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Indiana Jones & The Kingdom of The Crystal Skull

Indiana Jones & The Kingdom of The Crystal Skull

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

IT’S been 19 years since Indiana Jones last cracked his whip but fears that the world’s favourite archaeologist might have become a relic himself prove wildly unfounded in The Kingdom of The Crystal Skull, another rollicking boys-own adventure that mostly recaptures the feel-good factor of the past.

The fourth film in a series that began with 1981’s Raiders Of The Lost Ark and looked to have concluded with 1989’s Last Crusade is a fun, nostalgic romp that in no way tarnishes the memory of what’s come before.

And while it does have flaws, including an over-elaborate story and too many special effects late on, fans will probably be enjoying themselves too much to hold anything too damning against it.

Set in 1957 at the height of the Cold War, the film opens as Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) and his Cockney sidekick Mac (Ray Winstone) enjoy a typically bruising encounter with a group of Soviet KGB agents – led by Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett) – at a remote US airfield that’s being used to store various historical artefacts.

The fallout from that episode, however, finds Indy suspected of Communist sympathies and forced to take indefinite leave from his beloved Marshall College.

Dejected and bound for Britain, the professor then meets a rebellious young biker named Mutt (Shia LaBeouf), who asks for his help in finding the legendary Crystal Skull of Akator, and with his somewhat resentful new protege in tow heads off to deepest, darkest Peru on one of his most outlandish adventures yet.

Ironically, it’s the plot that proves the fourth film’s biggest letdown as it swaps religious mythology for alien conspiracy and contributes in no small part to the film’s overblown finale. Given that it took so many writers and years to come up with, you really do feel that they could have done better.

It also takes Indy and company into an unnecessarily sci-fi realm with the final third of the movie resembling more of an X-Files/Close Encounters homage than anything close to the matinee origins of the hero. It’s then that the presence of executive producer George Lucas hangs over proceedings like, erm, a phantom menace.

Up until that point, however, it’s all about Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford resorting to what they did best. And the early moments, especially, display the same kind of derring-do and tongue-in-cheek revellry that helped to make Indy such a popular character in the first place.

The opening sequence in the Nevada desert immediately dispels any lingering doubts that Ford is too old for such mayhem. Sure, there’s the odd quip about things not being as easy as they used to be but once the action starts and that whip is cracked, the actor gleefully makes a mockery of his pensionable age [he’s 65!]. His escape from the Ruskies is, quite literally, a blast.

Thereafter, there’s plenty to enjoy both in terms of spectacle and affectionate nods to the past. Tributes to the memory of Denholm Elliott and the contribution of Sean Connery are well-judged, the return of Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) is nicely realised and there’s even a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it nod to a past artefact.

Shia LaBeouf effortlessly steps up to the challenge of playing supporting hero and heir apparent to Indy’s hat and the two share an instant chemistry that’s beautifully realised during a thrilling early chase sequence on Mutt’s motorbike.

While Cate Blanchett genuinely “sinks her teeth into those wubbleu’s” as an OTT Russian villain whose handiness with a blade contributes to another expertly-staged set piece during an extended jungle sequence.

The creepy-crawlies, too, make some suitably creepy appearances, whether its scorpions or killer ants, or even the odd snake!

Standing tall over proceedings, meanwhile, is Indy himself and while the hair may have long since greyed, the twinkle in his eye refuses to dim as Ford rolls back the years with relish. Whether trading quips with LaBeouf or exchanging blows with over-sized Russian heavies, Ford sets about the task with an enthusiasm that’s utterly infectious.

And it’s this devil-may-care attitude that makes the return of Indiana Jones one to treasure.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 2hrs 2mins
UK DVD Release: November 10, 2008