Area 51, 1957. Indiana Jones and sidekick Mac are dragged from the boot of a military vehicle. Kidnapped by Soviet forces Dr Jones is coerced into helping them recover a mysterious mummified object he encountered a decade previously. After a daring escape he finds himself teamed up with rebellious youth Mutt and reunited with an old flame as he embarks on a quest to find the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
Rocky Balboa, John McClane, Rambo, classic 80s celluloid icons who've recently returned to the big screen. Now after 19 years the oftmooted fourth entry in the Indiana Jones series arrives, but was it worth the wait? Things begin promisingly with both characters and audience thrown into the adventure and the reintroduction of everyone's favourite archaeologist is well handled. Pensioner Harrison Ford gives a reassuringly appealing performance throwing himself into the role with gusto quickly dispelling any fears his advancing age may have aroused. It's just a shame that he is so ill served by a script that swings between the formulaic and the ridiculous.
Despite Steven Spielberg being in the directors chair, a filmmaker who has provided some of the purest examples of cinematic entertainment, this belated adventure is surprisingly flat with a mechanical narrative that is bereft of any real thrills 'n' spills - apart from an early motorbike chase with Indy moving from bike to automobile and back again before the pursuit continues through the corridors of his college campus. Along for the ride is Shia LaBeouf, complete with rather laughable Brandoesque 50s garb, whose obvious relationship to Indy is probably the film's worst kept secret. Alas the attempt to replicate the father and son dynamic from Last Crusade isn't successfully achieved.
LaBeouf is surrounded by established actors, with Ray Winstone and Jim Broadbent providing acceptable support. John Hurt is on hand to babble incoherently as Professor Oxley, until such time as the script decides he should deliver any required exposition, and just what does that exposition concern? Previous adventures have centred on quests for religious objects, whether it be the Holy Grail or the Sankara Stones they have been satisfyingly epic quests. But George Lucas stretches things here with his story of the search for the titular crystal skull encompassing, as opening scenes in Area 51 would suggest, aliens. Yep, George has decided to thrust Dr Jones into an imitation of cheesy old 50s B movies, along with nutty Erich von Däniken influenced plot developments.
Oh well, at least you can count on some entertaining action? It would appear not as for the most part audiences are force fed a slew of increasingly uninvolving CG assisted set pieces, confirming fan's fears that Lucas would not be able to resist dipping into his digital box of tricks. Events reach their nadir with Mutt sword fighting whilst straddling moving vehicles before swinging through the trees like Tarzan accompanied by a troupe of friendly simians. Not even John Williams' nostalgic score can rescue such shambolic visuals. Although when Karen Allen makes a belated appearance some of the old spark returns, but only serves as a painful reminder of how much this fourth instalment fails to live up to previous adventures. There isn't even a decent adversary for our hero, Soviet villainness Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett) failing to provide any sense of threat. By the time she meets her inevitable demise, as Dr Jones and co attempt to return the Crystal Skull to its ancient resting place for some reason or other, audiences will probably be past caring. Matters not helped by the rather trite "knowledge is treasure" postscript. Whatever happened to fortune and glory?
After two decades its surprising that something so uninspired and lazy has been delivered to fans. Is this really the best that 20 years of scriptwriting could come up with? A muddled amalgam of frankly stupid ideas and increasingly CG heavy action sequences. If this is indeed the final outing for Indy - although the epilogue indicates otherwise as does George Lucas' propensity for milking his franchises for all their worth - it's a rather ignominious end to the career of one of cinemas most iconic and beloved action heroes.
His best films combine thrills with a childlike sense of wonder, but when he turns this to serious films like The Color Purple, Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan, Munich and Bridge of Spies these efforts are, perhaps, less effective than the out-and-out popcorn movies which suit him best. Of his other films, 1941 was his biggest flop, The Terminal fell between two stools of drama and comedy and one-time Kubrick project A.I. divided audiences; Hook saw him at his most juvenile - the downside of the approach that has served him so well. Also a powerful producer.