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Be warned, thar be spoilers below.

Well, boys and girls, here’s a sequel some 19 years in the making. Watching Harrison Ford put on the brown fedora (- Which really should be more beat-up than it looks) for the fourth time as the archeologist and part time college prof, Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones is as familiar as putting on your favourite pair of sneakers, but this time around the kicks have lost some bounce.

The lowdown: Our erstwhile adventurer is in the 1950’s Nevada desert delivered in the trunk of a car driven by a mob of KGB agents.  Mother Russia wants to get her rosy mitts on a certain artifact known to Dr. Jones, an artifact that will allow Russia to - wait for it - rule the world! It is the crystal skull of the title that we discover is some sort of psychic brainwave amplifier which will allow the Russians mind-control over the earth’s population. Missiles, we don’t need no stinkin’ missiles! The action then shifts south of the border as Jones is accosted by a young man called Mutt ( Sean Connery, Indy 3, "We named the dog Indiana" - geddit?) who tells him two of his associates, including the fabulously feisty Marion Ravenwood from Raiders of the Lost Ark, are being held captive by the Russians. So it’s have whip, will travel, as Jones makes his way to a Mayan Temple in Peru (?!) to find the origins of the skull and to save his friends.

Flaccid. That was the word that would not leave my mind throughout this picture. There’s no élan, cleverness or the off-handed wit, both dry and slapstick that permeates the two better films, Raiders and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The story just doesn’t have the epic appeal of going after the Ark of the Covenant or the Holy Grail. Yet, there’s so much of the film that rest on the laurels of the previous ones, with little references thrown about calling back all three previous films. I don’t know if it’s the amount of CGI in the film, at times shockingly obvious, but there’s no tension or a feeling of imperative danger or that the heroes are ever in serious peril for their lives. One set piece shows Jones surviving a direct nuclear bomb blast after crawling inside a lead-lined refrigerator. This same blast hurls the fridge miles through the air and yet Jones rolls out only a little worse for wear. The great car chase through the Amazon between the good guys and the Soviets played like a slightly more cohesive version the speeder pursuit through Endor in the Return of the Jedi, only I thought the effects on that one looked more real (- No, I don’t mean the Ewoks). Don’t even get me started on Mutt’s sudden realisation that he’s actually Tarzan, swinging on vines after the Soviets, getting some angry monkeys to do his dirty work. Jones and his team plummet down not one, not two, but three - count ‘em - three beautiful, extremely steep waterfalls, again with no discernable harm. The entire finale was a muddy throwback to the climax of the first movie complete with flammable bad guys. The dialog was awkward and at times painful, such as in the scene when FBI agents who now suspect our whip-wielding hero of working for Big Red sneer, “We’re sure he won lots of medals, but does he deserve them?” Oh, snap, throwing shade on Indy. Another great scene; Jones and Mutt in the Happy Days 1950’s-set soda shoppe accosted by KBG, Mutt threatens one agent with his omnipresent switchblade and even Ford’s wry delivery cannot breathe life into the line, “Kid, I’m afraid you’ve just brought a gun…”  - pause as Jones restrains Mutt’s hand - “To a gun fight.” That groan you all heard in the theatre? That was me.  Part of the problem is the ham-fisted script: Those bits of dialog rarely get much better and there are some motifs I just wish Messrs, Lucas and Spielberg would lock in the Ark of the Covenant. Can we please please, please get over our daddy fixations, people? Therapy is wonderful but not repeatedly on a 40 feet screen. Indy moaning tiresomely over his father’s passing (What was he, two hundred?), and the way he instantly adheres to his newfound offspring was made of ick. Same for the maybe two lines of reproving repartee between Jones and Marion before they are fawning all over each other like teenagers. Who needs an actual answer to where either one of them had been all this time? The other problem would be the story itself. Lord, save me from the aliens. Aliens?  Come on! When I saw the two warehouse hanger doors in the desert scene pull closed and a big printed “5” and “1” came together, I knew I was in trouble. The storyline is absolute balderdash and a canny avoidance of having to find a feasible plot. Mind you these aren’t “spacemen,” but “interdimensional beings” who need not to return to outer space, but to “the space between spaces.”  I had hoped this geeky gibberish had been left on Tatooine.

Our familiarity with the Indiana Jones legend is taken for granted and sometimes smacks of presumption. Indeed, seeing composer John Williams' name appear on the opening credits gave me a fannish squee at his return as another essential part of the heart of the Raiders team. Little did I know that for the first time in history my patience with a Williams score would be sorely tested as the seminal Indy theme is used ad-nauseum throughout the film. By the 300th motif, I was sure the piece was being used as some sort of not-so-subliminal “applause” sign, letting the punters know when we were supposed to ooh and ahh at a particularly clever or awe-inspiring moment. Thank you sirs, but I can make up my own mind there. So can the entire generation who has grown up without a new Indiana Jones feature in the cinemas and will be looking at this film on its own merits despite being continually urged to cheer.

This is not to say any of the fault of the where Indy 4 veers off course has anything to do with Harrison Ford. Indeed, Harrison Indiana Solo Ford is more than primed for the task and as we’re shown in a funny decontamination sequence, Gramps isn’t shy of a six-pack. Ford’s as up for it as ever and while there must’ve been a corps of  stuntmen subbing in the higher-demand action scenes for the sixty-six year old actor, Ford throws himself into the chase with unbridled glee. There’s a lot more running, jumping and climbing trees from the fetching senior citizen than one might think. And bless, I doubt there’s any other actor of his years that could pull off his boyish rakishness as he butts heads with the KGB, FBI, a Red-baiting college administration and angry Mayans. He can still deliver the funny as well; the quicksand scene is silly but pretty priceless. Cate Blanchett stretches no muscles other than those in her fencing arm as a Russian spy complete with Louise Brooks shellacked bob and Natasha Badenov accent. Early on her character is established to have some vague psychic powers and it’s a device that goes nowhere past the first and last scenes. Ray Winstone hasn’t much to do as a possible double/triple agent. The only person besides Ford who looks genuinely happy to be there is Karen Allen as Marion, whose energy gives a big jump start to a film that has a lot of flat moments. Shia LaBeouf’s casting worried me because I just don’t see in him as the refreshing new talent so many seem to. He’s the same in every film I’ve seen him to varied effect. As he literally rolls onto the screen in head-to-toe Wild One drag complete with Marlon Brando cap and leather jacket badges, I never once believed him to be some juvenile delinquent, but he keeps up with Ford without saying too much, so it’s okay. I was afraid that like Richard Dreyfus who I absolutely loathed as a full-on irritant in Spielberg’s Jaws (- Team Shaw every time), LaBeouf was going to wear the mantle of Spielberg avatar in this film and I’m happy to say not so much. Still, I wasn’t alone in the cinema when I breathed a sigh of relief that the fedora seems passed over the whippersnapper. Oh, and I protest the lack of Sallah!

For all that I kvetch I couldn’t hate the film entirely. Mostly because of Ford and Allen and their infectious enthusiasm and because I just plain old wanted to like it, I put my disbelief up in the air and tried to enjoy the movie as a plain old popcorn caper it is. On the most visceral and unquestioning level it is lots of fun, but I don’t remember coming out of the others (- specifically Raiders and Last Crusade), which I found imminently more clever engaging and thrilling, which such a feeling of dissatisfaction. In any case, while Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (- Oy, my carpal tunnel) isn’t as amusing as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and certainly doesn’t hold a candle to Raiders of the Lost Ark, it also isn’t Temple of Doom, either. So, if you can fathom third place in the series, there lies Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

 

 

~ Mighty Ganesha

May 18th, 2008

 

 

 

 

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