Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
Discussions and rumors had been tossed around about a fourth Indiana Jones movies since the early 1990s. Harrison Ford is known to be a bit mercurial, Sean Connery eventually retired and, unfortunately, River Phoenix died in 1993, and Denholm Elliott around the same time. George Lucas went on to produce The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles with a completely different cast, although Ford made a cameo on the one of the episodes. While discussions were always being had it was clear that, as popular as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was, the only character that would be returning at all would be Indy himself.
Also as the years went by the realities of time set in. Harrison Ford wasn't getting any younger, and neither was Lucas or Steven Spielberg. After awhile things just kind of came together and, with a script that was originally titled Indiana Jones and the Saucer Men from Mars, word eventually came that a new movie was in the works. It eventually became Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and, rather than be greeted with open arms by fans hungering to see Professor Jones go on another adventure, Lucas and Spielberg were instead accused of raping their fans' childhoods.
Indiana Jones (Ford) is kidnaped by Russian spies who take him to Area 51 to steal a corpse of one of the aliens from the Roswell crash. There we meet our villain, Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett), the head of a special branch of the KGB doing research in the paranormal. After escaping from their clutches and barely surviving a nuclear bomb test Indy is accused by the FBI of being disloyal and loses his job at the university. As he is leaving town he meets a kid named Mutt (Shia LaBeouf) who brings a letter for him to translate that he received from his mother.
Both Mutt and Indy are friends with a Professor Oxley (John Hurt) and the letter contains coded instructions on where to find a crystal skull that is connected with the legends of El Dorado. It turns out that Spalko is also after the same thing and ambushes the two while in Peru. This leads to reuniting with Oxley and with Marion (Karen Allen), Indy's ex-lover. The skull seems to hold a certain power and promises even more to the one that returns it to the city of Akator. As always there is much more to the legend than meets the eye.
The amount of hate this movie gets is ridiculous, especially since in about every way it is a better movie than Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Sure, it doesn't hold a candle to the first or third movies, but it brings back Marion from Raiders of the Lost Ark and allows the relationship between her and Jones to finally have some conclusion. She still unfortunately doesn't get to do a whole lot, but she at least gets to do more than just be tied up in a pretty dress. Harrison Ford himself sinks back into the role without much of a problem and one can easily believe Jones has spent 20 years retrieving artifacts and going on secret missions for his country. Ray Winstone, as Indy's greedy and traitorous compatriot "Mac" George Michale, provides most of the comedic relief. Even Shia LaBeouf, which is never a name that gets me wanting to see a film, is not bad. John Hurt is good as usual although he seems more of a hanger-on than an actual member of the team.
Unfortunately Cate Blanchett's Irina Spalko is a terrible villain. I think there is a lot of concentration on the fact that this film has a lot of science fiction and fantasy moments (which in no way makes it different than its predecessors) that the one glaring problem with this film is ignored. Irina Spalko is simply Cate Blanchett doing a Russian accent in a bad wig. There is nothing developed about her; even though she is supposed to be psychic her powers are never defined, other than just some mind reading or what-not. It's a one-note performance that is below Blanchett's abilities, and Spalko doesn't even have decent henchmen to make up for it.
While I will defend Kingdom of the Crystal Skull - even the nuking the fridge scene, which I find no more ridiculous than using a life raft as a parachute - as being a good movie and even a good Indiana Jones film, it does have its problems. Although David Koepp adapted George Lucas's screenplay, there is still to much Lucas and not enough Spielberg this time around. Last Crusade benefited heavily in the father-son dynamic, and that was wholly Spielberg's contribution. That is here again but in not as exciting a way. Instead we get Mutt swinging from vine to vine with CGI monkeys to catch up with car chase. While practical effects were heavily used and the movie filmed on actual film instead of a digital camera, it still has quite a few digital effects sequences, and a number of them - particularly the ants - looked bad when the movie came out, and the passing of time hasn't helped.
Still, the stunts are mainly real, particularly the ones involving Indy (Ford did quite a number of his own) and the story is just one more interesting fantasy story. I will never understand how after a magic box, magic rocks and a magic cup that suddenly the resolution to this movie is some sort of betrayal of the series. What would have been a betrayal is what Lucas tends to do with most of his movies, which is go back, remove the fun and paste in effects that look old-fashioned in two or three years. It has its silly points but Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is still an enjoyable latter-day Spielberg film and much better than the dull television show that Lucas originally meant to be the coda to his trilogy.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
Time: 122 minutes
Starring: Harrison Ford, Shia LaBeouf, Cate Blanchett, Karen Allen, Ray Winstone, John Hurt
Director: Steven Spielberg