Twice in the course of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the earth is ravaged by raw power.
The first time it is the result of a nuclear weapons test conducted by the U.S. government in the Nevada desert. The second marks the unleashing of the supernatural force behind the eponymous kingdom of crystal skulls. Since he first donned his trademark fedora in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, Dr. Henry Walton Jones Jr. (Harrison Ford), or Indiana for short, has frequently found himself at the epicentre of conflicts between various sorts of power – political, military, spiritual, intellectual, and occult – and Indy 4 is no exception.
As illustrated by nuclear testing, not to mention Indy’s weathered visage, time has passed since he and his father (Sean Connery, who declined to come out of retirement for so much as a cameo in this adventure) last foiled their Nazi nemeses and came face to face with the Holy Grail in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. As many as 19 years have passed since that last installment was released. In this latest installment it is 1957 and the powers that be are locked into the Cold War. Indy finds himself pitted against McCarthyism at home as well as the threat of the Communist USSR. Accordingly, his primary adversaries are a group of Soviet agents led by Col. Dr. Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett), who need his help to find a lost Peruvian kingdom and unlock its supernatural powers for the greater glory of the Soviet Union.
With Jones Sr., out of the picture, the atavistic treasure-seeking spirit is embodied by newcomer Mutt (Shia LaBeouf), a young motorcycle-riding greaser whose characteristic leather jacket and thirst for adventure echo Indy’s own in ways he can’t prepare for. Joining them are Mutt’s mother, Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), the old flame who proved herself a match for Indy in Raiders and The Last Crusade and George “Mac” MacHale (Ray Winstone), a British agent who serves as a conflation of familiar (and absent) Indiana Jones characters Sallah and Belloq.
En route to Peru, our heroes are beset by the usual array of challenges: man-eating insects, captivity at the hands of their adversaries, increasingly gargantuan waterfalls, and the sorts of treasure-seeker’s puzzles Dan Brown must wish he had invented for a Robert Langdon adventure.
The plot dances nimbly from one action set-piece to the next and if the whole affair seems emphatically by the book, it is because that is precisely the point of the exercise. Indy 4 is the last curtain call for a generation’s favourite adventure hero, the swan song for one of John Williams’ most memorable movie themes. Even the very last shot, which briefly seems sure to turn into a corny ‘passing of the torch’ moment, performs a clever about-face and instead sees its hero riding off into the metaphorical sunset to that rousing, familiar theme music.
Ford and Allen, or rather Jones and Ravenwood, face their trials and tribulations gamely and with candor – there is nary a hint of resignation. The filmmakers wisely decided to build their stars’ age into the script, with Indy intermittently confessing nostalgia for the old days and enduring good-natured jibes from his comrades (“What’re you, 80?” asks Mutt, early on). Director Spielberg similarly chose to stick to “old-fashioned” stunts, using computer-generated imagery only where absolutely necessary; this despite the influence of co-producer George Lucas.
While the overall effect is not quite as overwhelming as the pure, thrilling adventure of Raiders of the Lost Ark, this is a worthwhile addition to the Indiana Jones canon. Newcomers to the series will miss out on the in-jokes, including a snake encounter and a cameo by the Ark of the Covenant in an awfully familiar CIA warehouse during the opening scene, but with little nods to the film’s predecessors sure to satisfy die-hard fans of the franchise, the nostalgia factor for the adults, and plenty of eye-candy adventures for children, there is something here for everyone.