. Harrison Ford is still the goods.
The biggest surprise of INDY 4 is Shia Lebeouf. Like ROCKY BALBOA and LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD, INDY 4 adds a younger character to the mix to play against the aging hero, and Lebeouf is an inspired choice. His character, called Mutt (and there's a clue in that name for die hard Indy fans) starts out as a "Marlon Brando from THE WILD ONES" wanna-be and ends up as the heir apparent to the whole Indiana Jones franchise. There is a moment at the end of the film that clearly shows the intention of continuing the series with Lebeouf as the new Indiana Jones, and Lebeouf could probably make it work.
The film has several nods to its history without feeling like a retread of previous adventures. There is the return of Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood, Indy's love interest from RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, along with a small tribute to Doctor Henry Jones Sr. (a retired Sean Connery did not want to come back to the series) as well as three references to Indy's old pal Marcus Brody (actor Denholm Elliot died in 1992). But unlike many sequels, INDY 4 doesn't pound you over the head with references to past films or attempt to recreate and outdo classic scenes from the past. However, in the attempt to create new and original action set pieces, the film sometimes stretches credibility. Indiana's solution to surviving a nuclear blast is probably the most egregious example, but there is also a waterfall sequence that demands we accept Indy's survival as a given three time in a row, when in our hearts we know he and everyone with him would have had to have died almost instantly. Likewise, one character's sudden expertise at swinging through the trees like Tarzan may leave you scratching your head.
In fact, the entire final third of the film asks way too much of us, especially in the climactic scene in which the mystery of the crystal skull is finally revealed. The one flaw just about all Indiana Jones films have are major climactic sequences in which our heroes literally have nothing else to do but watch the latest effects from George Lucas's Industrial Light & Magic subdivision. (Ironically, TEMPLE OF DOOM, usually hailed as the worst in the series, is the film that suffers from this the least). Hence, once the crystal skull is returned to its rightful place, the special effects take over and take care of wrapping up the story, even to the extent of vanquishing the main villain (Cate Blanchett, an amazing actress whose talent is clearly wasted in a fun but completely one-dimensional role.) While all the effects are whirling and swirling around, the film obviously wants us to be asking ourselves some deep questions about the origins of civilization on Earth, but the one question that may pop into your head more than once is "So what the hell is going on now?". With this series, there should be no place for deep questions, even if the films have Indy chasing as the Ark of the Covenant or the Holy Grail. INDY 4, however, wants you to have big thoughts at the end, but please --- when you get off a roller coaster, do you ponder the laws of physics or do you say "Boy, that was fun!"? - JB
ADD ANOTHER QUOTE AND MAKE IT A GALLON
"You're a teacher?"