Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

That’s the longest title I’ve had to type out yet, I think. But admit it; you’re humming the theme right now. You can’t help it. There are people in Outer Mongolia who know that tune. And it’s all back — the hat, the whip, the wild stunts, and the uniformed bad guys. Okay, this time they’re Soviet soldiers instead of Nazis, but close enough.
It’s 1957, the Cold War is in full swing, and Indy is — well, doing pretty much what he was doing when we last saw him. He’s been nabbed by the bad guys and hauled off to a huge government storage facility filled with poorly labelled crates, because there’s something in that mess that the Soviets (led by Cate Blanchett in a black wig and funky jumpsuit) want. No, it isn’t the crate you’re thinking of. It’s a crate full of something magnetic, only it isn’t, because it attracts gold, which isn’t magnetic, and occasionally repels entirely non-metallic things instead, like giant insects and angry natives.
The crystal skull of the title is basically like these skulls that the new-age types like to use for meditation and psychic energy and stuff. They name them and everything. This one remains nameless, though, and looks like it belongs to a Grey or a Bug-Eyed Monster alien, or whatever they’re called these days. Legend has it that whoever returns the skull to the place it was stolen from, back when the Conquistadors were ransacking everything, will gain control of its power. Where was it stolen from, you ask? Why, the ancient lost city of Acator, of course, better known as El Dorado, the City of Gold. It isn’t really quite a city of gold, sadly, but it is nifty-looking.
The fact that people (including himself) have been searching fruitlessly for this city for centuries doesn’t faze our hero, though, and the intrepid Dr. Jones is soon on his way there, with the nice little journey-marked-on-map sequence that you’re picturing right now. As in Live Free or Die Hard, he now has a younger assistant in tow to help with some of the rough stuff, one Mutt Williams. No, that’s not a typo — he calls himself Mutt. It’s written on his jacket. He’s a 1950’s greaser obsessed with combing his hair, which is amusing, and rides around on a vintage Harley-Davidson, which I’m sure will make some people in the audience drool. Indy seems to think he’s too old for this (though he also wants to prove himself in the face of Mutt’s conviction that an old teacher isn’t going to be any help), but old friends are in danger, and he dives in to the breach.

Just because he always works at night does not make him a grave robber. Honestly.

And in a way, it’s sort of like watching any of the first three movies again (well, maybe not Temple of Doom — that singer drove me crazy, and the new characters here aren’t like that). It sticks to the formula, but isn’t too terribly repetitive. It’s moved with the times, which helps — the gap between the movie and Last Crusade is roughly the same in real life as in the fictional timeline, and Harrison Ford does a good job making Indy a little more world-weary. And he’s still in quite good shape, which impressed me. There are plenty of references to past characters and situations, so watch for those, fun guest-stars, and surprises that aren’t really surprises, but are enjoyable just the same.
The stunts have of course gotten wilder, because they always seem to do that for sequels. Indy takes a ride on a rocket-propelled car, falls down not one but three waterfalls in a little vehicle that looks rather like a Duck from Wisconsin Dells, snags guns with his whip, retrieves his hat from the weirdest places, and even stumbles into a nuclear testing site. (Kids, don’t try this at home!) The violence is still almost cartoonish and not at all bloody, so it’s fairy safe for the younger set, though the huge ants might freak them out. They freaked me out a little — think the scarabs from The Mummy and you’ve got them pretty well pictured. (Technically, they’re African ants and our adventurers were supposed to be in Peru, but since they were actually in Hawaii anyway, it doesn’t really matter.)
So all in all, it was a ‘safe’ movie. The script was solid but predictable, the acting good, the casting excellent, but no one went out on any kind of creative limb. The formula was there and proven, and they stuck with it. But on the other hand, there weren’t any painful moments, either, where they try too hard to recapture old magic and you just end up wincing. Maybe the long gap helped with that, but in any case, it worked pretty well. So a good, solid four idols. It will fit nicely in your collection next to your other Indy DVDs (they even produced it with a sort of eighties look to the film quality, which was cool), and will be nice to haul out to watch again on rainy Saturday afternoons. And really, innovation all the time would just be exhausting.