Few movies have had such anticipation and such trepidation on their release than Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the fourth installment of the serial series, but the first episode in 19 years. The third movie, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, appeared to tie a bow on a well-received trilogy, and Harrison Ford had aged too much to set the movie in the period between the two great wars, where audiences related to a time before America really came of age. Indiana himself seemed to represent America in the first three films — a boyish skeptic who eventually grew to understand powers outside of his own and yet master them.
Of course, the bad buzz on the movie since its release a few days ago seemed to clinch the notion that Steven Spielberg and George Lucas went to the well once too often. Reviews harped on Spielberg’s ubiquitous daddy issue, his predilection for space aliens, and an Indiana who seemed unrealistic. Perhaps, in retrospect, they expected Citizen Kane. I expected a high-quality popcorn movie, some simple escapist fare, and a chance to reconnect with beloved characters on a new kind of adventure — and I was not disappointed.
First, a few quibbles. While the action sequences in these films always strain credulity, Ford’s escape of constant gunfire from a crack squad of KGB infiltrators went over the top. The wardrobe of Mutt Williams (Shia LeBeouf) did come straight out of Marlon Brando’s closet and actually caused laughter. More annoying were the references to the blacklist in the beginning of the film. Is it possible for any filmmaker to forego this? Apparently not, but it did give one moment of what I’m sure was unintentional hilarity, when Jim Broadbent says, “When they start looking for Communists in Academia, maybe it is time to retire.”
However, the film itself uses Communists as its villains, replacing Nazis as the action all takes place in 1957. (The modern-day Russian Communist Party doesn’t appreciate this, either.) They have taken an interest in psychic power, fueled by the discovery of a crystal skull in South America. KGB researcher Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett) wants to use the skull to find a lost Amazonian city in order to unlock the secrets of the skull so that the Soviet Union can take over the world by transforming Western capitalists into good little comrades without us realizing what happened. Indy and Mutt have to rescue an old friend and figure out a way to stop the KGB from world domination.
Do they succeed? Well, I’ll let you guess the answer, but the film takes us on a heck of a ride to the finish. It also brings back Marion Ravenwood, Indiana’s paramour from the first film. Karen Allen reprises her role, and that makes its own statement. Allen has aged right along with Ford since 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark, but she remains attractive and handsome. Spielberg and Lucas make her the love interest all over again and give Allen a meaty and important role in the plot. Allen’s Marion has lost none of her courage and feistiness, and she has a secret to tell Indy that everyone will probably figure out for themselves before it’s revealed. It’s great to see Allen back as Marion, and it’s a reminder to Hollywood that women in their 50s make better matches for men in their 60s than girls of 20.
Shia LeBeouf overcomes the Wild One costume to give a good performance as Mutt. After watching him in Transformers, I figured he would become the Cousin Oliver of the Indiana Jones series, but LeBeouf surprises in more ways than just the script. Spielberg apparently has spoken publicly about featuring LeBeouf in a new series of adventure movies, and in the end it seems not just possible but potentially a lot of fun.
Don’t listen to the naysayers. This version of Indiana Jones is every bit as fun as the previous three, and every bit as lightweight. No one goes to an Indiana Jones movie for enlightenment or Shakespearean pathos. They’re popcorn movies, and the best of that genre. Let yourself jump back into the fantasy with both feet, and for a couple of hours remember that some movies are just about having a good time.