1957, and a much older Dr Henry “Indiana” Jones Jr. (Harrison Ford) finds himself inadvertently caught up in the middle of a secret Soviet military operation lead by Colonel-Doctor Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett), whose aim is to capture a mysterious alien artifact recovered by the Americans and currently stored in an Area 51 hangar in the heart of the United States.
Although managing to escape from their clutches (in the most daring of fashions), he fails in foiling their robbery and is soon talking to not only the US military, but also the FBI who are more than a little interested in his brush with the Commies. However, an encounter with a young greaser named “Mutt” Williams (Shia LeBeouf) leads to Indiana Jones once more donning that famous old tattered fedora and leather jacket as he sets out to Peru in order to save a long lost friend and maybe, just maybe, solve the riddle of the legendary Crystal Skull!
After nearly 20 years of absence, Indiana Jones finally reappears in this 2008 science fiction adventure film which is the fourth addition to what is already one of those legendary cult movie franchises. Once again the movie is directed by Steven Spielberg, the man behind the first three outings, and also features co-creator George Lucas as both producer and co-writer. It stars the original Indy in Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett, Shia LaBeouf, Ray Winstone, John Hurt and a surprising comeback from the first outing in Karen Allen.
The first thing that needs to be said about Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is that if you didn’t like any of the previous movies, then you won’t like this one. Spielberg and his fellow collaborators have succeeded in making a movie that sticks so closely to the now legendary Indiana Jones formula that it is almost impossible to say that nearly twenty years have passed since the last movie. All the trademark action, sense of adventure, humour and tomb-crawling is back and in a way, it is wonderful to see that what is a rather dated formula being allowed back into the cinema and that it still manages to provide all the thrills and fun that we as fans of the franchise have come to expect by now. Of course that said, it does mean that to non-fans of the series, this movie won’t at all stand up to the standards of today’s scripts in terms of action or horror sequences, and this probably is one of the reasons behind all the negative reviews to the movie currently out there on the web.
It took a long time to get the script right, but after seeing the movie you can be glad that they did because the story is very Indiana Jones, complete with a couple of references to the past just to tie everything nicely together after such a long absence. The otherworldly, supernatural elements from past movies have again made an appearance in this movie and as such provide a great story element on which the rest of the adventure is to hang off. Admittedly, this movie is not the type of movie that will force you to shed a tear or really share an emotional connection to any of the characters, but then again, it really isn’t the point of this story. It is simply a story of pure escapism, action and pulp adventure, exactly what you would expect from those ‘good old days’ in which the movie is based.
Of course, this movie would probably have fallen flat on its face had Harrison Ford not participated because whether you like it or not, Harrison Ford is Indiana Jones. And despite the fact that he is now well over 60 years of age, you would almost never say it as he leaps and rolls and ducks just like he always has and it is a great touch to know that he insisted on doing all his own stunts so as not to cheat us moviegoers. His charm, wit and just plain likeability are all on display here and he quickly reminds us just why so many of us fell in love with Indy in the first place.
Shia LeBeouf continues to impress with every new role he takes on and rumour has it that he is being groomed to take over Ford’s footsteps should the franchise continue. He plays his greaser role with ease and is as likeable as always, which just goes to show that this kid really is going places in Hollywood. Cate Blanchett does a superb job in delivering her over-the-top, (slightly) psychic Russian Colonel-Doctor as does British hard man Ray Winstone in his role of the traitorous Mac. A particularly nice touch however was the bringing back of Karen Allen to reprise her role from the first movie as Indy’s love interest and she works extremely well with Ford, making for a nice and dynamic pairing.
An interesting fact for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is that Steven Spielberg insisted on recreating the camera feel and direction from the original trilogy as much as possible, even going so far as to actually not use digital cameras which are currently all the rage in Hollywood filmmaking. And it shows. The colouring, angles, set pieces and just general visuals all hark back directly to the previous movies and this feeling of sameness is important in tying this fourth movie to those that have come before it. Special effects are used from time to time, but Steven made it a point not to use it unless absolutely necessary and this leads to a great organic feel to the movie believe it or not.
Legendary John Williams, the man who has basically been behind the scores for all George Lucas and Steven Spielberg’s big hits, including the previous three Indiana Jones movies, composed the music for Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and as always he has managed to come up with some beautiful arrangements that fit the various mood and paces found throughout the movie perfectly. And of course, what would an Indiana Jones movie be without the fanboy tingle-inducing Indy theme music anyway? Well don’t worry, it’s there! :)
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is exactly what we Indy fanboys have been waiting patiently for so long now. A film that captures the popcorn-munching, throwaway feel of all the previous movies that is simply put, escapist fun, action and adventure, all drenched in some witty one-liners and silly humour. Today’s younger audience and people who never like Indiana Jones in the first place are probably going to dismiss this movie as a bit weak, but to the legions of fans out there, Steven Spielberg couldn’t have given us a better present.