If the Indiana Jones films that were set in the 30s were to pay homage to the serials of the time, then by moving Indy (Harrison Ford) into the 50s it makes sense, from a cinematic historical point of view that the film would include nuclear weapons, aliens and UFOs.
That doesn’t mean it translated to a strong story or film, and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull quickly replaced Temple of Doom as the weakest of the series, though it brought Karen Allen’s Marion back into the fold, gave nods to the retirement of Sean Connery from acting, and the passing of Denholm Elliot.
This time out Indy tangles with the Russians, led by Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett) as he sets out in pursuit of a crystal skull which wasn’t carved by any technology known to man, and may house incredible powers.
Joining Indiana this time out are not only Marion, but Mutt (a horribly miscast of Shia LaBeouf), the untrustworthy Mac (Ray Winstone) and Oxley (John Hurt).
The film ends up being a hodgepodge of enjoyable and horrible. The fact that Indy knows he’s getting older is interesting, as are the tie-ins to The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, and line nods and lifts to other moments. Things go off the rails any time the film incorporates a lot of computer-generated visual effects, whether it’s in the poorly executed jungle chase (including a terrible Tarzan sequence) or the alien climax which lacked the mystery, wonder and horror of either the climax of Close Encounters of the Third Kind or Raiders of the Lost Ark.
You can tell right from the off, before the infamous nuked fridge sequence, when we and then Indy encounters CGI gophers that things aren’t going to go well.
Instead of embracing the practical effects side of things that worked so well for the other films, the film leaned into its computer-generated images, and those moments glare at the viewer from the screen.
As great as the idea of Indy coming back for another adventure was, the story needed just a little more to it. There is a great idea here, especially playing into the intriguing mythologies and history of South America, but this wasn’t it.
Harrison is still perfect as Indy, and Karen Allen is a delight, but a lot of the rest of the film doesn’t work. It goes from having a sense of fun to trying too hard, and instead of telling us an adventure story with lots of action sequences, it plays more like a bit of a theme park ride.
That doesn’t mean I’m not tentatively hopeful for Indy 5, and it doesn’t mean that there aren’t moments of this film that I really like, but overall, this wasn’t the way to go.