Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Now Showing at: most major theaters.
Review by: Larry Thomas
With the advent of the big-budget summer popcorn movie season comes the inevitable raft of remakes, sequels and series. Rarely does any film in one of these categories equal or exceed the quality and entertainment value of the original. The Godfather Part II and Terminator 2 come to mind as exceptions to the rule.
In 1981, Raiders of the Lost Ark came out of nowhere to surprise everyone as a modern classic. It made a huge star of Harrison Ford and made Indiana Jones a household name. The box office take and public interest required a sequel, so in 1984 we got Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. With the exception of a bravura opening sequence in a Shanghai nightclub, it was a dour mess of a movie, and so violent and grizzly it prompted the MPAA to create the PG-13 rating, so it would have a place to nestle films that were too strong for a PG, yet not quite strong enough for an R.
The third try, in 1989, was Indiaana Jones and the Last Crusade. The filmmakers brought back the Nazi villains as in the original, and for added charm and humor coaxed former James Bond Sean Connery to play Henry Jones Sr. It was a big improvement over number two.
A number four in the series had been discussed off and on for the past twenty years. The most often heard excuse for not doing it was the lack of a good script. Well…when in doubt, rework what has worked before.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is basically a remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Many of the scenes, situations, and stunts have that déjà vu feeling, although not stale. The new Jones adventure offers many pleasures. Since it’s been almost twenty years since the last film, this one is set almost twenty years later, so Harrison Ford is right where he should be, age-wise. The rapid advancement in CGI technology allows for some truly spectacular special effects while making room for some equally spectacular stunts by a long list of stunt men and women. There are enough quips, in-jokes, and references to Raiders to add good humor to the proceedings. As it’s set in 1957, the bad guys are now Russians.
The cast is terrific, starting with Ford. Shia LaBoeuf is young Mutt Williams. He seems a little stiff at first, but warms up to the role and will no doubt be around for the next Jones film. Veteran British thespians Jim Broadbent, John Hurt, and Ray Winstone all do fine in their brief appearances. And the cinematic chameleon that is Cate Blanchett is the villain of the piece: a Russian doctor desperately seeking the power of the crystal skull. She affects a Russian accent echoing Garbo in Ninotchka and sports a haircut reminiscent of 1954’s Devil Girls from Mars. And although she is villainous, there’s enough about her to like, in hopes that she will come over to “our” side. The best thing Steven Speilberg did is to bring back Karen Allen as Marian Ravenwood, Indy’s first love. There wasn’t a young man between the ages of fifteen and fifty who didn’t have a crush on her after seeing Raiders. She is once again totally delightful, and it’s a real pleasure to see her back on the big screen.
If you have fond memories of Charlton Heston in The Naked Jungle, there’s a scene that pays great homage to that epic, and is one of the best set pieces in this movie. Granted, there are a couple of slow spots, and maybe a scene or two that were unnecessary, but overall the PG-13 rated Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a splendid two-hour, Saturday matinee, action-packed, summertime popcorn movie adventure. It’s now playing everywhere.