Dir: Steven Spielberg. US. 2008. 123mins.
The world can rest easy - the old magic still works in Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull. It may take some breathless, helter-skelter action to redeem the opening hour’s clunky storytelling, but the first Indy adventure in almost twenty years is like a fond reunion with an old friend and will not disappoint diehard fans or deter a new generation from embracing it as a summer blockbuster adventure ride.
This is money in the bank as far as exhibitors are concerned, but the relief of some critical support will do no harm to what is destined to stand as one of the year’s top moneymakers. Crystal Skull may be set in 1957 and embrace an America paranoid about alien invaders and reds under the bed but Steven Spielberg and George Lucas have wisely stuck to a winning formula.
Pesky Ruskies replace the threat of pesky Nazis, a mysterious crystal skull with the promise of great powers replaces the Ark of the Covenant, and this is very much business as usual in every respect. There is such a knowing adherence to the winning formula that you fear teeam Spielberg may not be able to pull it off. A flat opening fails to match the sheer adrenaline rush that has become a signature of the three previous entries in the series.
A showdown at a hush-hush installation in the Nevada desert introduces Cate Blanchett as Soviet baddie Irina Spalko. Her Louise Brooks bob, Greta Garbo accent and steely manner couldn’t be more of a cliche and it starts to look as if a fourth Indy epic wasn’t such a good idea after all. It takes the dropping of an atomic bomb and Indy’s daredevil escape in a lead-lined fridge to suggest that all is not lost.
The triumph of the Indiana Jones series was always in the breathtaking action sequences and the ability to reinvent the feel of a cliffhanging Saturday morning serial for a more sophisticated age. The flaws in Crystal Skull reside in a script where the dialogue rarely sparkles and a basic story that gives little sense of requiring almost twenty years to devise. Like all previous entries in the series it improves enormously once the treasure hunt has begun, the chase is afoot and the reckless escapes from the jaws of certain death start piling up.
The object of the chase this time is the Crystal Skull of Akator and it’s young greaser Mutt (La Beouf) who makes Indy an offer he cannot refuse. Soon the duo are rushing towards Peru, intent on rescuing Mutt’s mother who proves to be Indy’s lost love Marion Ravenwood (Allen) - as feisty and adorable as ever. Naturally, the Soviets are on their tail, there’s some double-dealing to uncover and a few secrets to come tumbling from the family closet.
Overburdened with clunky exposition in the first half, Crystal Skull really reaches top gear during a long chase sequence involving everything from a fencing duel conducted between rival vehicles to a skull that changes hands countless times. It is exactly the kind of crowd-pleasing spectacle that the film needed to deliver in order to prove that Indy can still cut the mustard in the age of Bond and Bourne.
A nimble Ford wears his role like a comfortable old suit. La Beouf makes Mutt a real chip of the old block and Allen’s re-appearance is the icing on the cake, giving the human element to balance all the action and providing the happy ending that allows the whole series to bow out in a satisfying style. Mission accomplished.