It seems like we’ve all been uttering the question “is this really necessary?” a lot lately with film, especially in terms of sequels. I freely admit this was my first response to the news that Director Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford would be collaborating for another Indiana Jones adventure – some nineteen years after the series’ last entry. Harrison Ford is pushing seventy, the story is completely shrouded in secrecy, and what else could there possibly be left to do with this franchise? Fortunately for us traditional adventure fans, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull delivers everything you could ask for in an Indy film. That same smile you had as a wide-eyed ten-year-old will be duplicated as you watch this joyous cinematic exercise that cynics may believe is outdated and stale. Fear not, electric filmmaking is electric filmmaking.
Crystal Skull takes place after the proceedings of Last Crusade. This time around Indy finds himself right in the middle of a plot by the Russians, lead by Irina Spalko (Blanchett) to acquire a series of Crystal Skulls, whose powers are believed to equal that of world domination once arranged properly in an ancient temple. We have the KGB, aliens, and a host of world travel as Indy works to stop their grand plan. Along for the ride are Mutt Williams (LaBeouf), a “greaser” whose sense of adventure far outweighs his yearning for an education, Marion Ravenwood (Allen), Indy’s prospective true love, and Professor Oxley (Hurt), a colleague of Indy’s who has become entranced with the Crystal Skulls.
Drenched in earth tones and a beautiful glow, Steven Spielberg has resurrected a cinematic world that we thought was lost. The story, by George Lucas and Jeff Nathanson and scripted by David Koepp, is at times erratic, but Spielberg keeps the proceedings moving at a breathless pace. All of the action elements are in place: death-defying stunts, a sense of wonderment, and an elbow to the ribcage, reassuring us that the film knows how ridiculous it is. These are the touches that have made this series so successful, and they nicely take over for what is an overuse of CGI.
Harrison Ford, now sixty-six years old, never misses a step. He’s in immaculate physical condition and he has transformed Indy perfectly to his own aging. Indy is wiser and smarter than ever. His comedic timing, while a bit forced at times, hits often. Cate Blanchett makes for a formidable villain who easily belongs in the ranks of previous Indy adversaries. Shia LaBeouf makes for an excellent foil, particularly in the scenes where he plays to any normal person’s fears – but Indy has seen it all. Karen Allen and John Hurt are both excellent as well, with a debate between Indy and Marion regarding their failed marriage being the dialogue highlight of the film.
The hype machine was in overdrive for this project, and the film certainly had numerous reasons not to work. It’s not the best in the series by any means, but it delivers everything we, as Indy fans, could possibly want. The story is engaging in its playing up to conspiracy and lost worlds, and the action scenes are spectacular. The liberal use of CGI is a bit disheartening, but by no means a deal breaker. But most importantly, the film is a blast – and that’s why we go to the movies in the first place.
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Length: 124 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for adventure violence and scary images.
Theatrical Release: May 22, 2008
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: David Koepp. Story by George Lucas & Jeff Nathanson. Characters by Lucas & Philip Kaufman.
Cast: Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett, Karen Allen, Shia LaBeouf, Ray Winstone, John Hurt