For a generation weaned on the
strange, playfully inventive exploits of Indiana Jones, the resurrection of
George Lucas and Steven Spielberg’s long-dormant franchise inspires feverish
excitement and a hint of trepidation. Could lightning strike a fourth time,
despite the 19-year layoff since Harrison Ford last donned his well-worn
fedora? Or would his legacy be tarnished by a lackluster reprise?
Well, the wait is over,
results are in: The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a more than reasonable facsimile of the Indiana Jones
adventures that began in 1981 with Raiders of the Lost Ark. If it feels a shade less inspired than its epic
forebears, that’s to be expected. How many times can Dr. Jones crack the whip
and grapple with snakes before déjà vu sets in?
At least once more, from the
of things. Ford, fit as ever at a Medicare-eligible 65, still exudes the boyish
self-confidence that remains Jones’ most enduring quality. If anyone questions
his ability to tackle the role he created as much with his unflappable charm as
his physical presence, The Crystal Skull
should put those doubts to rest.
He is joined by one familiar face
– Karen Allen, returning to the series for the first time since Raiders as Jones’ on-again, off-again love interest – and by
newcomer Shia LaBeouf, whose impetuous, greasy-haired sidekick seems more a
concession to Ford’s advancing age than a narrative necessity. Together,
they take on an army of Russian mercenaries (led by Cate Blanchett, in full
dominatrix mode) on a quest to secure the crystal skulls, alien artifacts whose
powers are, in the context of a story every bit as absurd as any other Indiana
Jones adventure, utterly baffling.
But that too is to be expected. The
Crystal Skull, in keeping with the giddy
spirit of its predecessors, is highly stylized pulp fiction, complete with
flying saucers, flesh-eating ants and physical feats that defy the imagination
– none more dazzlingly implausible than Jones’ escape from a nuclear testing
facility. During those moments, when the film indulges its most audacious
fantasies, Spielberg’s magic touch is most evident.
The burning question,
is whether The Crystal Skull lives
to the expectations fostered by Raiders
and its sequels, the criminally underrated Temple of Doom (1984) and 1989’s Last Crusade.
It's a close call. David Koepp’s
screenplay, written with sizable contributions from Lucas and Rush
Hour 3 author Jeff Nathanson, is surprisingly flat at times,
leaving Ford and company to wrestle with dialogue that feels labored and
lacking in rhythm. (Even Blanchett’s villain, whose eyes burn with the promise
of unspeakable malice, seems underdeveloped.) The result is a story imaginative
in concept but, in its lesser moments, pedestrian in execution. Still, it’s as
good as it needs to be to justify its place in the Indiana Jones canon, and
that should be enough for fans of any age.