movie film review | chris tookey

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

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  Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Review
Tookey's Rating
8 /10
Average Rating
6.91 /10
Indiana Jones - Harrison Ford , Irina Spalko - Cate Blanchett
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Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: David Koepp, from a story by George Lucas and Jeff Nathanson

Released: 2008
Origin: US
Colour: C
Length: 125

Fun, fun, fun.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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This most eagerly awaited of sequels has faults, including - like most action adventures - a few longueurs where characters deliver, like Cherie Blair in her memoirs, more information than we really want. And no one could pretend it’s daringly original.

But there’s plenty that’s good about it, especially viewed on a big screen. The chances are that if you’re under 31, you won’t have seen an Indiana Jones picture in a cinema, and if that applies to you, you’re in for a real treat.

I’d rate this the second-most entertaining of the Indys, behind only the grandaddy of them all, Raiders of the Lost Ark.

The fourth in the series has not just moments but lengthy sequences that are thrilling and uplifting. If this doesn’t make you forget your troubles and put a silly grin on your face, nothing will.

I shall not trouble you overmuch with the plot, which is just an excuse for astounding action sequences in exotic locations and the destruction of some awesomely expensive sets. Suffice it to say that the mayhem is set in 1957, 19 years after the third-best movie in the franchise, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

A blade-wielding, deadpan Cate Blanchett is leader of the bad guys, playing “Stalin’s favourite scientist”, which probably only she and Rosa Klebb would regard as a recommendation. She’s looking for a mysterious, magnetic, crystal skull that will give Russia world domination. This leads her to the legendary city of El Dorado, along with her deadly KGB lieutenant – a dead ringer for Vladimir Putin, which may or may not be a coincidence.

The only guy who can stop those ruthless Reds is, of course, Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford, of course, pictured left). Luckily, he has time on his hands since he’s just lost his job at Marshall College, thanks to McCarthyite Feds, who have convinced themselves he’s a commie, much to the horror of Denholm Elliott’s successor both as Dean and as senior British character actor, Jim Broadbent.

Indy is persuaded to dig out that scuffed leather jacket and fedora one more time by a lad called Mutt (Shia LaBeouf, pictured right) who rides in on a bike like Marlon Brando in The Wild One and wields a switchblade (a fine incitement to knife-crime - thanks, Hollywood). Even with a blade, Mutt still comes across as slightly less butch than the young Ron Howard in Happy Days.

Exactly how Mutt persuades Indy is a mystery, since Mr LaBeouf’s diction is woeful; but whatever he says gets Indy fired up for more whip-cracking, tough-guy archaeological action.

Hardly have they survived the first few attempts on their lives – poisoned darts and scorpions are involved - than they are kidnapped by the Russkis and encounter their fellow prisoners: a crazed archaeologist (John Hurt, convincingly bonkers) and Indy’s old flame from Raiders, Marion Ravenwood (welcome back, Karen Allen). She turns out to be Mutt’s mum, and even in her fifties she’s just as feisty as when she drank those Himalayan guys under the table in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

From the moment they escape –yes, of course they escape - the movie becomes tumultuous fun, with near-death experiences in bottomless quicksand, an unpleasantly close encounter with Indy’s pet phobia, a snake, much Tarzan-style swinging through jungle, attacks by monkeys and carnivorous red ants, a spectacularly silly swordfight on speeding armoured cars, a wonderfully preposterous chase along a thousand-foot precipice, and an even sillier plummet down three increasingly massive waterfalls.

This blockbuster can’t recapture the freshness of Raiders of the Lost Ark, nor the sense of danger – we know by now that Indy is indestructible. But it does bring back its joyous bravado and love of adventure.

No one goes to an Indiana Jones movie for intellectual stimulation. But this one is as escapist, action-packed and instantly nostalgic as the best James Bond pictures. Just settle back into it, as you would into a warm bath, and relax.

This is spectacular entertainment of an extremely high quality. Most of the action sequences are terrific – and brilliantly extended by Steven Spielberg, who remains a master of his craft. I can imagine audiences of non-critics breaking into spontaneous applause at many of the outrageous stunts, which are the funniest and most ingenious since the second Pirates of the Caribbean picture.

Best of all, from the bravura opening sequence - in which Indy survives an atomic bomb explosion, no less - right through to the surprisingly romantic finish, Harrison Ford shows that there’s loads of life in the old dog yet. This is summed up in the final shot, when Shia LaBeouf is about to pick up the iconic fedora, and Ford intercepts and slaps it on his own head with a determined grin, as though to say “Not quite yet, kid”.

Ford has evidently trained and dieted hard to keep himself in shape at the age of 65, and he’s great here. Ford may not have the biggest range as an actor, but when he’s at his best, as Indiana Jones, Han Solo or John Book, the hero of Witness, he radiates an integrity, self-reliance and grizzled virility that put younger he-men to shame.

And there’s that engaging hint of self-mockery, that talent for subverting action cliches - as in that masterly moment in Raiders when a huge Arab threatened him with an enormous scimitar and Indy winced, took out a gun and shot him.

From his very first appearance, we’re reassured that Indy’s sense of humour is intact, when his sidekick Mac (Ray Winstone) looks anxiously at the dozens of Russian soldiers surrounding them with machine guns and says “This ain’t gonna be easy.” And Ford comments drily “Not as easy as it used to be.”

Wisely, no attempt is made to disguise his veteran status, and one of the biggest laughs comes when LaBeouf congratulates him after one action sequence by saying “For an old man, you ain’t too bad in a fight” and Ford snarls an ironic “Thanks a lot”. Whereupon the pay-off line comes: “What are you? 80?”

David Koepp’s script may not be all that verbally witty, but there is wit in the variations it plays on old themes, and there are more than enough good jokes and heart-warming moments that cash in on our nostalgic recollections of the first three Indiana Jones movies.

The picture deserves to be among the biggest hits of the year, and its quality guarantees a massive world-wide audience for at least one more sequel.

At the end of mindless fun like this, there’s really only one question to ask yourself. Did I enjoy it? And I did. Loved it, actually.

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