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Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (12A)
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Reviewed by: Dave Witt

It's been nearly two decades since the third Indiana Jones film, [...and the] Last Crusade, hit cinemas. Since then, we've had countless Tomb Raiders (games and – less acceptably – films), Mummys and National Treasures queuing up for our displaced grave-robbing, fist-fighting and puzzle-solving affection. After a lifetime (in terms of the audience of the new film, at least) of ancillary exploration of temples, tombs and tunnels, is there really anything left for the original subterranean trailblazers? Or is this (shock horror) the Phantom Menace with a fedora and bullwhip?

See these tracks? That means Jesus came this way
See these tracks? That means Jesus came this way

According to internet rumours (officially the world's greatest source of reputable truth), a succession of screenwriters churned out draft after draft for the fourth Indy film over the intervening years, but on each occasion one of the holy trinity of Spielberg, Lucas or Ford objected. It took David Koepp, scribe of Carlito's Way and Jurassic Park (but also its sequel, before you're too impressed), to produce an acceptable amalgam of all that had gone before and secure the approval of all three. And thus, after years on the Hollywood BackBurner™, Indy IV brought the old gang back together. And it would have to be said that the emphasis here is on old.

At 65, Harrison Ford may have assumed his whip-cracking and forward-rolling days were over and done with; behind the camera, Spielberg and Lucas also clock in at pensionable age. The cast is fogeyed out by Karen Allen (56), Ray Winstone (51), John Hurt (68) and Jim Broadbent (59); at the other end of the scale, Cate Blanchett at 38 is a relative whippersnapper, and Shia LeBeouf at 21 barely a twinkle in his father's eye. Covering the time gap, the film is set in 1957, and the world has moved on since the Nazi-foiling exploits of the previous films. The Russians are now the enemy in the age of Cold War Communist paranoia, and the salient chunk of the title is an artefact that must be kept out of their hands at all costs, probably.

Apparently Spielberg was secretive to the point of paranoia about the film's plot, signing all cast and crew to non-disclosure agreements and even firing an extra who let slip some minor details. I think I can see why – the actual subject of the film is... well, ludicrous; I wonder if he was slightly ashamed of it. Your enjoyment of the film as a result is going to hinge on how much you're willing to indulge Spielberg and Lucas on this one (especially Lucas), and how fond your memories of the original three films are. Crystal Skull is closest in tone to Last Crusade (although I remember Sean Connery being funnier than Shia LaBeouf), but the overall name of the game is Fun. There's little in terms of darkness or menace, indeed there's not even a lot of archaeology – there are, on the other hand, plenty of action sequences, fist-fights, and quips.

If you're willing to look beyond the absurdities and the improbabilities (and it's not like this is supposed to be the Godfather, after all), you're left with a rollicking good ride. Ford is simply perfect as the weather-beaten Dr Jones Jr, picking up where he left off nineteen years ago and sliding straight back into the role like a pair of comfortable old slippers. It's the best he's been in a very long time. Blanchett is also excellent as a Russian in a bad haircut, complete with impressive stunt-work. Honourable mention should go too to LaBeouf, who does his best as a vaguely two-dimensional character (although it's apparent that the powers that be are plotting to continue the franchise around him, and I'm less comfortable with that). The rest of the cast, despite apparent calibre, are wasted as wall ornamentation (not literally).

With a reputed cost of $185m, it's got to be the most expensive Sunday matinee ever produced, but its purpose as just that should not be overlooked. The producers claim to have gone to great lengths to reproduce the look and feel of the originals, and minimise the use of CGI over stunts. Indeed, the film has a studio feel and looks in exterior shots like it is all a matt painting, so they achieved their goal there. Ironically, it is the CGI that stands out badly, jarring with the rest of the film, and you will have to strain to overlook it in places.

Boisterous, familiar, resonant and absurd, Crystal Skull is certainly no terrestrial Phantom Menace; much of the film feels like a battle between Spielberg and Lucas, with the ideas of each taking turn. The original Indiana Jones films were overblown and cartoonish (they were! Go and check), and this is no exception. And for every ridiculous vine-swinging moment, there's a well-rehearsed gag, impressive stunt or simply joyous moment. Don't expect art, don't expect logic, and don't expect sense; expect Indiana Jones.

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Length: 122 minutes
Certificate: 12A
Official Site: http://www.indianajones.com/site/index.html
IMDB Link: http://uk.imdb.com/title/tt0367882/
Release Date: 22nd May 2008

Top Five Rating: 70.0%70.0%70.0%70.0%70.0%70.0%70.0%70.0%70.0%70.0% (70.0%)
User Rating: 55.0%55.0%55.0%55.0%55.0%55.0%55.0%55.0%55.0%55.0% (55.0%)

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