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Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull [Theatrical Release] by Steven Spielberg (Director)
David Koepp (screenplay)
George Lucas (Story)
Review by Drew Bittner
Paramount Theatrical Release  ISBN/ITEM#: B00005JPNZ
Date: May 2008

Links: IMDB Entry / Movie Website / Trailer / Show Official Info /

Indiana Jones is back! Nineteen years after his last adventure, Indy is thrust into the middle of a struggle to possess a crystal skull. Legend says that returning it to its lost home confers great power -- but can Indy outwit and outrace a Soviet team to the prize?

If not, the Cold War might get pretty darned hot for Indy and his friends ...

Harrison Ford ... Henry "Indiana" Jones Jr.
Cate Blanchett ... Irina Spalko
Karen Allen ... Marion Ravenwood
Shia LaBeouf ... Mutt Williams
Ray Winstone ... George 'Mac' McHale
John Hurt ... Prof. Harold Oxley
Jim Broadbent ... Dean Charles Stanforth

Taken to Area 51 and dragged from the trunk of a car, Indiana Jones starts off up to his neck in trouble. In Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the titular adventurer is older but no less reckless; but now, instead of Nazis, he's contending against a group of Soviet operatives led by Irina Spalko (Blanchett), a scientist investigating psychic weaponry for Stalin in 1957.

She's on the trail of a crystal skull, discovered at Roswell, N.M., in 1947. Indy was part of the team that studied artifacts of this legendary crash, and she wants his (unwilling) help in retrieving the skull for the USSR. Once the skull is found, Indy makes a daring escape, only to end up in a model village ... which will be destroyed in an atomic bomb test. Surviving through a desperate but clever stratagem, Indy is found -- and immediately accused of collaborating with the nation's enemies by the FBI.

Things go from bad to worse and Indy packs up to leave his college sanctuary. He is found by Mutt (LaBeouf), a motorcycle-riding teenager with a chip on his shoulder and a missing stepfather. He leads Indy into trouble all over again, as it seems the KGB is tracking Mutt as well as Indy. After a chase through Indy's college, they make their way to Peru to begin solving the puzzle left by Mutt's stepfather, Harold Oxley (Hurt). They find the skull, hidden by Oxley some time past, and land in trouble all over again.

The Soviets catch up with Indy in the Peruvian jungle, where Spalko threatens not only Indy's life, but that of her other hostage: Marion Ravenwood (Allen), last seen in Raiders of the Lost Ark. It turns out she has a connection to Mutt as well ...

Indy's only chance is to wrest the skull from the Commies and beat them to the lost city of El Dorado, where a fabulous treasure awaits. If his luck runs true to form, it's going to be one exciting chase, culminating in a most unexpected discovery.

Kingdom is the latest and probably last of the Indiana Jones series. As such, it wraps up some an important relationship (left unmentioned in Last Crusade) and brings some closure to the age of mysticism and wonder in which Indy flourished. It is a new age, the Atomic Age -- shown in iconic fashion as Indy watches a mushroom cloud rise over the Nevada desert -- and Indy's heyday is past. But before he goes, he has one last big adventure in him.

The action is slam-bang right from the beginning, with treacherous allies (e.g., Ray Winstone's Mac, Indy's longtime buddy from World War II), lethal enemies (Blanchett's Spalko) and new members of the team (LaBeouf's Mutt and Hurt's Oxley in particular). From Nevada to the American Northeast to the depths of Peru and the Amazon rain forest, there's hardly a moment where Indy isn't in motion or fighting for his life.

That's not to say that character moments are left out. There have been losses -- Indy refers to two major supporting characters who've passed on in the past year -- and Broadbent's Dean Stanforth says they've reached the age when life stops giving you things ... but that's hardly true, as Indy learns. If anything, his rediscovery of Marion is a moment of transcendent joy -- just before they start fighting, echoing the rhythms of their younger Raiders-era selves. Ford and Allen are a fantastic screen duo, with incredible chemistry; none of their moments together strike a false note. Ford expands Indy's horizons even further as new revelations challenge Indy.

Okay, SPOILER ALERT. This has been reported pretty heavily in entertainment media but ...

Mutt is Marion's son, and Indy's as well. Discovering he's a father brings entirely new dimensions to Indiana Jones, as he's fighting not just for himself or a lover, but for his whole family. The filmmakers don't pretend he's as young and durable as before; his age is a running point in the movie, in fact. But Ford has rarely been this good, this self-assured as an actor, and it's great to see him leave Indiana Jones on such a high note professionally.

Likewise, the ensemble brings their A-game to the show. Allen picks up just where she left off as Marion, beautiful and tough as nails, while LaBeouf is completely believable as their kid. Blanchett has a more thankless role, creating a Soviet scientist-spy whose game plan seems a trifle unsupported (how does anyone know the crystal skulls are related to psychic phenomena?), but she handles a sword real well and has an easy-to-understand motivation: she wants to know the truth. In her way, she's just as obsessed as Indy; thing is, she has a bunch of soldiers backing her up.

Winstone pulls off the trickier part of making Mac a cipher through the film. Is he what he seems to be or not? It will leave most viewers guessing up to the very end. Similarly, Hurt is challenged by a character who's not all there; Oxley suffered some kind of neural trauma from exposure to the crystal skull, which has left him as their nearly autistic guide to the lost city. Hurt brings a childlike innocence to Oxley, fetching "help" (e.g., the Soviets) when Indy and Marion are in dire straits and mouthing cryptic hints when appropriate. It's a great performance.

The story rockets along like a great B-movie serial, with plenty of plot holes and some wacky logic, but Kingdom isn't a movie that requires (or stands up to) deep thinking. It's a rollercoaster ride with plenty of "ooh!" during its two-hour running time. If you're looking for that summer escape from the everyday, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is the movie you're looking for.

Strongly recommended.

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