Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (7/10)

For the past five or so years, this movie has been in development hell. It was slated for a release some time in the early 2000’s, then rumors popped up that Harrison Ford was donning the cap for 2003, then the entire thing was bumped up to a potential release date in 2005. Harrison Ford as Indy was in and out of the running more times than he’s dyed his hair for film roles, and not until sometime early last year was it finally, officially, definitely confirmed.

It’s understandable that the project should take so long to come about – after all the Indiana Jones series is one of the most beloved action series of all time – proper care would need to be taken to ensure that no travesty was released. So is Indy 4 a travesty? I’m proud to report that it is indeed not, and though it is not as good as the original, it still manages to be a thrilling, if a bit flawed, summer blockbuster.

The plot of the film seems like it’s constructed to follow beat-by-beat what made “Raiders” so fantastic – open with an action scene in an exotic location, go into a little exposition back at the University where good ole’ Indy works, find a couple of clues that lead them to some jungle locales (why is every single old clue in a jungle?), and then boom, you’re at the finale, a moral lesson learned, and onto the next adventure!

Of course, since this is a revival of the series, some extra twists and turns have to be added, including Shia LaBeouf showing up looking like James Dean and trash talking with Indy, and the love interest from Raiders, Karen Allen, back as Marion Ravenwood. While Indy IV’s plot construction may not be rocket science and may even be a little bit of a rip-off of “Raiders”, it still manages to be incredibly fun all the way through.

“National Treasure” has tried to copy the Indy formula twice so far, but Spielberg shows he’s the still the master of globe-trotting clues. This time around Indy is on the trail of something that could have extra-terrestrial origins, but unfortunately for him some Commies (replacing the Nazis of the original trilogy) are after it too, so it’s a race against time as they both hop, skip, and jump away, making sure to stop for the occasional thrilling action scene.

Harrison Ford is just as charismatic as ever as Indy – it’s as if he never left – even considering his age. Of course, because he can’t do as many stunts as he was once able, there’s a lot of obvious stunt work where we conveniently can’t see Ford’s face. It still works, though, and there are even some impressive scenes where Ford is clearly doing all the work.

The supporting cast is decent but not too impressive. Shia LaBeouf as Mutt is a mixed bag – his everyman persona doesn’t translate too well into this bad boy role, and most of the time he comes off like a wanna-be gangster rather than a truly rebellious teen. Karen Allen matches Harrison Ford beat for beat, and she’s the only one who lives up to his charisma. Cate Blanchett as Irina Spalko, the leader of the group of Commies, ends up being far too comical and not nearly scary enough. Ray Winstone as Indy’s partner-in-crime has almost the same problem as Cate Blanchett – too cheesy.

And that’s what the entire film’s main problem boils down to – too cheesy. In terms of that, it has more in common with “The Last Crusade” than “Raiders.” Some of the action scenes are merely cartoonish instead of exciting – especially a completely useless scene in which Indy and the chasing Commies disturb a carnivorous anthill and end up really really pissing off the ants inside – which then proceed to eat alive some bad guys and even actually drag one of them into the anthill. I’m not even going to go into the rest of the action scenes, but you get the idea.

Cynical and pessimistic viewers probably won’t enjoy this new Indy as much as others will, but if you’re willing to set aside some reservations and lower your expectations a bit, it can turn into a rather fun ride. Even the issue that will leave fans most divided, which is the inclusion of the extra-terrestrial element, works because it feels like the Indy of the 80’s is coming into contact with the 21st century (even though the film technically takes place 50 some odd years ago). Despite its cheese, length, and some action scenes that seriously threaten suspension of disbelief, it is still and Indiana Jones film through and through, and whether you end up liking it or not, if you liked the originals, you should definitely see this one. Regardless, because it’s now looking like Indy 5 and 6 will be a definite possibility (and the film gives us a clear clue as to who will replace Indy), this is the film that Spielberg needed to get out of his system so that he can truly wow us with a fifth one.

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