Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Paramount, PG-13)

indianajones.jpgFord himself is as good as ever, taking on a Clint Eastwood-like ruggedness in his age.

  

 

Since I can, I like to review the big summer blockbusters, but the problem is I tend to like them all the same—they all strike me as being pretty good, but not great. I liked all three Spider-Man movies, despite everyone else’s complete loathing of 3; I like all three Matrix movies about equally; I like Star Wars episodes II and III pretty well (although even I didn’t like Episode I), etc. So why do I even bother reviewing the new Indiana Jones movie? I’m bound to like it, regardless whether the rest of the world loves it or hates it. As it happens, I wound up liking it more than I expected, but still think it falls short of "great." Somewhere in between "pretty good" and "great," I guess, but that’s still better than usual. I wonder if that means anything.

This Indy picks up with Indiana learning of a crystal skull that might be the key to finding the legendary city of El Dorado, the city of gold. The classic Indiana Jones formula is at play here—lots of traveling (although checking the filming location list on Crystal Skull leaves something to be desired over previous installations), action sequences in dark caves and in lush jungles, over-the-top deaths. There’s the customary scene of Dr. Jones teaching archaeology at a university (these scenes are among my favorites in all of the movies), there’s the silly match cut to the Paramount logo at the beginning, there’s the vague allusions to that which has come before in the Indiana Jones movies. There’s a girl (the triumphant return of Raiders of the Lost Ark‘s Karen Allen’s Marion Ravenwood, my second-favorite Jones girl) and there’s a kid (Shia LaBeouf’s Mutt Williams), but there’s no Dad (Sean Connery turned down a role in this film).

While the action sequences are generally good and rousing (I’m particularly fond of a fight in the tomb where the crystal skull is buried between Indy, Mutt, and the weird, zombie-like guardians of the tomb), their insertion into the film feels a little too Pirates of the Caribbean and not enough like classic Indiana Jones. The one key death late in the film is kind of lame, and comes nowhere near the coolness of the exploding heads or hearts being ripped out of previous iterations. Karen Allen is great, as is to be expected, but a nice surprise is LaBeouf—although I’ve always liked him in everything I’ve seen him in, I didn’t like the idea of him being in this movie. He pulls it off well, though, and holds his own against Ford just fine. No Short Round rehash here. And Ford himself is as good as ever, taking on a Clint Eastwood-like ruggedness in his age, and not overreaching to appear as athletic or cool as he had been in previous Indiana Jones movies. Reassuringly, the way the film handles Indy’s various relationships remains amazingly interesting and funny and realistic, in the way he bickers with his loved ones and has a tendency to put too much trust in his allies.

There are some odd problems to be found, of course, ranging from small (the film has a strange affection for wild animals helping Indy, as if he were a Disney princess or something) to big (the credibility of the historical elements of this film are much more suspect than in previous films), but overall, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is exactly the movie that I was hoping it would be: a nice reminder of what action/adventure films used to be, and not embarrassing for the people involved in making it. Now, let’s see if everyone else feels the same… | Pete Timmermann

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