Indiana Jones and, in many ways, Harrison Ford make an effective comeback in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. While it hits a few snags, the latest in this cherished film series is certainly worth the wait and contains enough big-wow moments to cancel out the negatives.
After a nice opening visual gag, director Steven Spielberg takes us to 1957, where an older Indiana Jones hasn't changed his fashion sense. A creaky, craggy man is pulled out of a car trunk and thrown to the ground next to his hat. He puts it on, straightens up, faces the screen and, just like that, the man is back. Any questions about whether his age would slow him down are quickly dismissed when he starts bouncing from box to box in a warehouse, swinging from the rafters with his bull whip, and punching commies out of moving trucks.
This time out, the bad guys are Russians led by a psychic psycho named Irina Spalko (a hammy Cate Blanchett). Irina and her cronies are searching for some crystal skull that will make the owner all-powerful. It's a bunch of nonsense, but the quest to return the skull to an ancient temple paves the way for cool action-set pieces. It also allows for the introduction of Shia LaBeouf as biker dude Mutt and the reintroduction of Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood--by far the coolest of Jones' past girlfriends.
LaBeouf establishes himself as a decent action star with his performance. (He's my nominee for the next Spider-Man.) Seeing Allen again, and hearing her scream "Innn-deee!" in that special Allen way, is a major geek treat.
Among the action delights would be a jeep chase in a jungle where Mutt has a sword fight with Irina while straddling the jeeps in motion. There are also motorcycle chases, poison darts, sand-trap escapes, waterfall plunges and an especially exciting escape from an atomic blast. There is also a very funny scene playing on Indy's fear of snakes.
Through all of this, Ford (doing plenty of his own stunts) not only keeps up with his younger counterparts; he outdoes them. This guy used to be one of my favorite actors, but he's depressed me quite a bit of late. While I enjoyed his sinister turn in What Lies Beneath, his film choices and performances have been quite lackluster over the last oh, say, 15 years.
No matter, because this 65-year-old guy passes for a sprite 45 this time out, as if putting the fedora back on jump-started his internal engine. It's as if some of the holy-grail water he spilled on Sean Connery in the last Indiana movie entered his body and gave him some extra kick. He's invigorated and hasn't lost a step. In a film full of special effects, he's the best one.
Spielberg captures the look of past Indy films with the help of his cameraman of recent choice, Janusz Kaminski, who shot such Spielberg pics as Saving Private Ryan and Minority Report. The movie looks and feels very much like it is part of the franchise, and composer John Williams contributes mightily to that vibe. It's great to hear the Indy theme again.
There were times when I didn't know what was going on. Side characters like John Hurt as a crazy professor and Ray Winstone as an occasional Indy sidekick don't serve the story well. Blanchett, who I normally love, grates a bit as the villain; her character's intentions not all that clear.
For everything that doesn't work, there's plenty that does. George Lucas, Spielberg's partner in crime, recently hinted that a fifth Indy installment, with Shia as the lead hero and Indy along for the support, could happen. From the looks of Ford and the vitality of this installment, Indiana Jones might have a few more adventures left in him.