Indiana Jones is back. It has been 19 years since the last film and the only real marks of change are some CGI-heavy scenes and cinematography that is ever so slightly slicker. It is just as fun and fast-paced as any of the older films. In fact, the story and action move so briskly that the two hours whiz by. The banter is still so playfully bitchy and the action sequences so exciting that it makes it impossible not to feel the same way you did when you first saw the original movies.
In this film Indy finds himself fighting Russian Commies instead of the Nazis, and an occult-obsessed Hitler is traded for an occult-obsessed Stalin. Much like the Hitler of the first and third Indy movies, Stalin believes that the titular artifact (the mystical crystal skull) will lead to great military victory. Stalin puts his top scientist, Colonel-Doctor Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett), on the hunt for the skull, and with a nudge from Mutt Williams, (Shia LaBeouf) Indy ends up on the hunt as well.
Along the way we see that all of the elements that make Indiana Jones great are there. There are two car chase/fight sequences á-la “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” There is the pre-requisite creepy-crawly this time in the form of scorpions and killer ants. There is the love story and aforementioned playful banter. And, of course, there is the mystical ancient treasure and a clue-driven treasure hunt á la “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” and “Raiders of the Lost.”
However it is not all fortune and glory for this film. There are a couple of clunky lines and the denouncement of the film comes off like cheesy fan fiction. The last act of the film in general starts to dip into wacky sci-fi territory and the climax is a little hard to swallow partly because of a very distracting CGI set-piece. The films were always a little cheesy and supernatural, but this film almost pushes it over the top. It isn’t as cheesy or ungainly as “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” but the ending doesn’t do it any favors.
Speaking of the CGI, there are a few other moments where it becomes somewhat distracting. Big computer-generated elements really stand out in a film that is based so much on the raw action of adventure serials. Thankfully, most of the action is done the good old-fashioned way, and the sequences are just as enthralling as they ever were, if not slightly more so. You are pretty much hooked as soon as you hear the first whip-crack punch sound effect in the opening of the film.
The cast also does a great job of pulling the story together. It seems almost an insult to even bring it up but, for the doubters, Harrison Ford is just as agile and badass as he was 20 years ago. The chameleon-like Cate Blanchett transforms into the very epitome of a menacing adventure movie villain.
Finally, despite what some may think, Shia LaBeouf delivers a great performance and fits right in with the Indiana Jones world. He displays the right mix of humor and vulnerability, and is pretty handy with a switchblade and a sword. The haters may as well get used to LaBeouf, as he’s got a huge career ahead of him now (he’s already signed on for two more “Transformers” films as well as another upcoming Steven Spielberg production, a suspense thriller titled “Eagle Eye”). The rest of the cast is also fantastic. Even the minor roles are played by actors I could recognize (Who wouldn’t want to be in an Indiana Jones movie?). This film also marks the return of Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood, who is still as spunky as ever (though it would have been nice to see her a little more).
Indiana Jones is back—the way you feel about this film will most likely depend on how you read that sentence. Do you err on the side of a sarcastic reading partly because of the advertising blitz that has come before the film’s opening? Are you a hardcore fan who reads that sentence and adds three exclamation points to the end? The person that’s going to enjoy this film the most is someone that falls in between these two extremes, i.e. someone looking for the fun of the last movies and isn’t so obsessed with the series or so cynical that they are going to pick it apart and debate each moment. It is definitely worth the price of admission and despite the outlandish climax, it seems to have been worth the wait as well.