Review: Goin’ back to ‘Indiana’

For a generation weaned on the strange, playfully inventive exploits of Indiana Jones, the resurrection of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg’s long-dormant franchise inspires feverish excitement and a hint of trepidation. Could lightning strike a fourth time, despite the 19-year layoff since Harrison Ford last donned his well-worn fedora? Or would his legacy be tarnished by a lackluster reprise?

Well, the wait is over, and the results are in: “The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” is a more than reasonable facsimile of the Indiana Jones adventures that began in 1981 with “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” If it feels a shade less inspired than its epic forebears, that’s to be expected. How many times can Dr. Jones crack the whip and grapple with snakes before déjà vu sets in?

At least once more, from the look of things.

Ford, fit as ever at a Medicare-eligible 65, still exudes the boyish self-confidence that remains Jones’ most enduring quality. If anyone questions his ability to tackle the role he created as much with his unflappable charm as his physical presence, “The Crystal Skull” should put those doubts to rest.

He is joined by one familiar face — Karen Allen, returning to the series for the first time since “Raiders” as Jones’ on-again, off-again love interest — and by newcomer Shia LaBeouf, whose impetuous, greasy-haired sidekick seems more a concession to Ford’s advancing age than a narrative necessity.

Together, they take on an army of Russian mercenaries (led by Cate Blanchett, in full dominatrix mode) on a quest to secure the crystal skulls, alien artifacts whose powers are, in the context of a story every bit as absurd as any other Indiana Jones adventure, utterly baffling.

But that too is to be expected. “The Crystal Skull,” in keeping with the giddy spirit of its predecessors, is highly stylized pulp fiction, complete with flying saucers, flesh-eating ants and physical feats that defy the imagination — none more dazzlingly implausible than Jones’ escape from a nuclear testing facility.

During those moments, when the film indulges its most audacious fantasies, Spielberg’s magic touch is most evident.

The burning question, of course, is whether “The Crystal Skull” lives up to the expectations fostered by “Raiders” and its sequels, the criminally underrated “Temple of Doom” (1984) and 1989’s “Last Crusade.”

It’s a close call. David Koepp’s screenplay, written with sizable contributions from Lucas and “Rush Hour 3” author Jeff Nathanson, is surprisingly flat at times, leaving Ford and company to wrestle with dialogue that feels labored and lacking in rhythm. (Even Blanchett’s villain, whose eyes burn with the promise of unspeakable malice, seems strangely underdeveloped.)

The result is a story imaginative in concept but, in its lesser moments, pedestrian in execution. Still, it’s as good as it needs to be to justify its place in the Indiana Jones canon, and that should be enough for fans of any age.

CREDITS

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (3 stars)

Starring: Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett, Karen Allen, Shia LaBeouf, Ray Winstone

Written by David Koepp, George Lucas, Jeff Nathanson

Directed by Steven Spielberg

Rated PG-13

Running time 2 hours, 4 minutes

artsentertainmentOther Arts

Just Posted

Plan Bay Area 2050 is an expansive plan guiding the region’s growth and development over the next three decades. The regional plan addresses progressive policy priorities like a universal basic income and a region-wide rent cap, alongside massive new spending on affordable housing and transportation infrastructure. (Shutterstock)
$1.4 trillion ‘blueprint’ would address Bay Area’s housing, transit woes

Analyzing the big ticket proposals in ‘Plan Bay Area 2050’

A felled tree in San Francisco is pictured on Fillmore Street following a major storm that produced high winds and heavy rains on Oct. 24, 2021. (Photo courtesy of Philip Ford)
Storm updates: Sunday was wettest October day in San Francisco history

Torrential rainfall causes flooding, triggers evacuations in burn areas

On Sunday, California bore the brunt of what meteorologists referred to as a bomb cyclone and an atmospheric river, a convergence of storms that brought more than half a foot of rain to parts of the Bay Area, along with high winds, concerns about flash floods and the potential for heavy snow in the Sierra Nevada. Much of the Bay Area was under a flash flood watch on Sunday, with the National Weather Service warning of the potential for mudslides across the region. (NOAA via The New York Times)
Bomb cyclone, atmospheric river combine to pummel California with rain and wind

What you need to know about this historic weather event

While Kaiser Permanente patients seeking mental health care will get a 30-minute phone assessment within days, in many cases, they cannot get actual treatment for months. (Shutterstock)
City employees face months-long wait time for mental health care

‘We are in the midst of a mental health crisis’

Klay Thompson, left, and his boat dealer Kenyon Martin take on his test drive on the NBA star’s 37-foot vessel; injury woes sent Thompson, the Golden State guard, looking for solace. He found it on the water. (Courtesy Anthony Nuccio via New York Times)
Warriors star finds love with his fishing boat

Being on the water is a ‘safe space’ for Klay Thompson

Most Read