Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull review

After nearly twenty years, Dr. Jones is back in cinemas. And how is he liking the fifties, we wonder...?

The world of entertainment has been awash with high-profile comebacks in the last couple of years. Doctor Who, of course, has proven to be a huge success on the small screen, and Led Zeppelin have joined a veritable festival of bands to embark on money-spinning tours. Next week, another blockbuster will be delivered to our screens in the form of ultimate chick-flick, Sex and the City.

Sure, they’ve been successful – some hugely so. But this is an entirely different trove of treasure. It’s Indiana Jones, and there will be hell to pay if Spielberg has screwed it up.

I’m happy to report that he hasn’t, not by a long shot. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is an absolute triumph, and a picture-perfect tribute to one of cinema’s great action franchies. It’s also a little deeper than that, too, pleasing fans with self-referential wry humour and a dollop of sensible direction alongside some of the more lunatic elements of the story.

Not to give anything away, but the plot is a little bit mental. Sure, Raiders of the Lost Ark had its Nazis, The Temple of Doom had human sacrifice and The Last Crusade had, well, the Crusades, but Kingdom of the Crystal Skull could well top that for having an odd, out-there plot. But it fits in this movie – the plot is as over the top as some of the action, and that’s what makes it such a joy to watch.

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And plenty of action there is, too. Reams of set pieces are torn from the screen and practically land in your lap, leaping from celluloid to eyelid with vivacity, weight and huge amounts of enjoyment.

A conscious decision in production was made to steer clear of CGI effects when possible and perform stunts the old-fashioned way, and it’s certainly paid off – everything, from sword-fights on duelling jeeps to motorcycle chases and mad dashes through ancient ruins and treasure-filled warehouses feels suitably weighty and satisfying.

Punches make ridiculous sounds – it’s not so much Sylvester Stallone punching sides of beef as Thor giving Zeus a damn good hiding with his hammer – and it makes for a hugely enjoyable couple of hours.

The rest of the stunts are fantastically done, exhibiting plenty of the old imagination and endeavour that’s made the Indiana Jones franchise such a powerful force. It’s also endearing to see that most of the cast performed their own stunts – even Harrison Ford. Watching the cast close-up during these moments is always better than gazing at the back of some stunt-man’s head.

Of course, Harrison Ford has gotten a little bit older since he last appeared as the legendary Dr Henry Jones Jr. This is referenced several times throughout – often by the surprisingly excellent Shia LeBeouf, as Mutt – and contributes to several funnier moments. It’s gratifying that his aging hasn’t been ignored, and Indy hasn’t been painted as an immortal action hero whose wrinkles have been removed in post-production. It’s a far better movie for it.

Ford’s older, wiser Jones isn’t just a comedy addition to an established individual; it’s been used to develop the character, too. Often, it’s through regression: watching Indiana hurtle around caves and use his ingenuity to fight off fifteen guys is total escapism and harks back to the old days. But he’s also got the older, wiser cynicism and grumpiness that you might expect of someone that age.

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LeBeouf has come in for criticism before the film’s even hit cinemas, and for no reason other than that a fair few people didn’t seem to enjoy his performance in Transformers. As Indiana’s sidekick he’s generally excellent, bringing a new, paternal dimension to the pairing.

Ray Winstone is also good, adding some action to his CV alongside the countless gangster movies. Karen Allen even reprises her role as the superb Marion Ravenwood, easily slipping back into the role she made her own back in Raiders of the Lost Ark. John Hurt and Jim Broadbent appear, too, and are great, as usual.

In fact, the only real weak link in the cast is Cate Blanchett, playing the typically evil Russian villain. It’s pretty much the only depthless character in the movie, and it shows – everything seems geared towards mimicking the classic Communist cliché, and that seems to have been enough for Spielberg. She’s especially weak in the first half of the movie, coming into her own as the slightly ludicrous ending draws nearer.

Luckily, her performance is often masked by the stunning and atmospheric surroundings. Globe-trotting has often been Indiana’s forte, and there’s no shying away from that here, with dank caves, epic ruins, lush jungles and Indy’s college campus all featuring.

Each is produced with aplomb, too, looking as though you could reach out and touch them. Several scenes also highlight the superb lighting that lends the various sets an extra layer of adventurous atmosphere. They’re thick with cobwebs, dust, and thousands of years of dirt and grime – and that’s just Indy’s grizzled face. Luckily, his surroundings follow suit.

One minor complaint could be, potentially, the ending, which may feel a little rushed – quite a lot happens in a pretty short space of time and just about shoe-horns the film under the two hour limit. However, it’s almost forgivable here; Indiana Jones is about break-neck action and an endless soppy ending – I’m thinking Return of the King – probably wouldn’t feel right at all. It’s a tidy way to wrap things up, but leaves you especially aching for more.

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Blanchett and the rushed ending aren’t huge issues, though, in the face of a true summer blockbuster. It’s everything an Indiana Jones film should be: stunning action sequences, a silly – yet riveting – plot, Russians, curses, tombs, caves, jungles, whips and Fedoras, allied with a mountain of adventure and a truckful of nostalgia.

It’s released on Thursday, so do yourself a favour and step back in time to the Indiana Jones classics of a couple of decades ago: it’s two hours of pure entertainment and escapism. And after all, it’s a hell of a lot better than Sex and the City.

4 out of 5

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4 out of 5