UPDATE: Lisa’s full review of Indiana Jones 4 is now available here.
IF YOU ARE A PLOT PURIST AND DON’T WANT TO KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT THIS MOVIE, DON’T READ THE FOLLOWING!
It’s a measure of the unique panache of the aging guy in the fedora that people started lining up hours ahead in the full midday Cannes sun for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. And in the few moments of silence and dark screen before the Lucasfilm logo appeared, uncontainable devotees in the balcony began singing the famous four-note theme — dahhh-di-duh DAH — that’s as much a part of the Indy experience as the expectation of a bullwhip well used.
I felt like singing, too. And I burst out in a laugh of pleasure when Henry Jones II first appears — rumpled, grimy, his gray hair thinning, within sight of his iconic topper but not within reach. (Indy has been kidnapped by Russians posing as U.S. military personnel in the New Mexico desert — long story — and brought to the feet of Cate Blanchett, in rich Natasha Badanov mode as a Soviet mind-control expert in hot pursuit of the title skull.) There’s joy and a middle-aged playfulness to the best of Steven Spielberg’s unlikely sequel. And I mean that as a full compliment: All the movieman’s themes are here, his interests, obsessions, trademark strengths as a cinematic storyteller, and Spielbergian "tells," too, with hubcap and sideview mirror reflections dating back over 35 years to Duel.
Harrison Ford? Terrific — and re-energized after too many recent action roles he has appeared to sourly resent. This older, creakier (but still spry) adventure hero wears his worldly wryness with even greater earned authority. Shia LaBeouf? Inspired, channeling one-half James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause, the other half Spielbergian Everyson.
The "but" that dangles in this instant reaction (a longer, more archaeological review will follow) is that The Crystal Skullthreatens at times to crumble under the weight of all the impersonalzigging and zagging loaded on for the sake of special effects. Theprecious ancient cranium itself — where it came from, how to keep itout of the hands of the Russkies and get it to where it belongs — is oflittle interest, no matter how many waterfalls loom, monkeys swing, andlocks unmesh. The first bravura action sequence is kickass, the 11th or12th is industrial filler that makes swaths of the two-hour runningtime drag.
I love Indy, and his long-lost son, and Karen Allen as hisrediscovered old flame, Marion Ravenwood, too. As with every Spielbergmovie, family psychology drives the story, while skeletons,extraterrestrials, jungle tribesmen, and foreign villains make themost noise. I get the rudimentary, mass-audience political jokes andallusions, from the bomb-shelter-era quaintness of old-style Russkiesto the tweedy dean who says, "I barely recognize this country anymore."I also think time has not dulled Indy’s survival instincts, but neitherhas it inspired any risk taking on the part of the franchise owners. This is a 90-minute story pumped up to 123 minutes, not so much onsteroids as on Frappuccino, and the chance sing the old four-note tuneagain.