Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Review By: Michael Dance
Raiders of the Lost Ark is a perfect action movie. The opening sequence alone -- go ahead, watch it again -- was the inspiration for at least a dozen stories I wrote in grade school and remains the single best piece of pure adventure I've ever seen put to film. The two sequels, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, were both excellent, but their flaws were a bit more noticeable, and for a growing kid like me, there wasn't, nor could there be, that gee-whiz sense of discovery that the first film gave me.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull arrives under a mountain of expectations, some impossible to fulfill, and has gone through many rounds of development hell, with at least eight screenwriters hired to work on different drafts over the years. All things considered, it's a minor miracle that the film works as well as it does: as a worthy successor to Temple of Doom and Last Crusade. It's uneven thanks to a murky mythology, but they get the attitude and the action right.
Things have changed in the Indiana Jones universe. It's no longer the '30s, which means Nazis can't be the villains anymore -- Indy is now in the middle of the Cold War 1950s, so of course the antagonists are Russians, led by Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett). Subtlety is not the goal with Spalko, who's searching for legendary crystal skulls because she believes they have psychic powers to defeat Soviet enemies, but Blanchett has the chops to make her not so much less of a cartoon than just a more fun cartoon to watch.
The crystal skulls steer the story towards some supernatural stuff that foregoes the religious-themed pursuits of the original films -- the Ark of the Covenant, the Holy Grail -- for a theme that veers into science fiction territory, and I think ultimately it loses something there. I've heard that the idea was done to deliberately reflect the shift from the adventure serials found in the '30s -- the type of stuff the original films paid homage to -- to sci-fi serials in the '50s. That's a neat idea, and one early scene in which Jones finds himself in the middle of a ghost town/atomic test site works surprisingly well.
But usually, all the sci-fi mumbo jumbo -- and I'm not saying the first three films were lacking in mumbo jumbo -- doesn't come off quite as, well, cool. The style of Indiana Jones better suits the discovery of mythical artifacts,