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Arts and Entertainment

Movie Review: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

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An old friend returns. | Photo courtesy of Paramount

Let's get this out of the way right at the top--yes, it's very good and, yes, it is every bit an Indiana Jones movie. Is it another Raiders of the Lost Ark? Well, no, but nothing is and nothing ever will be again. However, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is fully the equal of Temple of Doom or The Last Crusade. If it's the last Indiana Jones movie, then Ford, Spielbergand Lucas have all gone out on a very high note. Of course, there are broad hints--both within the movie and from outside interviews with the creative elements--that new adventures might yet be forthcoming. For now, though, let's forget about all that and go back to the New Mexico desert of 1957.

A car full of teenyboppers roars through the desert. They catch up to a convoy of Army vehicles and playfully race them down a dusty highway. Eventually, the Army vehicles slow and veer off to a secure military facility. They are denied entrance, at which point the machine guns come out and--bang, bang--the movie begins in earnest. You see, these aren't Army guys, they're Russian agents and they've kidnapped Indiana Jones! They lead Jones and his new compatriot, Mac, into a warehouse that you might recognizefrom the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. A very valuable artifact is in that warehouse and the Commies want Jones to find it.

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Double-crosses and triple-crosses. | Photo courtesy of Paramount

If you've seen any of the Indiana Jones movies, you can guess what happens next. Indy is put in a position where it's impossible to escape, but damn if he doesn't try anyway. The ensuing chase is action filmmaking of the highest order. If Spielberg has occasionally let me down with some of his narrative choices, he has never disappointed in the spectacular way he conceives of and films action sequences. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is no exception. Over and over again, you think it's about to conclude, but then another layer of complication is introduced and the sequence continues. When it finally ends, you're almost as exhausted as Indy himself.

It doesn't end for long, though. A few minutes are spent establishing the purpose of this newest adventure: a kid named Mutt (Shia LaBeouf) enlists the aid of Dr. Jones in finding his father figure, Dr. Oxley, who appears to have found one of the legendary crystal skulls. From there, it's chase, chase, chase again as Jones and Mutt are set upon by the Russians in a thrilling ride through the campus of the mythical Barnett College. Of course, they escape and then it's on to further adventures in South America as Jones and Mutt follow the mysterious path laid down by Oxley before his disappearance. The Russians, of course, are in close pursuit.

I'll leave the rest of the film for you to discover (I've covered only the first 20 minutes). What I will say is that an old friend returns, surprising relationships are revealed and there are no shortage of double-crosses. The four large action sequences are all spectacular. Part of this is due, obviously, to the filmmakers but praise should also be reserved for Ford who brings all the weariness of the character back to life. For some, Ford will always be Han Solo but for me his signature role is that of the sly, daring archaeologist. After years of sleepwalking through films, it was great to see a vital Harrison Ford completely immerse himself back into the role of Indy.

The other roles in the film are all ably filled. Ray Winstone, of course, can do no wrong as Mac. As the chief Commie Dr. Spalko, Cate Blanchett has never been more campy, sexy and scary at the same time. In a difficult role that is probably going to catch flak from some quarters, Shia is actually pretty good as Mutt. It's a thankless role (see Short Round), but he proves himself a worthy companion to Jones during the adventure. And, then there's Karen Allen as Marion. She was always the best of Indy's loves and even if she's lost most of her feistiness with age, it was still great to see her back. All that was missing was Sallah(and Marcus Brody).

I admit I was awfully nervous walking into this movie. I'd purposely avoided any exposure to early reviews and spoilers because I wanted to watch it fresh and unblemished. My main fear was that George Lucas would somehow sabotage the movie and diminish the franchise like he did with the Star Wars prequels. I'm happy to say that is not the case. With the exception of a few scenes (specifically, the Tarzan moment), the movie worked exactly as an Indiana Jones movie should--serious when it needed to be, light where it was appropriate, occasionally a little goofy and ultimately thrilling. Welcome back, old friend.