INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL was a giant hit in 2008: at home, it was the third-most attended movie of the year (right behind The Dark Knight and Iron Man) and the planetary loot totaled $790,654,000. Yet it got, and still gets, a bad rap from many fans of the series, and while some of the grousing is viable, most of the miff rift is just a case of sour apples. For the most part, the fourth installment delivers the goods in spectacular fashion, 27 years after one of moviedom’s most durable heroes first cracked his whip.
1957. The Cold War is putting the specter of mushroom clouds over the rise of rock & roll. The now-quiet life of Professor Jones (Harrison Ford) is atomic-blasted back into discover-or-die mode when he’s pitted against Soviet agents to find out the secret behind an artifact that traces its meaning back to legends in the Amazonian jungle. Did what’s buried in the earth come from the Earth? Will the body-count of clobbered Commies surpass the tally of nailed Nazis and creamed cultists from the days of Indiana yore?
As always, Steven Spielberg directed with esprit. George Lucas and Jeff Nathanson devised the clever story, David Koepp has credit for the entertaining screenplay. Ford at 64 obviously isn’t the 37-year old who bluffed and battled his way to raid the Lost Ark back in 1981, but he still shows up to good advantage: so much for snide whippersnappers. Most of the casting is spot-on, with Ray Winstone a well-layered turncoat, John Hurt a wilderness-cracked colleague (recalling his fog-lost prisoner in Midnight Express), and the welcome return after a quarter-century of the winning, missed Karen Allen, as old flame ‘Marion Ravenwood’. Best of all was the choice to go with Cate Blanchett as adversary ‘Irina Spalko’; quick, deadly, obsidian-eyed comradski favorite of Stalin. She’s psychic, knows karate and fencing, strides about like she can tame the Volga with a lifted eyebrow and draws a classic line to From Russia With Love’s ‘Rosa Klebb’, except she’s considerably sexier.
The sets are sensational, the period detail charming, the stunts crazy, the action plentiful and well-paced (not numbing as in the second Indy epic) and the special effects—including a stunning A-bomb blast—proof that if Hollywood technical pros have a measly $185,000,000 to play with, they can bring forth the full oo-ah. John Williams’ score moves it along apace, Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography is pulp magazine enticing.
Theories abound (do they?) as to why this whiz-crafted entry didn’t excite fans (or certain cadres of them) like the earlier “on-your-feet!” escapades. One speculation is easy—Shia LaBeouf. Not the most endearing of what were then new-brats-on-the-block, LaBeouf plays the son Jones never knew he had from Marion. As written, the character is a bit too much of a jerk, and the actor sells it a mite too well. Beyond the petty personal persona picking on a frosh thespian who needed salt to go with his pepper, perhaps what also threw off a goodly amount of the paying public was simply setting the story in an era 75% of the audience could not relate to (teaching of History being what it is in the United States, as in Something Taught Everywhere Else), so the whole Cold War & Russkies thing fell on deaf ears. When Indy tosses out “I like Ike!” I’d venture (as someone who dearly wishes there still was an Ike to like) that 3/4 of popcorn scarfers in the multiplexes didn’t know Ike (“‘Eisenhower’, he said, barely stifling resentment against despair”) from ice cream. If you think it’s pure Hell to be old—just wait.
Filming was done in Hawaii (a section of the Big Island standing in for Peru), New Mexico, Connecticut and California. Shots of the big waterfalls are vistas of mighty Iguacu in South America. With Jim Broadbent and Igor Jijikine. 122 minutes.