There were a dozen good reasons not to do a fourth Indiana Jones movie.
He's an icon, like James Bond, so he should never age. Harrison Ford's too old to pull it off. Times and tastes have changed.
But there's one very good reason to do it, a sentimental one: for old time's sake.
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So it is that Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull shows up as Indiana Jones' Greatest Hits, recycling sequences from the terrific 1980s trilogy, reusing that splendid, jaunty John Williams score, reminiscing over cast members not on board this time or no longer with us, Ford muttering ”I've got a bad feeling about this“ one more time.
Is that enough of a reason to see it? You bet your bullwhip it is. Ford, now 65, might have lost a step, but this Indy lets him age out of the role with grace and style. Watch the moment early on when Indy runs into old flame Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen). The look of unalloyed joy on Ford's face might be the best acting moment he's ever had.
Steven Spielberg hasn't gained more skills as a director, and series creator George Lucas is a shell of the writer he once was (thus others scripted this from his story). But Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is still an old-fashioned, two-fisted romp through archaeology, the Cold War, pseudo-science and film history.
It's 1957, and Indy and sidekick Mac (Ray Winstone) have been kidnapped by ruthless Russkies led by a sword-wielding Stalinist played by Cate Blanchett. Indy is needed to help track down a crate in Area 51, because this is Indy Meets The X-Files.
The Russians were big on paranormal warfare experiments, and they need the flinty college professor to help them track down this skull and a lost Amazonian city filled with such skulls. Indy has no trouble hating commies, even though college professors like himself were quick to be labeled ”security risks.“
”I like Ike,“ he growls at his captors.
One harrowing escape follows another as Dr. Jones meets Mutt (Shia LaBeouf), a kid who has seen Brando's The Wild One and made himself into a carbon-copy biker, urging Indy to help save an old friend, a fellow academic (John Hurt) who has been kidnapped with the kid's mom, all being held by those murderous Russians.
LaBeouf and Ford have an easy rapport, with the sassy kid landing most of the ”geezer“ one-liners: ”For an old man, you ain't bad in a fight. What are you, like 80?“
Allen is as perky and plucky as ever, and the presence of Oscar winners Blanchett (reminiscent of Bond villains of the 1960s) and Jim Broadbent (as the new college colleague who looks out for Indy now that Denholm Elliott is dead) class up the picture. Hurt has made a career of playing deranged wrecks.
The motorcycle stunts are roller-coaster-ride fun, the big brawls as big as we remember them, with only a hint of digital augmentation. The plot takes in atomic testing, the Plains of Nazca, Chariots of the Gods and the Red Scare. The dialogue only rarely lapses into a real groaner. It's a jokey movie, equal parts Raiders of the Lost Ark and Last Crusade — not as good as the first, not quite as much fun as the last.
But there's also a hint of wistfulness over missed opportunities, reunions delayed, lost chances to make the big, broad world and the lives of two little people better.
When Professor Oxley (Hurt) laments, ”How much of human life is lost in waiting?“ he's talking about movie fans who have longed for this chance to remember all that Indy was and could be. Of all the tricks those magical crystal skulls manage in this movie, none is more welcome or more satisfying than this, the gift of closure.