With the advent of Memorial Day Weekend, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull kicks off the holiday stretch with a rousing race through jungles of all types, promising action, reunions, and lots of booby-trapped labyrinths and ancient artifacts. This third sequel to 1982’s masterpiece, Raiders of the Lost Ark, is a fitting addition to the Jones pantheon. It clearly resides in the shadows of Raiders, and never quite reaches the fever pitch of breathtaking awe that it could achieve.
It’s by no means a bad movie. In fact, it’s really quite good. Director Steven Spielberg, Producer George Lucas, and Harrison Ford all fit back into their old clothes quite nicely, especially the latter as he puts on the famous hat and title role once again. To put it plainly, he’s still got it. Harrison Ford is Indiana Jones. He owns the role like a seasoned Rolex, and there’s no sign that he ever let it go.
Set in 1957, nearly twenty years after the events of the Last Crusade, Crystal Skull picks up in an eerily-familiar warehouse that supposedly houses a particular artifact that Soviet KGB officials seem to require. The Soviets are led by Irina Spalko(Cate Blanchett), one of the least-developed villains in the entire series. Blanchett has done well with her Russian accent, but aside from that, there’s really not a whole lot going for her.
David Koepp, a long-time screenwriting ally of Spielberg, has delivered a capable script, presenting great dialogue between the lead characters. One of the downfalls of this sequel is the same with most sequels: an assumed knowledge of previous films. Koepp reunites Jones with Raiders flame Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), which could have been a great moment in the film, but turns into little more than a rehash of the last time they were together.
Allen retains much of the spark and passion that gave her character such a boost in Raiders, but her involvement seems to be more contrived than a real necessity to the film. In fact, this only illustrates one of the film’s greatest weakness: it tries too much to be another Raiders.
Shia LaBeouf appears as greaser slacker “Mutt” Williams, who enters Indy’s life just while everyone else is looking for him. Of course, this is yet another setup for an action scene for the old teacher and young man who has a knack for getting out of tight spaces.
Rounding out the cast is the quirky and entirely too underdeveloped Professor Oxley (John Hurt) who was widely rumored to be cast as Dr. Abner Ravenwood. Well, the rumor wasn’t true, but Hurt’s contribution is sadly a little too trite for my taste, and is a bit of a waste of his talents. Both Marion and Oxley could have been great characters, but they are mere shadows of what they could have been.
The film culminates in an ancient tomb and temple, and its ultimate payoff will leave many audiences satisfied with its grandeur. But then, it’s no Raiders. It’s better than Temple of Doom, and it’s still a great bit of fun. Hey, it’s Indiana Jones! It’s a story that is filled with action, sword fights (yes, sword fights), betrayal, big explosions – REALLY big explosions, and plenty of McCarthyism-era atmosphere to give chills down the spine of anyone familiar with that era in American history.
What makes these films work is that they are a kind of nostalgia in and of themselves. The first three films were a throwback to the old movie serials, and gave 1980s summer audiences a hero to root for no matter how bad things got. This new film carries on that legacy quite well, and adds 1950’s science fiction schtick into the mix. Not only that, the nostalgia for its own predecessors.
Spielberg, Lucas, Ford, and Allen appear to all be looking to relive a time when summer adventure movies were still thought of as a risk, and and everything had to be big and bold in order for it to work. LeBeouf adds a new element to the mix, and his smarmy smile is a perfect fit for a tale set in a rather dark time in America’s history.
Their latest collaboration is indeed a success, giving us another chapter in both ancient legends and modern heroes, with a glimpse of a new generation of yet another Jones to take the reins in future films. Early in the film, Indy is goaded by his Russian captors about how great communism is. His response is distinctly American: “I like Ike.”
For me, despite all of its very real flaws, “I like Indy.”