It's been almost 20 years since Harrison Ford cracked the whip and donned his trademark fedora as Indiana Jones. Fans, who were entranced by Ford's rugged and manly, yet thoroughly intellectual portrayal of Jones, have been eagerly chomping at the bit for a new film to wet their whistle.
With everyone worrying about the quality of the latest adventure, especially considering George Lucas' apparent ability to make a film terrible just by being associated with it, the question on everyone's mind is if the fourth movie will be face-meltingly awesome or tear the heart out of the collective fan base. The answer is somewhere in the middle: it isn't Raiders of the Lost Ark, but it isn't as awful as Temple of Doom.
Like the old serials the Indiana Jones movies were based on, the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is crafted from the interests of the '50s movie going public at the time. Instead of the '40s Nazis and thugees, it's those silly communists. The tales of fantastical religious artifacts and adventures in the Middle East are replaced with mystical South America and, yes, aliens. People may be a little taken aback by the sudden science fiction turn of the series with the alien plot, but it is firmly rooted in the cinematic tradition of the Jones dynasty.
The plot is classic adventure fare. Evil, ideological bad guys are coming to take over the world and the plucky protagonist needs to use all his wisdom and guile to prevent that from happening. Ford proves that he can still play the lovable rogue and he finally gets to meet his Leia in perma-spunky Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) who is back since her first appearance in Raiders.
While the two have instant chemistry on screen, it is Shia LaBeouf's tough, street-smart, greaser named Mutt Williams that is the most surprising delight. LaBeouf usually plays the bumbling everyman, but gets an opportunity to be a full-blooded action hero in this film. While he does play a comedic role, he manages to always be on equal footing with Ford and is never a chump, a good move on Spielberg's part, despite some more questionable choices, like the absurd vine-swinging scene.
Beyond the glowing moments, there are problems with Crystal Skull. The last bit of the climax is a ridiculous, Close Encounters of the Third Kind-esque attempt at cleaning everything up in a neat, little package. There are a few moments of utter absurdity, like a scene where Jones is getting interrogated and suddenly has to look into the titular crystal skull. It's far less scary than likely intended.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull isn't going to beat out Raiders for best Indy instalment. It can't capture that whirlwind, lightning-in-a-bottle moment of the sheer joy of the first film. Despite that, the franchise hasn't shrivelled up into a skeleton and can even go on strong for another trilogy, though hopefully with less aliens and more rootin', tootin' action.