19 years after the previous film detailing the events in the life on Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford), Kingdom of the Crystal Skull shows up, expecting to pick right back up where the last movie left off. Except for the fact that, yes, Ford is older, and yes, that two-decade gap in time has been accounted for. Indiana Jones is old now, and if you expect him to be as exciting and lovable as he previously was, you’re going to be disappointed. He has changed in his old age.
We learn near the beginning that Jones, archaeologist and college professor, won more medals in WW2 than most men. Perhaps that’s why he’s changed. War does that to people, after all, and I figure that, if Ford wasn’t as old as he is, a film about Indy’s adventures in war would be very enjoyable. He fought against the Nazis twice before, anyway, but not in any traditional war setting. Oh well. Jones eventually gets captured by some Soviet agents, and is forced into a military hangar to find a chest containing … something. You see a hand, but that’s about it.
Indy escapes, because he needs to in order for the movie to progress. He’s eventually drawn into the adventure of his lifetime (or so the film wants you to believe), after a young kid, Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf), calls on him for help. Mutt’s mother, Mary, has been captured, and she apparently told Mutt to find Indy because he can rescue her. Surprise of all surprises occurs when we find out that “Mary” is short for Marion (Karen Allen), the love interest from Raiders of the Lost Ark, and the strongest female character in the series so far.
So, we have Indy, Marion, Mutt, and a crazy man named Harold Oxley (John Hurt), at some point looking for a crystal skull, and at others looking for the lost city of El Dorado. It’s a race against time and the Soviets — the latter led by a woman named Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett) — with one action scene following another. The breakneck pacing of previous films is attempted here, and while it’s mostly successful, it feels as if something is missing.
That something is the humor that pervaded through the previous installments. It is more in dabs and blotches in this film, not spread out very evenly. There are a couple of really funny points, like when Indy and Marion meet up again, but for the most part, it’s strictly an action movie relying mostly on the chase scenes and any nostalgia that you have left for the series. 19 years is a long time, and if you watched The Last Crusade in theaters and hadn’t seen it since, you can easily be forgiven for no longer caring a lot about the series.
The thing that I didn’t like was what the crystal skulls ended up being. I don’t want to spoil it — and observant viewers will figure out what they are of really early on — but I found the subject matter kind of stupid. The Indiana Jones movies have always been at least partially grounded in realism, even if they did have supernatural elements. What happens here is silly — yes, sillier than a man surviving a nuclear blast by hiding in a fridge — and it’s a bit tough to buy into the premise the film presents to us.
Another issue I had with it, which was the main problem with the first film but to a greater extent here, was that the characters didn’t seem to have too great of an impact on the proceedings. If Indy and company decided to take a break and let the Soviets go through with their plan, not a whole lot would change. While Raiders only had this happen at the very end, about half of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull feels this way. It’s hard to get involved when nothing is being impacted by our main characters.
Something else that didn’t quite work was the way that the filmmakers try to set Mutt up as the new Indiana Jones. I get that Harrison Ford is older now, and that he probably can’t carry many more films — and Hollywood needs a film franchise like this because it’s a money maker — but Mutt wasn’t a well-developed character, and, worse than that, he’s played by Shia LaBeouf, who is nowhere near the actor or screen presence that Ford is.
Speaking of Ford, he picks back right where he left off in the last film. While he’s a couple of decades older, he’s still quite believable as an action hero. The jokes about his age make for most of the humor of the movie. There were a couple of points where it’s obvious that Ford wasn’t performing the stunts, but for most of the time, it seems like it’s him. He and Karen Allen continue to have strong chemistry, and Blanchett makes for an interesting and icy cold villain.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is still a fun film, but it’s missing a lot of the enjoyment that came from previous installments. It has lots of action — and Harrison Ford still works well in the role — but much of the humor is missing and the subject matter is less believable than the other ones. It relies very heavily on nostalgia, which isn’t a great thing when the last movie was made 19 years prior. But if you’re a fan of the series, you’re still likely to enjoy it — just don’t expect it to be as good as any of the first three movies.