Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Review: Spielberg and Ford deliver the goods in rollicking adventure

Reviews by Jason Pirodsky

Highly anticipated and notoriously long in production, Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull proves a rollicking, nostalgic adventure that lives up to almost impossibly high expectations. Though it lacks some of the depth and human interest of the original Raiders of the Lost Ark, a legitimate classic in my book, Crystal Skull captures the spirit of the first film better than second and third installments Temple of Doom and Last Crusade, making this the best of the Indy sequels.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Directed by Steven Spielberg. Starring Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett, Karen Allen, Shia LaBeouf, Ray Winstone, John Hurt, Jim Broadbent, Igor Jijikine. Written by David Koepp, George Lucas and Jeff Nathanson, from characters created by Lucas and Philip Kaufman.
IMDb link

Harrison Ford returns as the iconic Indiana Jones, the actor now 65, seven years older than Sean Connery was when he played the hero´s father in 1989´s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. We begin in 1957, 19 years after the previous film in fiction & reality, as Indy and fellow adventurer Mac (Ray Winstone) are dragged to a top secret military storehouse in Nevada by some Soviet agents led by rapier-wielding Ukranian Irina Spalko (a delicious Cate Blanchett). The Soviets want the contents of a mysterious crate (allusions to Roswell – this isn´t the first time the film heads into X-Files territory) and Indy tracks its highly-magnetized contents by sprinkling gunpowder in the air and following the trail. After the baddies get what they want, a rocket-car escape later finds our hero in a Nevada ghost town populated by mannequins and about to undergo nuclear testing; luckily, a lead-lined refrigerator propels him to safety as the town is decimated. All this in the film´s breathless first 20 minutes. And then…

It would be pointless to delve further into the plot; suffice it to say that the title and a Google search will provide you with more than you need to know about the mythical Crystal Skulls, and while traversing through the basics of the plot the film had me enthralled every step of the way. Scenes of action and adventure are layered one after another in such rat-a-tat roller-coaster fashion that we rarely have time to catch our breaths; an extended rainforest chase scene, which includes a musical-chairs swordfight atop dueling Jeeps, an encounter with killer ants, and a trip down three waterfalls, is a definitive highlight. And it´s all accomplished by the hand of an assured director, not the Spielberg of late but the one who ascribed that sense of awe and wonder to films like Raiders and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Though many may find the ultimate resolution to the Crystal Skull storyline silly, it’s no more outlandish than the Ark of the Covenant or the Holy Grail conclusions to the first and third films. Less biblical, sure, but the film does justice to the purportedly-debunked myths surrounding the titular MacGuffins.

Ford is terrific in his return as Indy, as is, surprisingly, Karen Allen in a return as Marion Ravenwood, almost 30 years older than when we last saw her in Raiders but having lost none of her charm. Supporting cast, including John Hurt as Professor Oakley and Shia LaBeouf as the young leather-jacketed sidekick Mutt, fares well enough, though LaBeouf doesn´t quite have the weight the film later ascribes to him. But Blanchett is exceptional as Spalko, stealing most of the scenes she´s in, matching up perfectly against Ford´s Indy and giving the series it´s most memorable villain. Given the setting, the communist baddies are appropriate but far less menacing than Raiders´ Nazis; the cartoonish way they´re sometimes portrayed is one of the film´s few detractions.

Script by David Koepp, revised and redrafted over a number of years, is about as tight as possible while making room for all the adventure escapades; the film is just over two hours, but feels much shorter. John Williams´ classic score is triumphantly revisited. Though Connery doesn’t return here, his photograph makes a cameo; similarly, Denholm Elliot, who starred as Marcus Brody in Raiders and Last Crusade but died in 1992, re-appears here as a bronzed statue that figures in an amusing mishap.

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Ultimately, just like the original, this is a film for pulp lovers, a throwback to old Republic serials and Errol Flynn adventures. While it may not be as fresh as it was in 1981, it´s a more-than-welcome return to the series and its characters. If you love it, you love it; cynics need not apply.

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