Can a 65-year-old Harrison Ford successfully reprise his Indiana Jones roles nineteen years after his last movie? Box office receipts for the movie Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, now playing everywhere, suggest the answer is yes. For a man old enough to draw social security, Ford still looks virile. How much of this is due to genetics and how is due to stage makeup I am not sure. Also back in the director’s seat is Stephen Spielberg, age 61. After directing heavy movies like Munich and Flags of Our Fathers, Spielberg probably enjoyed returning to familiar territory to direct this belated fourth movie of this series.
In a way, viewers also get a reprise of Spielberg’s 1982 blockbuster, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. Oops, gave away the plot, not that it really matters. Yes, it appears the crystal skull in question belongs to an extraterrestrial being. Professor Jones must return it to a cave in the lost city of El Dorado deep in the Amazon so that E.T. can phone home.
Okay, this E.T. is not that E.T., but their skull shapes are not that dissimilar and the original E.T. struck me as more of a boy extraterrestrial than the full grown up version we see near the end of this movie. So maybe the 1982 E.T. didn’t get the message that back in 1957 Archeologist Indiana Jones sent his parents back home. In any event, rest assured that the Professor Henry Jones Jr., a.k.a. Indiana will make sure that these extraterrestrials make it home at last.
Before sending them home though, Jones has to take a few side trips. Against his will, he helps crafty KGB agents find the skull in a secret warehouse in a Nevada nuclear test zone. Heck, before he even leaves the states, Jones gets to be the first American to survive a nuclear explosion, thanks to a convenient lead lined refrigerator in a Potemkin Village. This happens after nearly being accelerated to death by a rocket sled. In short, it takes less than fifteen minutes to discover that Indiana Jones may have aged but he has lost none of his ability to survive improbable escapes. Nor has Spielberg forgotten the Indiana Jones formula. This Jones may have arrived 27 years after the first Indiana Jones movie, but this fourth movie is probably the most satisfying since the first movie released in 1981.
New in this movie is Mutt Williams (played by Shia LaBeouf) who is a 1950s motorcycle greaser obsessed with combing his hair and who ends up following Indiana Jones on his adventure. If there are times when Mutt seems a chip off the old block, your instinct will be confirmed when Jones’ ex flame from the first movie Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) eventually appears deep in the Amazon. It turns out that Captain James T. Kirk was not the only famous fictional adventurer leaving fertile presents in the wombs of comely females. By the way, Karen Allen still looks good at age 56.
Still, by this point you have a good idea of what to expect from an Indiana Jones movie. Perhaps the 19-year gap was necessary to make it feel a bit fresh again. There must be plenty of improbable escapes from death, many nefarious people trying to keep Jones from succeeding, secret caves, snakes and bugs by the billions (preferably both), hidden chambers and of course animated map overlays showing his plane trips from point to point. Also back and thankfully not retired is composer John Williams (now age 76) to score the movie which, unsurprisingly, does not sound that much different from his scores for the other three movies.
Formula it may be but Spielberg keeps it both humorous and enjoyable. The antagonist this time is Irina Spalko, a super-smart KGB agent played by Cate Blanchett. Spalko is not only dedicated and smart, but never sweats. It is amazing to see her careening through the Amazon rainforest in her Stalinist garb, yet her pressed blouse never wrinkles in the slightest. I think Blanchett is wasted in this movie. It is not that she does a bad job in this movie, but any one-dimensional actress would have sufficed for this part.
We go to see Indiana Jones movies for pure entertainment and escapism, so it is unlikely you will be dissatisfied with the movie. There are times in the middle of the movie where the plot feels a bit muddled but overall, like Jones himself, the movie does not stay in one place very long for it to matter.
Look for supporting roles by John Hurt as Jones’ old friend Professor Oxley and the well-known character actor Jim Broadbent as Dean Charles Stanforth. This movie marks the start of the mindless summer blockbuster movie season. Let’s hope the summer season ends on as high a note as it began.
3.3 on my 4.0 scale.