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May 28, 2008

FILM REVIEW: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull


By D.F. Krause

You don’t go to an Indiana Jones movie thinking, “I hope there’s nothing that might make my skin crawl.” But you knew that, right?


So I won’t dwell on the whole thing with the fire ants. I’ll just let you well up with excitement about that. But since you know the Indy franchise will deliver a mix of action, intrigue, academic curiosity, all-too-human foul-ups and ever-interesting personal relationships, you can rest assured that Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull delivers in spades.


Maybe every film franchise should take 19 years off to recharge its batteries.


Crystal Skull picks up Indy’s story in 1957. His father, played so brilliantly by Sean Connery in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, has just passed away. Indy, portrayed of course by Harrison Ford, has settled in as a tenured professor teaching archaeology to young skulls full of mush.


But those dirty commies have other ideas for our hero, and dastardly Soviet agents manage to kidnap him and force him to guide them through a secret government warehouse containing clues to a hidden city of gold. His efforts to keep himself alive, placate his captors, deal with a double-crossing friend and protect the secret leads him to narrowly survive a nuclear test blast (refrigerators come in handy for that sort of thing) and run afoul of the FBI.


But nothing will complicate his life more than a visit from a young man named Mutt (Shia LaBeouf), who has information from Indy’s old pal “Ox” Oxley about the city of gold and the crystal skull. Indy and Mutt venture to Peru, where they battle strange-looking native types and encounter various mummified predecessors whose own explorations didn’t turn out so well. And they find the skull, which would seem to be the end of their quest but is just the beginning.


All throughout, Indy keeps giving these same Russians the slip, and they keep showing up again, always led by the notorious Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett) who lacks nothing in self-confidence or ambition, but a fair amount in scruples.


And most astonishing of all to Indy, they encounter Mutt’s mother (also kidnapped by the Soviets) who turns out to be none other than Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), Indy’s lost-lost and long-lamented love from the very first film in the series, Raiders of the Lost Ark.


There is nothing like ex-lovers’ bickering to compliment sword fighting, cliff-driving, jungle-chasing and vine-swinging, so Indy and Marion multitask nicely as they and their compatriots battle the Russians for possession of the skull.


The adventure leads to the fabled city, where the group discovers the meaning and implication of the skull – and the knowledge it offers to the person who returns it – extend far beyond anything they had imagined.


Crystal Skull nicely brings the Indy/Marion relationship full-circle, and introduces, in Mutt, a brash younger adventurer who seems to have the potential to carry on the franchise after Harrison Ford himself is mummified. If you go to an Indiana Jones movie expecting to see near brushes with death, water rushing in, people falling and danger at every turn – screenplay writer George Lucas and director Steven Spielberg certainly do not let you down.


Some details of the sequence of events are left wanting. We never find out how the Russians managed to kidnap Indy in the first place, nor do we have the slightest clue how they keep finding him everywhere. And the J. Edgar Hoover-era FBI agents, who stick to Indy like glue in the first few scenes after their initial interrogation of him, then seem to lose interest and are never seen or heard from again. Granted, it’s possible Hoover refused to approve their expense request to follow him to Peru, but some explanation to wrap up the storyline would have been nice.


Then again, who has time for explanations when you’re plunging down waterfalls (not one, but three) and getting pulled out of quicksand using a huge snake as a rope? (Indy hates snakes, a running theme that manages to present itself once again.)


Of course, it wouldn’t be Indiana Jones without some sort of supernatural twist on the spine-tingling, archaeological adventure, and this one certainly doesn’t err on the tame side.


I’ve yet to mention that Harrison Ford is now 65 years old, because even though it shows, it didn’t seem terribly important. He is still Indiana Jones, mild-mannered in the classroom but swashbuckling as ever on a quest. Ford simply masters the role, and it’s easy to believe his statement of a few years back that he would play Indiana Jones again “in a New York minute.”


He looked like he couldn’t wait, and that should make viewers feel like they can’t wait to see it again.


Four stars out of five.


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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