In 2007 after a twelve year layoff, Bruce Willis revived his signature character, the unlucky cop John McLane. Earlier this year, Sylvester Stallone ended a twenty-six year hiatus, reprising his role as the troubled Vietnam vet John Rambo. Now some nineteen years since he last donned the fedora, Harrison Ford returns to his role as the most popular and iconic action hero of the 1980s in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
From the outset, with Elvis music playing as a group of hot rodding teens challenge a military convoy to a race, the outward appearance of the world has changed in the twenty years since the 1937 setting of the previous installment, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989). Cold War paranoia grips the US; Commies under every bed and apparently in every classroom. Televisions blare from homes. Atomic realities terrify the populace.
Two thing have not changed: what the villains want and our hero's opposition toward their goals. Though Russians replace the long-defeated Nazis, thanks in part to the decorated OSS agent Jones, this circa-1957 style of baddie seeks similar arcane artifacts. Not surprisingly, the gray-headed Indy becomes embroiled in a plot involving the legendary city of El Dorado, Roswell, and a weapon of immense power.
Indy's allies and enemies play an integral part in the story. Oscar-winner Cate Blanchett chews up the scenery as the over-the-top, sword-wielding Russian scientist Irina Spalko, who spearheads the search for supernatural weaponry. Indy's longtime friend, first introduced to fans in this movie, the cheery Australian “Mac” George McHale (Ray Winstone), late of MI-6, joins the fray as our eponymous hero attempts to rescue his college friend and crystal skull expert Oxley(John Hurt) from Spalko.
Traveling with Indy throughout, Oxley's foster son, the leather-clad, knife-using Mutt Williams (the much ballyhooed Shia LaBeouf) offers occasional help and a glimpse into a possible future for the Indiana Jones franchise. Most importantly, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull marks the return of Marion Ravenwood, perfectly portrayed by Karen Allen.
As in the seminal Raiders of the Lost Ark, the relationship between Indy and Marion drives the story. Their ceaseless bickering never tires, though it's disappointingly often interrupted by the abundance of action. The absence of this interaction weakened both the dreadful Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and the excellent Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
This latest adventure all but destroys George Lucas's contention that featuring a different leading lady in each Indy story strengthened the series. Any Jones project without Marion Ravenwood immediately begins with a handicap.
Sadly, the other players do little to enhance the picture. LaBeouf, a likable, attractive young actor, pales as a leading man in comparison with the charming Harrison Ford. The stereotypical Russian black widow role wastes Blanchett's considerable talents. John Hurt mostly wanders around muttering.
The predictable script relies too heavily on physical action and not enough on character interaction. Ford has always excelled more at witty repertoire than firing guns and jumping off cars. The cerebral star solves puzzles far more believably than punching people. The story also tends to overexplain the obvious and neglect the more obtuse.
The overabundant, though excellent, action never bores. The second half of the movie plays like a nonstop ride at Disneyland as Indy and the Russians race through the perilous Amazon jungle in their search for the fabled city of gold.
In the annals of Indiana Jones, this story falls quality-wise in between Temple of Doom, veering dangerously close in the insect gross out department, and The Last Crusade, continuing the societal discussions about the role of archeology and generational differences . Overall, an above average action film, the movie fairs far better than recent imitators such as The National Treasure and Mummy movies. If the rumors of a fifth film prove false, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull presents a good if not great conclusion to the popular series.