Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (**1/2)

Directed by Steven Spielberg


Twenty-seven years after Prof. Henry Jones Jr. first gripped the whip in the all-time classic Raiders of the Lost Arc, Harrison Ford--at 65 years young--is back at it again, as the Ford, Spielberg, and fellow Indy pioneer George Lucas combine for this newest adventure. This film could have easily been weathered and overblown. Instead, Spielberg constructs this third sequel with such amazing energy, all while giving that sarcastic wink to classic Hollywood, as to make us feel like Indy has never left.

This newest installment in the franchise has Indy is swept up into a plot by a bunch of communists to uncover ancient artifacts. When Indy's partner Mac (a quite bloated Ray Winstone), betrays him and turns him over to the communists and their Freuline leader Irina Spalko (an oddly accented Cate Blanchett), Jones goes to great depths to find the whereabouts of the mythic "crystal skull". Of coarse, Jones is able to escape their grasp in classic Indy fashion, but his involvement with the traitor Mac has American agents looking at him and seeing Red.

It isn't until Jones comes into contact with Mutt Williams (Shia Lebouf in pure greaser fashion), that he becomes embroidered, once again, in the hunt for the crystal skull. Mutt, a coarse, confrontational young man, needs to find it in order to save his mother from being killed by the Spalko-lead commies. His mother turns out to be none other than Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), Indy's constant on-again, off-again romance.

The film, not unlike any of the other films of the series, requires quite a bit of the suspension of disbelief. More than any of the previous films, this film does require many more "It's just a movie" shrugs, but Spielberg's tip-of-the-hat to old school Hollywood filmaking has such majestic, captivating sequences that it doesn't seem to matter that the story short-changes you on more than ten occasions (did we have a problem with any of those moments in the previous Indy films?).

Ford sports the hat just as well as he ever did in his forth stint as Jones. Indiana Jones is easily the best character of Ford's career, because it fits him better than those brown pants and beige shirt, and after all of these years, he hasn't lost a beat. Ford's legendary status has benefited from characters that are charming, sarcastic, and filled with such honorable sincerity, that he has still been able to prosper for decades. No part that Ford has played embodies that better than Indiana Jones.

Cate Blanchett, Karen Allen, and John Hurt (as a deranged 'Ox' Oxley) are all legible and seem that there having fun in a very fun movie, but no other actor takes stage better than Lebouf. Shia Lebouf, many years away from his time on the hysterical Disney show "Even Stevens", has a coming-of-age performance in this film. Starring against Harrison Ford is difficult, but starring against Ford as Jones usually leaves his co-stars bidding for attention with annoying actions (Karen Allen, anyone?), but Lebouf takes the stage and delivers the performance with real greaser brawn and attitude.

In the end, there is no greatness within this movie. Between Indy surviving a nuclear blast by hiding in a refrigerator and wild inconsistencies with a magnetic skull, there are points of the film that border on rediculous, but I'd be lying if I said that this wasn't one of the more exhilarating movie experiences I've had so far this year. If nothing else, Steven Spielberg continues to show why he is easily the most talented filmmaker of his generation, and Harrison Ford cements Indy as one of the most seminal characters in cinema. What's so wrong about that?

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