Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls


Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Screenplay: David Koepp
Starring: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Cate Blanchett & Shia LaBeouf

Henry Jones Jr, or Indiana as he's more commonly known, returns after a hiatus of nearly 20 years. Harrison Ford, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg all return to one of the franchises that made their names. Indy is older, greyer and a little creakier but when it comes to action and spectacle, he still has it. More importantly, it's Harrison Ford who still has it. Whilst Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls is a superb, old fashioned action adventure there are a few bumps along the way and it's Ford's performance that holds everything together.

Without spoiling the story too much, as it's more rewarding knowing as little as possible, Indy is now transplanted into the 1950s but still getting himself into all kinds of bother while looking for rare antiquities. The 1950s setting is beautifully captured and sets the first Indy film in a different era. This is no bad thing and while some may balk at the sci-fi flavour the film is given, playing up the 1950s fear of paranoia and invasion, it works well and gives this instalment its own distinctive feel. Raiders of the Lost Ark was the gritty, hard boiled instalment; Temple of Doom the dark, violent, voodoo themed instalment; The Last Crusade the more light hearted, action romp; while Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls is Indy's satab at sci-fi. He also goes up against some pesky Russians who also tap into the era's fear of Communism. They are headed by the evil Agent Spalko, played by the excellent and scene stealing Cate Blanchett, who seems to be having a whale of a time. The rest of the cast are good, if somewhat under used, even golden boy, Shia LaBeouf. He's good for sure but like the rest of the cast not always given much to do. Ray Winstone and John Hurt never get enough screen time and while it's great to see Karen Allen's Marion Ravenwood back from Raiders, where has all her feistiness gone?

Now the action is always great in an Indiana picture, Spielberg and his stunt team crafting expert action sequences that see our hero in full daring do. Kingdom certainly has plenty of them and for the most part, all are exceptional. I say the most part, as unfortunately (and despite what he may have said in the publicity) Spielberg has opted for a lot of CGI. A lot more than was expected. The first half is chock full of great set-pieces sans the over reliance of CGI. The opening gambit in the Lost Ark warehouse and a motorcycle chase are thrilling sequences and vintage Indiana Jones. The stunts are spot on, the editing and camera work clear and the gags funny and thrilling. Unfortunately a later sequence, that itself is a barnstorming set piece, is hampered by too much dodgy CGI. This chase featuring heavily armoured vehicles has great stunt work including Indiana hoping back and forth from one vehicle to the other and firing bazookas, but Spielberg and co then decide to shoe horn in a sword fight and a very strange and out of place looking 'Tarzan' sequence. In an attempt to keep the actors in the action, the backgrounds and CGI just don't work.

The action should have been kept more real, especially to reflect Ford's age. He's in great shape, looks the part and in the earlier action still cuts it. The action of Kingdom is still superb, and worth seeing the film for, just hampered somewhat later on by this over reliance on using computers. Another reviewer stated 'that just because it can be done with a computer, doesn't mean you always should', I second this, as they should have stuck with the real stuff seen in the first part of the movie. Still, the CGI doesn't ruin the film just leaves you with a few niggles. Though that Tarzan bit may just have been a step too far even by Indiana Jones and Spielberg standards. Still, the fedora wearing hero did jump out of a plane with a rubber dinghy as a parachute and then toboggan down the side of a mountain in Temple of Doom, so maybe the flights of fancy in Kingdom aren't too much of a stretch.

Hardened critics and detail obsessed fan boys may find a lot to pick at but they will be missing a great old fashioned action picture. One has to leave nostalgia at the door as the inevitable hype for this film will only let one down. Indy is still the same, only slightly modified. The aforementioned Tarzan bit and a scene involving Indy and the atomic bomb may be a stretch too far but all the good this film delivers, and yes I thought the end and its revelations were great, make up for any nostalgic childhood disappointments. This is mainly due to Ford. If Kingdom is good for one thing it's seeing Ford back as his signature character. Obviously loving every minute of it, he is Indy to a T and credit to the filmmakers for aging the character and working it into the script so we never think we are watching an old man attempting to be a young man. Ford's charisma streaks through every scene and it's just great seeing Indiana Jones in action again.

Maybe not quite as good as the others (and it would have been interesting to see Frank Darabont's script that Spielberg raved about but because Lucas vetoed it, it didn't make it the big screen: damn you Lucas) but bloody good anyway, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls is rip roaring entertainment from start to finish and that is really what the Indy films are all about. See it on the big screen as it may very well be the last.

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