Jonesin’ for Indy
The whip-cracking archeologist is back, and damn if it isn’t a good time
Let’s get right to it—Crystal Skull is no Raiders of the Lost Ark. That’s OK. Anyone expecting Indy’s first adventure in 20 years to meet such high expectations should check themselves into the loony bin and leave their fedora at the door.
But the fourth installment of the Indiana Jones franchise is a worthy one—an action-gorged romp that captures the tongue-in-cheek fun of its predecessors … with only a few flaws.
The year is 1957. Rock ‘n’ roll is new. Dr. Henry Jones Jr. (a very svelte and tanned Harrison Ford) is old. Grayer. A little gruffer. The Nazis have given way to Commies, as the Red Scare has engulfed America. Aside from that, everything is pretty much the same in the world of Indiana Jones. The plot is simple: Led by a sexy, sword-wielding psychic named Irena Spalko (Cate Blanchett), an army of darkness hell-bent on world domination is searching for a mysterious crystal skull in the jungles of South America. Indy must find the skull before it falls into the wrong hands. Sound familiar?
Prodding Jones to help with the search is a young greaser named Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf), who explains that his mother, along with an old college classmate of Indy’s, has been kidnapped by the Russians. The only way to save them is to help Spalko and Co. find the mythical crystal skull. From there we have motorcycle chases through a college campus, jeep chases through Amazon jungles, restless natives, double-crossings and an artifact with otherworldly powers.
But even an old formula loaded with empty calories in the hands of Steven Spielberg is better than anything that might be considered fresh today. Take the opening sequence—a race between a group of teens in a hot rod and a cluster of U.S. military vehicles (a nod to Lucas’ American Graffiti, no doubt). The scene is wonderfully shot to the pulse of Elvis’ “Hound Dog,” and leaves the viewer wondering if things are going to end badly or not. It’s goose-bump inducing, and signature Spielberg.
Essentially, Crystal Skull is one been-there, done-that action sequence after another that rarely lets you up for air (a nod to Temple of Doom?). By today’s standards the CGI is used sparingly, however, when it is used things get cringe-tacular (the entire monkey scene, for instance. Yikes).
But Ford ably holds it all together. He is Indiana Jones. He’s successfully made the character endure. If you think about it, that’s a pretty amazing feat considering the ridiculousness of the entire premise. Even Ford has pointed out the absurdity of an archeologist who totes a bullwhip and wears a leather jacket in the sweltering deserts of Egypt. But because the entire franchise has always been a nod to the cliffhanger serials from the ‘30s and ‘40s, Spielberg and Lucas have been able to get away with the absurd.
Crystal Skull plays out like Indiana Jones’ Greatest Hits, right down to John Williams’ score. And, yes, there are plenty of in-jokes from the original films. Was it a good time? Hell yes. Should they make another one? God no.