Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

The Plot

It’s 1957 (or thereabouts.) Indy joins forces with Fonzie to track down a missing scientist and recover the crystal skull of one of the Roswell alien’s kin so he can return it to a lost city of gold in Peru before the Commies get it and use its power to take over the world.

OK, Fonzie isn’t really Arthur Fonzarelli of Happy Days, but the leather jacket-wearing, motorcycle-riding kid who turns out to be Indy’s son (like we couldn’t see that coming) does a good impression, including his obsessive preoccupation with his hair.

The Good

It’s nice to see another Indiana Jones movie at all, and this one isn’t bad. Aging Harrison Ford (he’ll be 66 this summer) plays the aging archeologist well and Shia LaBeouf does a good job as Indy’s rebel-without-a-clue son.

The action is well-choreographed and the pace is fairly consistent with only brief but necessary pauses to explain the convoluted plot.

There’s a fair bit of humor and in-jokes, like the fact that Shia’s character, Henry Williams, chose “Mutt” as his nickname, while Indiana named himself after his own dog.

The Bad

Karen Allen seems a bit strained in her reprised role as Marion Ravenwood, Indy’s love interest from Raiders of the Lost Ark, and the old married couple bickering between Indy and Marion seems feigned.

Cate Blanchett is underused as the villan; she could have brought much more to the role.

John Hurt plays the confused Professor Oxley well, but the character is just annoying.

But the real problem with Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is that we’ve seen it all before. The precisely timed impossible chase scene. The ancient but still perfectly functioning booby traps. The artifact with mysterious powers.

True, the father-son reunion adds an interesting twist to the story, but it’s mostly a rehash of what we saw between Indy and his own father in the Last Crusade.

The inconsistently magnetic alien crystal skull is just silly and the aliens returning to their own dimension — the “space between spaces” as a remarkably recovered Oxley explains it — is unsatisfying and contrived.

We just don’t feel the same buoyancy we did at the end of the Last Crusade.

Missing and sorely missed are Sean Connery as Henry Jones senior and Denholm Elliott as Marcus Brody. In this story, both have passed on. (Connery wisely refused to come out of retirement and Elliott really has passed on.)

One would think that with the number of re-writes they went through with this script, they could have come up with a story that didn’t stretch the cords of credulity to the breaking point. Perhaps the problem was there were too many cooks in the kitchen. David Koepp’s screenplay of George Lucas’ story might have been better without interference from the dozens who reportedly added their own pinch of salt. Still, Crystal Skull is better and lighter than Temple of Doom and any Indy is better than nothing.

It’ll be interesting to see if Shia LaBeouf returns as the lead in the next installment. He is, after all, Henry Jones the Third.

Random Notions rating: 3 out of 5