After reading the Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull reviews coming out of Cannes, my expectations for Steven Spielberg’s latest effort were considerably lowered. But I shouldn’t have worried. Overall, the fourth installment in the Indiana Jones saga delivers the goods.
The film’s late-1950s time period is identified in the opening sequence as a teenage hot-rod drag race takes place on screen while Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog” plays over the soundtrack. From then on, true to the original, the action is nonstop.
At first, our hero is kidnapped by communists headed by Cate Blanchett donning a black pageboy and doing what sounds like a bizarre “Natasha” impersonation. In the following twenty minutes, Spielberg and screenwriter David Koepp (George Lucas and Jeff Nathanson received “story” credit) put Indy through shoot-outs, car crashes, and an atom bomb in the Nevada desert. And that’s only for starters.
Harrison Ford, of course, is Indiana Jones. What else can be said? Age was never an issue while watching him on the screen, though references – mostly by Shia LaBeouf – are made about it. A Spielberg favorite of late, LaBeouf plays well the role of a knife-wielding, motorcycle-riding Marlon Brando clone.
As a plus, it was good to see the return of Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood, the role she originated in Raiders of the Lost Ark back in 1981. (Marion has a secret for Indy that you can see coming from a mile away.) John Hurt, as a loony archeologist; Ray Winstone, as a spy who you are never sure on whose side he is; and Jim Broadbent, in what amounts to a cameo, round out the cast.
Kingdom of the Crystal Skull also offers brief homages to characters played in previous installments by Denholm Elliott and by Sean Connery – who reportedly turned down appearing in this sequel.
Much has been written about the film’s special effects, which indeed are outstanding despite a swordfight during a jungle chase that failed to impress. Nearly everything else, however, is top-notch, including water falls, giant fire ants, attacking monkeys, and aliens in Peru, just to name a few. That said, in regard to the Crystal Skull of the title, one patron was overheard complaining in the lobby that said object looked like a “piece of plastic filled with Saran Wrap.”
Notwithstanding its shortcomings, this latest episode is loyal to the spirit of the franchise and will likely please most fans. And be sure not to miss the reference to the series’ first film. Like everything else in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, it goes by very quickly.
© Allan R. Ellenberger
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008). Dir.: Steven Spielberg. Scr.: David Koepp; story by George Lucas and Jeff Nathanson. Cast: Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett, Shia LaBeouf, Karen Allen, Ray Winstone, John Hurt, Jim Broadbent, Igor Jijikine, Alan Dale.