Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal SkullDirected by Steven SpielbergStarring Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Shia LaBeouf and Cate BlanchettRated PG-13*5.5*
Goes well with: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Romancing the Stone, Allan Quartermain and the Lost City of Gold
The biggest problem with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, quite honestly, is that it's just OK. It's not terrible or particularly great. Entertaining at times, it has some decent set pieces and some cool visuals, but it's overly convoluted and prone to bad jokes and unfunny banter. What's the big deal, right? Most summer blockbusters skimp on script and story in favor of extremely expensive special effects. But this is Indiana Jones, man, and it's been in the pipeline and the public consciousness too long to be this mediocre. Look at it like this: All the players involved—Steven Spielberg, George Lucas (who co-wrote the story and produced) and Harrison Ford—have had 20 years to come up with the ultimate popcorn movie, and instead they deliver what feels like, well, just a third sequel.
What Indy 4 does have going for it, however, is Ford. As obvious as that might seem, he's still just as fun to watch. Seeing him slip right back into his signature role (Han Solo notwithstanding) is like putting on a well-worn fedora. It feels comfortable to be back in the theater watching Indy's adventures. And to wit, he's back in the shit immediately, kidnapped and taken to the massive warehouse we last saw in the original movie. But we're not after the Ark of the Covenant that was wheeled into that building. Now, it's 1957, Indy's older and a little worse for wear and the nation is smack in the middle of the Cold War. So, naturally, his abductors are Russian, led by Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett, doing her best Boris and Natasha accent), and seeking a crate that holds an artifact recovered near a small town called Roswell in New Mexico a decade earlier. (Um, that'd be a mummified alien body, for those not suffering from severe geek syndrome.)
Though he gets out alive, the FBI has its eyes on him, and Indy loses the teaching job he'd settled into. That's when young greaser Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf) enters the picture. Mutt needs help—an old colleague of Indy's and Mutt's own mother have been kidnapped in the Amazon rainforest while looking for a crystal skull stolen centuries earlier by a Spanish conquistador that could lead them to the lost city of El Dorado. All this ties into the dead Martian the Russians are looking for because the skull looks kinda E.T.-like, and it seems to have the power to cloud the mind.
The Russians want to dominate the world, while Indy's interested in—what? Well, that's the big question, and one of the film's biggest problems.
Everything in this movie happens to Indiana Jones, rather than him making it happen himself. He is constantly reacting. The old friend, by the way, is crazy John Hurt, whose mind has been melted enough to allow him to solve the ancient Mayan puzzles leading to the principality mentioned in the film's super-long title. And Mutt's mother, as you've probably heard by now, is Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), Indy's Raiders girlfriend, who lets it slip that, yes, Mutt is actually Indy's offspring.
But the family reunion has none of the playful back-and-forth that Ford and Sean Connery shared in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Instead, the sudden bickering between Mom, Dad and kid feels tired, obvious and old. While there are some nice parallels connecting the American Cold War mindset of the 1950s and our current state of paranoia, the script doesn't show much real inventiveness, because the movie's so busy offering up a greatest hits of past adventures and natives that Indy has run away from.
Grousing aside, it's good to have Indy back. The film is uneven and has too many eye-roll moments, but it's still decent entertainment. The nods to Indy's advancing years are welcome, because it makes us feel for him, the easiest guy in the history of film to pull for. And even if Kingdom doesn't amaze and awe like Raiders once did, it's reassuring that after all this time, the doctor is still in.