Rating: 3 stars
We can all agree that sequels made several years after the fact are generally duds. For proof, look no farther than The Godfather 3, The Two Jakes, and the recent crop of Star Wars prequels. (For the record, there are also horrible, delayed sequels to Terms of Endearment and The Last Picture Show—doesn’t anyone in Hollywood know how to leave a brilliant moment alone?).
So I had reason to be skeptical about Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Not only has it been 19 years since the last Indiana Jones flick (The Last Crusade—so much for truth in advertising) but in the interim, star Harrison Ford has lost touch with his inner Indy.
When did Ford, an actor known for being roguishly cavalier, become such a sourpuss? I can’t pinpoint it exactly (although I suspect that neither he, nor I, have fully recovered from Regarding Henry) but his recent work has been rather brittle and joyless. Just by putting on a fedora and brandishing a whip, was he magically going to regain his sense of playfulness and verve? Well, I’ll be darned, yes.
I’m happy to report that Harrison Ford still has that Indy mojo. First of all, he looks great. I’ve never subscribed to the widely held belief that men age better than women—have you been to a mall in middle America lately?—but Harrison is certainly a win for Team Old Guy. He’s still ruggedly handsome and quite fit (he’s been wearing short sleeves at the Cannes Film Fest to show off those sexagenarian biceps.) As for his performance, sure he’s slightly more subdued, but that stands to reason— he’s an older, more grizzled Indy. It feels right.
Besides, Ford doesn’t need to be hyper: The frisky and compulsively watchable Shia LeBeouf is more than energetic enough for the both of them, and a brilliant addition to the cast as Mutt Williams, the wannabe rebel son of Indy’s old flame Marion (Karen Allen, in a welcome reprise).
What else works? Spielberg’s direction, of course. Technically speaking, Steven Spielberg might be our most skilled action director. He knows how to make an action scene sing—the pacing is perfectly modulated (he always pauses for visual zingers and clever notes of character development) and, unlike most action films we see today, you can actually tell what the hell is going on.
But not everything is so successful. Cate Blanchett is wasted a bit as the Soviet super-baddy Irina Spalko. Sure, she looks cool—all Boris and Natasha accent and a crisp Cold-War-chic pageboy—and she brandishes a gun like the best of them. But she’s a one-dimensional villain—hungry for power and relentless. (They should have had her in love with Indy, or given her some humanizing component like a pet meerkat . . .okay, I’m still working on that.)
Also, the plot—dealing with origins of a crystal skull and the hidden kingdom it hails from—is over-the-top and complicated, even for an Indiana Jones movies.
Worst of all, the final sequences rely way too much on CGI. Spielberg, you’re better than that.
So the final verdict: Unlike other delayed sequels, Indiana Jones and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull feels like an Indy flick—it’ll fit in seamlessly with the rest of the series. It just doesn’t feel like a great Indy flick. Still, as a fan of the fedora-ed one, I’ll happily take what I can get.