Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Nineteen years later after Indiana Jones rode into the sunset, there's still magic in that hat.
The greatest gift that Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull gives to audiences is Indy himself. Fans can stop fretting. He's back.
Dispelling all fears about age and ability, Harrison Ford puts on that legendary fedora and becomes Henry Jones Jr. exactly as we remember him. That smoldering glower. The snappy wisecracks. Those gutsy stunts. The capacity to survive punches that would knock out a prizefighter. That familiar enthusiasm for riddles, buried treasure, and dead languages. It's all here. There's never been a better actor/character match than Ford as Jones, and he seems giddy as a schoolboy to be cracking that bullwhip again.
In fact, all through this, the fourth Jones film, there's a sense that the whole Indiana Jones team is bursting with enthusiasm at the chance to ride with Jones again. That probably accounts for the film's strengths and, alas, its considerable problems. Their enthusiasm gets the better of them.
Back in 1981, the storytellers of Raiders of the Lost Ark took Indy's world somewhat seriously, making outlandish adventures seem almost convincing. But these days, while the James Bond series is leaving behind campy cartoon action for a dustier, grittier "realism," Indy is speeding in the opposite direction, headlong into Looney Toons absurdity. Crystal Skull makes all previous Jones adventures seem modest—even plausible—by comparison.
After we watch a man walk away from an atomic blast with barely a scratch in the opening act, what could possibly inspire a sense of suspense or dread? And we still have to suspend our disbelief while a motorcycle speeds through a crowded university library; a hero swings on jungle vines fast enough to chase down speeding trucks; an army of angry monkeys attacks the Communists; an ocean of deadly insects discerns good guys from bad guys; and Indy takes a waterfall plunge that makes Ford's famous Fugitive stunt look easy. Viewers will either mock the excess, or surrender like a wide-eyed eight-year-old to these tidal waves of cliffhanger nostalgia.
Story credit for this episode goes to series originator George Lucas and co-writer Jeff Nathanson, but there were five different scripts written for this movie, and screenwriter David Koepp (Jurassic Park) clearly stitched together ideas from many disparate sources. It's a bumpy ride.
So what is the story?
The first half of the film—the better half—sets the stage. We join Jones in mid-adventure. This is the 1950s, and some things have changed: Indy's become fond of the phrase "I like Ike!" But some things have stayed the same: He'll fight the Cold War the old fashioned way—with his whip and his pistol in hand.
Indy's been kidnapped by a troop of Russian spies, led by an ice-cold officer from the Ukraine. Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett) looks like a female Terminator, and she has an unnerving habit of flexing her gloved hands like a surgeon about to do some invasive work. Spalko's a decorated Soviet agent, she explains, "because I know things. I know them before anyone else. And what I do not know, I find out." Blanchett relishes this, the most cartoonish role of her career.