It's 19 years since Indiana Jones — plus his dad, plus the sidekicks — rode off into the sunset having seen off the Nazis (again) and saved the world once more through the medium of, er, archaeology. The Last Crusade was a fitting end to the Indy trilogy, so the news that there was to be a fourth film was a bit of a mixed blessing. On the one hand who doesn't want to know what happened next? On the other... well, it's 19 years and, as the mysterious "they" say, you can never go back.
So is it a good idea? In a word ... yes. The title might be clunky, the plot might all over the shop, the philosophy might be bizarre — there's a hint of E.T. AND Close Encounters here: seriously, it's like Spielberg's Greatest Hits — but the moment Harrison Ford puts the hat on, unfurls the whip and THAT theme plays? Sold. Completely and utterly sold. If I'm being brutally honest, the creaking holes, the under-developed secondary characters and the occasionally dodgy effects should earn it three stars, tops. But the hat, the whip, THAT theme? If they're not worth a star then I don't know what is.
Spielberg follows the standard Indy formula pretty much all the way. There's a big opening scene to introduce the bad guys (Russians this time), bring in the main nemesis (Blanchett as Stalin's favourite scientist Irina Spalko), hint at the central theme (the mysterious powers of, ahem, alien visitors), tip a cheeky wink at the audience (ooh, look, it's The Ark of the Covenant) and put Indy in peril several times in quick succession, be it at the end of Russian bullets or in a lead-lined fridge while a nuclear test erupts around him. Then there's a brief respite in the classroom, to remind us all that this adventurer has a day job which, these days, is as a greying professor. However, his recent fridge-related incident in the Nevada Desert has piqued the curiosity of the FBI and, in these McCarthyist times, they suspect that Indy's interests are decidedely un-American. So, with early retirement threatened, Indy's off to Leipzig for a final gentle round of academia. Yeah right. Before the train can pull away, he's been thrown into a kidnap plot by young Mutt Williams (LaBeouf), chased by the KGB, solved puzzles in Peru and been seized by the Russians once again. They need Indy to find out what his old mate Oxley (Hurt) is on about, because the Russians suspect he knows the way to Eldorado where, as well as the Golden City of legend, Spalko expects to find the (alien) secret to knowledge that will enable her to build the world's most powerful psychic weapon.
Yeah, I know, I know. On paper it sounds less hokum, more utter bollocks. But if anyone sneers about the alien/Inca plot twist being far-fetched just ask them if that means Raiders of the Lost Ark was a documentary? And if that doesn't work, walk away smug in the knowledge that your inner child is still alive and well and craving Smarties while theirs has grown up to be a smug little swot with no friends. Alternatively, just smack 'em. You have my permission ... and look at 'em, they're just asking for it. The whole point of the Indiana Jones movies is to be fun, to give the audience a hint of the old Saturday morning serials and to provide top-notch escapist thrills. And Kingdom of the Crystal Skull delivers all of that. By the hatload. Hell, you even get the feeling that the sometimes dodgy effects are not oversights but Spielberg paying tribute to his inspiration, with his tongue firmly in his cheek.
Ford may be getting older, but he and Spielberg make highly satisfactory nods to that without it becoming a boring running joke. Hurt and Blanchett clearly revel in their respective chances to ham it up. Winstone gets little to do as Indy's sidekick Mac but makes the most of it, while Allen returns — and charms — as love-interest/sparring partner Marion. Best of all, LaBeouf is enormously likeable; so likeable, in fact, that the hint that he'll be taking on the fedora for a new series of adventures actually feels like a very good idea indeed.
We hoped it wouldn't suck. We hoped that it wouldn't sully our memories. Those prayers have been answered. This fourth installment might not be on a par with Raiders but it's certainly up there with the sequels. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you a genuine, authentic new Indiana Jones movie — and that has to be one of the most pleasurable sentences I've ever had the privilege to type.
CASSAM LOOCH **½ Now that Dr Jones is getting on in years, you can imagine him sitting by an old fireplace spinning yarns to the grandchildren. Henry Jones Jnr Jnr Jnr wants to hear the story about the Ark. Precocious Shortround wants to be enthralled by the Temple of Doom again and young Marcus is dying to find out what happens at the end of the search for the Holy Grail. Indiana smiles and places his trusty fedora on his greying head. "How about the Crystal Skull?" he suggests. The kids pause for a second ... and then run away. That's their least favourite of his stories.
It's not that Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is any less of an adventure — if anything, it trumps its predecessors in thrills and scope. But whereas we once had Indiana and possibly one sidekick (Marion, Shortround and of course Jones Snr) here we get a rogue's gallery of hangers-on. Ford might no longer be able to do all the stunts required, so I can forgive the out of place Shia LaBeouf (Marlon Brando he ain't) as well as the return of Marion Ravenwood, but the hits just keep on coming. There's just not enough for everyone to feel necessary to the plot and as such the focus shifts away from the main star without just cause. The fantastical finale is one leap of faith too far, the slight whiff of the extraordinary from the earlier films is replaced by some seriously OTT shenanigans. Still miles better than the Mummy/Tomb Raider/National Treasure franchises, Crystal Skull just about warrants a place in the Indy box set — but you'll only watch it as a last resort having seen the other three many time before.
Listen to Cassam's full review on the Jas Rao breakfast show on the BBC Asian Network
STUART O'CONNOR **** Can I get a "hallelujah" and a "praise the lord"? The new Indiana Jones film doesn't suck (or, for all you Sun readers, s*ck). In fact, it's better than we could have hoped, given the recent track record of George Lucas (who will never, ever be forgiven for just how bad the Star Wars prequel trilogy was). It looks like the combined power of Steven Spielberg, Frank Marshall and Harrison Ford managed to keep a tight rein on Lucas — for which, again, we can only say hallelujah. The reviews for Crystal Skull have been mixed to say the least, which makes me wonder just what critics were wanting, or expecting. What we got was an Indiana Jones film, just as good as the first three — no more, no less. Indy might be 20 years older than when we last saw him, but he hasn't slowed down or lost his nose for action and adventure. Spielberg again delivers a well-paced rollercoaster ride that doesn't flag for a second of its two-hour running time.
MICHAEL EDWARDS * I can't decide what I'm more disappointed by, the poor quality CGI monkeys swinging gleefully branch to branch with LaBeouf or the army of nostalgia monkeys emptying their pockets into the massive vats of gold already possessed by Spielberg, Lucas and Ford. This is a totally average, one-dimensional action film of a breed that should have (and I thought did) die out a few decades ago. Don't get me wrong, I loved the original Indy films, along with Star Wars, the Goonies and the cartoon films of Hayao Miyazaki; they proved the staple diet for my developing imagination. But why oh why would these already bloated Hollywood fatcats disparage the memory of their own creation by presenting us with an ageing hero who is but a frail spectre of his former self? Sure, Ford remains as likeable as ever in the role but watching him scamper around all hunched over with his trousers pulled up to his midriff was just depressing.
And let me put one more thing out there: the "Crystal Skull" looked shit! All this expensive CGI plus some intricately designed set work to recreate the magic of original secret doorways, winding mazes and jungle racing circuits and for the prized possession, the object of power running the show, they give us a stupid-looking piece of plastic that would look at home in one of those shops that sell Dungeons and Dragons board games, Warhammer, poorly crafted dragon statues and dreamcatchers. (Don't pretend you don't know what I'm talking about.) If all people want is a reminder of their childhood, some completely over-the-top chase scenes, corny one-liners and CGI, then this is passable. But in my opinion this kind of lazy movie powered by big-budget effects and franchise loyalty deserve to be consigned to the past. Did you CGI lovers learn nothing from Jurassic Park? HOLLYWOOD: STOP RESURRECTING DINOSAURS!