Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Director: Steven Spielberg

“Here we are now, entertain us.”-- Nirvana

And so we return to Dr. Jones and the gang’s all here, John Williams’s score sounds better than ever, and the fedora has become as recognizable as Chaplin’s cane. Following months of advertising including near singular sponsorship of the 2008 NBA Playoffs, the question wasn’t whether or not Indiana Jones would make money or break box office records, but rather if it was worth dusting off our favorite archeologist from his nineteen year retirement of perfectly preserved and re-mastered memories on DVD and sending him on a fourth perilous search for another trove of treasure. Of course, even to co--creator George Lucas, Indiana Jones was never about the treasure itself—similar to Hitchcock’s MacGuffin, it never quite mattered what he was chasing, for the real treasure was in the quest itself as we followed archeology professor Dr. Henry Jones to the most unimaginable corners of the world in a wit and daring filled hero’s journey to outsmart the Nazis or whoever stood in his way to—much like a modern day Arthur—secure whatever grail he needed to win.

From the groundbreaking Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), to the uneven Temple of Doom (’84) and the enjoyable misnomer Last Crusade (’89), Harrison Ford’s most endearing character since Han Solo (for my money, the coolest one from the Star Wars cannon) has garnered generations of fans but now at age 65, bringing him back to high flying adventure sounded like an unlikely and primarily profit driven undertaking. Like many, I feared going in that Spielberg and Lucas, who have both become unparalleled masters of the latest filmmaking technology, would forget the cheesy B movie roots or matinee spirit of the original extraordinary trilogy and in forgoing classic entertainment, offer a perfect reinvention of Jones with Iron Man styled special effects. However, my concerns were put to rest within minutes as we’re faced with the retro Paramount logo and old-fashioned credits announcing that the Indy we love is back.

Opening in 1957 Nevada, it takes less than five minutes for Dr. Jones to find himself in lethal jeopardy as he tries to outthink—not the Nazis this time but rather Communist Russians led by the wicked dominatrix Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett reveling in her Ukrainian accent and dark colored bob). Admittedly when we first catch a glimpse of the aged Ford cracking dialogue that directly references his age and ability, doubt instead of awe is the new reaction we have to this elder Indy but soon, we’re distracted by enough chaotic complications and old fashioned wonder that cynical preoccupation is abandoned and we’re well into the story.

Scripted by Spiderman and Panic Room scribe David Koepp from a story by Jeff Nathanson and George Lucas, while the psychic, paranormal phenomena and extraterrestrial excitement feel a bit out of place, again that MacGuffin couldn’t matter less as we’re more entranced by the outrageous spectacle first introduced with the arrival of the newest addition to the “good guys,” greaser Mutt Williams (a delightful Shia LeBeouf), whom we first see in perfect imitation of Marlon Brando in The Wild One straddling a killer motorcycle. Bearing information from his mother Marion (Karen Allen), who-- despite being the most memorable Indiana Jones heroine-- for reasons that are never explained (possibly old age?), Jones doesn’t quite put together with being that particular Marion, Mutt serves as Jones’s call to action, leading him on a wild goose chase to the mythic South American city of El Dorado by way of Cusco, Peru to track down the legendary crystal skulls that have fascinated the Russians (and Blanchett) as well.

Soon reacquainted with Marion Ravenwood and other colleagues including Ox (John Hurt) and Mac (Ray Winstone), Indy and Mutt’s lives are increasingly threatened as they get closer to the treasure but along the way, we have our trademark thrills—some of which play like a greatest hits mix tape of the earlier films and some that I still remain dazzled by twenty-four hours later. The ultimate features an unforgettable jeep chase with swashbuckling action in the form of a Mutt and Irina swordfight, gunfire, and more, as-- in true Indy fashion-- Spielberg keeps topping the sequence before it, stacking up danger until he knocks it all down like a wicked Jenga game.

There’s the quintessential “gross out” moment harkening back to the horrifying snake pit debacle from Raiders that indeed sent people fleeing to the restroom as the leads are attacked by, as Indy calls them “big damn ants,” which manages to overstay its disgusting welcome just seconds into the overly long sequence. And while this isn’t the only part of the film that feels like padding and there aren’t as many genuine laughs as Kasdan penned in his memorable Raiders screenplay, the action is so riveting and the affable nostalgic and high energy spirit of the series is kept remarkably intact as to rival the overly cool, and hyper real action movies of today, that I was amazed by just how big of an absence was left in action film when Indy hung up that fedora.

Although it would be woefully unwise to call him back to adventure again and Spielberg does hint that perhaps Mutt may be the next in line for the professor’s whip, it was a fond farewell to the films and a nice reward for fans who, similar to myself as someone roughly as old as the entire series, always looked forward to the next hybrid of imaginative thrills and brain teasing wit.

In other words--we were there, so Spielberg, Lucas and Ford entertained us.