Generally when I sit down to review a movie, I go into it with the goal of providing some sort of context for where it fits. As well, I always seem to naturally go into movies with relatively low expectations – perhaps that is the childish fanboy inside of me, cautiously optimistic that any movie could be a winner. But for some people, this is never the case. Especially when it comes to beloved franchises such as Indiana Jones, the expectations are often high and the only context that they are willing to accept is whether or not it beats out all of those childhood memories that they have held onto for so many years. What they don’t realize is that no such film exists – there is no Indiana Jones movie that can be made that will ever live up to those moments you had back in the 80s when you first saw Raiders of the Lost Ark. And in making Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, it is clear that director Steven Spielberg was aware of that fact – he accepted it and went on to make a movie that while not perfect, is still a hell of a lot of fun.
In this installment we arrive to find that Dr. Henry Jones Jr. (Indiana to his friends) has been taken captive by a group of Soviets, led by the creepy and intensely evil Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett), who are looking for a top secret crate in an Area 51 warehouse. If the warehouse looks familiar, like say the one at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, that is probably intended – and when you see the film, you will find out why.
After a daring bit of action and a somewhat implausible scene involving a refrigerator (I’m really trying to hold back some surprises here folks, so bare with me) Indiana finds himself back in Connecticut where he meets Mutt Williams, played by Shia LaBeouf. Mutt explains that he is in need of help, as his mother (Marion Ravenwood, played by Karen Allen) and their mutual friend Dr. Oxley (played by John Hurt) have gone missing, and their only chance of saving them is to unlock the secrets of a magically magnetic crystal skull and its origins.
Without giving up too much of the plot – because you are going to need to retain some reason to see this film – I will say that this adventure is as much about the Russians, the Cold War and some extraterrestrials as it is about archaeology and good ole’ fashioned adventure.
As well, it is clear almost from the start that 20 years later, the adventures of Indiana Jones are lighter, more cartoonish and certainly more family friendly than the adventures of the past. Gone are the days where a man can see another man’s heart ripped from his chest, replaced with Shia LaBeouf and his vine-swinging jungle acrobatics.
But don’t misunderstand me, thinking that the light nature of Indy 4 is a bad thing, it seems to be more an acceptance by Steven Spielberg and George Lucas that this Indy will not be the Indy of old, and that having a little fun isn’t such a bad thing. In fact, with this installment, it is clear that all involved had a lot of fun – and whether it is over the top or slapsticky, that fun is still translated to the audience, just as it was back in the day.
So sure the adventure gets a little “out there” and the action is more high-flying and CG-enhanced then ever, and sure, the movie starts out with a blitz of fantastic action and crawls to a finish wrapped up in some unnecessary nostalgia – none of that stops it from bringing back a little bit of the Indiana Jones magic, being a lot of fun, and ultimately entertaining fans, new and old. In that way, it is most like its most recent predecessor, The Last Crusade, in which Spielberg and buddy George Lucas were careful to create a more family-friendly, light-hearted film that was still entertaining. They were also very on-purpose with their inclusion of subtle references to adventures past. For me, those are winning elements for a film like this, considering that it is so far removed from the rest of the series.
In the end though the only thing that ultimately matters to me is that a film like this is entertaining, that it provides two hours of fun, reminding me of the reasons why the Indiana Jones theme song sends chills up my spine every time I hear it – and in that way, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a winner. And in that way, it is one of those essential summer movies the likes of which we have not seen in a while.