I can remember when I first heard about creator George Lucas and director Steven Spielberg finally announcing that production on the new Indiana Jones movie was underway. I had a odd mix of excitement and terror. After all, I am a “Star Wars” fan, and basically the first concrete thought that went thru my head was “Please don’t let this be another ‘Phantom Menace.'” The trailers allieviated most, but not all, of those fears. Again, I thought the trailers for “Star Wars: Episode I- The Phantom Menace” looked awesome, and that turned out to be nothing more than a mediocre film with amazing visual effects. I hoped and prayed Lucas and Spielberg would spare Indy that fate.
So, after 19 years, our iconic whip-lashing hero returns in “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.” The film is set in 1957, and opens in the Nevada desert on an air force base, where a small army of Russian soldiers, led by Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett), has captured Indy (Harrison Ford) and his pal Mac (Ray Winstone). Spalko forces Indy to locate a case in a very familiar (think “Raiders“) top-secret military warehouse (aka Area 51), a case Indy apparently had some involvement with in New Mexico in 1947 (hmmm….). After retrieving the case, Indy escapes and is double-crossed by Mac, who has apparently been working with the Russians all along. Indy escapes into a military testing site, and barely survives a testing of an atomic bomb. How he survives I won’t devulge here, but it does require a large leap of faith on the audience’s part, to believe Indy could or would survive.
The FBI then questions Indy, and is suspicious of his involvment with Mac (being a soviet defector). We learn briefly of Indy’s exploits in the past 20 years and during World War II. I honestly wished they would’ve explained more, and felt like I had walked into “Indy 5″ or “6”, rather than just the 4th film. A lot is thrown at you in brief exposition, and the script almost seems burdened by trying to do so in the first act of the film. Being the subject of a federal investigation, Indy is unceremoniously dismissed from his teaching position, and soon is approached by Mutt Williams (Shia LeBeouf), carrying a letter from his mother Marion (Karen Allen). A major failing in the film is how long it chooses to have Indy (and Mutt) remain clueless about the fact that they’re infact father and son. At the mention of Marion’s name, Indy simply says “Well, I don’t know, there have been an awful lot of Mary’s.” So, oblivious of there relationship, the two set out to find Marion and Professor Oxley (John Hurt), an old friend of Indy’s and a father figure to Mutt. The two bond as they share adventures in Perue and South America and locate The Crystal Skull, an object with shadowy aztec origins and seemingly extra-terrestrial ones as well.
The first half of the film was a little campy for me, complete with a ’50s style car race in the opening scene, and a soda-shop brawl between “greasers” and “socs” straight out of “The Outsiders.” A series of big coincidences is all that really gets Indy from point A to B for the first chunk of the film, and it never quite has the mystical aura of the original trilogy. In efforts to fill us in on whats happened to Indy (and other characters such as his father and Marcus Brody) since “The Last Crusade”, the beginning of the movie feels heavy and bogged-down, and didn’t satisfy my curiosity about all thats happened. The second half of the film (beginning once Indy locates the Skull) is more in the tradition of what you come to expect from an Indiana Jones movie. The action scenes pile onto one another, and each keep escalating in danger and spectacle. The addition of Marion in the films second half also does this picture a world of good, as even Indy himself seems more comfortable once she arrives. The humor also goes up in the second half of the film, and all of this leads to a wonderful finale sequence.
Overall, “The Crystal Skull” is a fun and enjoyable movie, it just takes awhile to get its sea-legs under itself. Once it gets rolling however, it is a marvelous action movie with plenty of thrilling sequences and witty humor to keep you glued in your seats. It does get bogged down with seemingly endless exposition at times, but thankfully never for too long. Perhaps its unfair to judge this film in comparisson to the original trilogy of the 1980’s, as the film seems to almost be nothing more than a fond return to an old favorite by the writers and director. In that sense, it is a glorious return…flaws and all.