In Theatres, 124 minutes, Rated PG-13
Let me say at the outset that I really wanted to like this film. I tried to bare in mind the original notion of the Indy movies: Saturday morning serials from the 30’s and 40’s. But the best of the trilogy (Raiders, Last Crusade) always played much like the recent work of Tarantino in Kill Bill and Death Proof; both an homage to their genre forefathers and a re-imagination of them. So, no matter how much hooey Lucas and Spielberg tossed around about their low-brow intentions, the Indy films never looked too much like their matinee idols. They look like an adult’s memory of them, with the low-budget tricks, bad acting, ludicrous plots, and ridiculous accents smoothed over, leaving the excitement, exotic locales, and momentary beliefs in treasure troves intact. That’s the beauty of the first three films (I’ll turn a kind eye for the moment towards Temple of Doom), but it’s missing in this latest installment. Indeed, it is much closer to the originals that George and Steven were supposedly shooting towards all along. In that way, this feels more like a sequel to King Solomon’s Mines then Indiana, but there’s a reason the name Allan Quatermain isn’t part of our social unconscious.
That said, the acting in this film is first rate. Ford moves a bit more gingerly, but the spirit and that can-do charisma is still there in buckets. Karen Allen’s Marion Ravenwood, back from the first of the series, brings the same magnetism and perfect fit. Shia LaBouf as her son, channels every 50’s bad boy with slicked back hair and a motorbike in bringing his A-game as well. Jim Broadbent is a nice addition as Dean Stanforth, filling the void left by the death of Denholm Elliot (Brody in the first three). Cate Blanchett, whose accent has already been maligned often enough in print that I’ll save the temptation to pile on, is the surprising fly in this ointment. Perhaps she’s simply too fine an actress to play a caricature such as Irina Spalko is in this film. But her ESP-believing, alien-loving villainess is neither scary nor funny, just odd and vaguely insulting.
What the film has in acting it squanders in plot. Simply stated, from the opening sequence involving sometimes magnetic (to gold) crystal skulls, to the ending sequence involving, well, I’ll let you see that for yourself, the plot is just over the line. Maybe the plots always were, actually, but the Ark of the Covenant and the Cup of Christ are common pursuits in the writings of the West. We are still a culture shaped primarily by the Judeo-Christian story, so if you’re going to serve up some magical hocus-pocus, or if you just need a device to build your action movie around, those work for most of us. Crystal skulls from aliens don’t. What’s more, Lucas just can’t keep his new-age double-talk from creeping in. With lines like “Not outerspace, but the space between space” receiving knowing nods from Indiana, something just seems off. And you’d hope Spielberg would have the good sense (obviously Lucas doesn’t) to know that just because you can do something with CGI doesn’t mean you should. So, the killer ant scene, indubitably meant to be this films icky installment a le the dinner scene in Temple of Doom, the rats in Last Crusade or the snakes in Raider, gives the viewer an opportunity to sit back and thing about the progression of CGI, not squirm in their seats.
Speaking of Spielberg, his flourishes are on display throughout the movie. In particular, the opening shot of a group of kids in a T-Bucket racing an army convey is greatness. The sweeping camera, interesting angles, and undeniable fun are contagious. Enjoy it while you can. It’s the best scene in the film. C+