Indiana Jones is directed by Steven Spielberg, who has been making atrocious movies for years. Though there are aspects of those disasters—War of the Worlds' evisceration and The Terminal's and Munich's moral grayness—in this outing, Mr. Spielberg, undoubtedly aided by producer Frank Marshall, succeeds in putting enjoyable entertainment on the big screen.
The fun begins with Elvis, of course, since this episode takes place in the Fifties and, refreshingly, Mr. Spielberg incorporates an American sense of life. Clean-cut, fresh-faced kids are hot-rodding with some military types on a deserted highway somewhere in Nevada, yet, reflecting America in the Fifties, something seems vaguely though seriously out of place.
An evil is soon exposed in the most thrilling part of the show, in which Indiana makes his entrance, confronting a contingent of communist Russians led by a mannish Soviet female, deliciously played by Cate Blanchett, hamming it up in black-and-blue like she's doing a live, Red version of The Incredibles's Edna Mode with a dominatrix twist.
Returning to the titular role that gave him a career lock on the wisecracking pseudo-hero outside of Star Wars, Harrison Ford (and I am not a fan) rises to the occasion. During several early scenes in an Army warehouse, he swiftly revives the character, and, stunt double or not, his Indiana proves that men need not be brainless and under 30 to be hip and fit. Picking off commies one by one, Mr. Ford looks terrific.
Of course, they are not commies in the proper sense, and that is ultimately a drawback. Despite a line about dictator Josef Stalin, Indiana Jones is soft on the Reds, who seek to steal top U.S. weapons during the Cold War and it is assumed that the viewer knows what that means. The warehouse action plays out and Indy, as the adventurist college professor is affectionately known, gets into trouble at the university in a ridiculous subplot meant as a swipe at so-called McCarthyism.
Add a double-crossing pal (Ray Winstone) who's motivated by money—an instant branding of a character's lack of ethics in Hollywood—and events roll into the introduction of a tough-talking kid named Mutt played by the heavily hyped (and frequently busted) Shia LaBeouf, who is fine but too tame in a limited role.
Mutt and Indy team to find a lost archaeological treasure—the series staple—which leads to a doddering old man with secrets (John Hurt), those pesky Soviets and the return of Karen Allen from the original Raiders of the Lost Ark. With Allen back in action—she holds her own on that score—the movie picks up steam, giving the steady excursion some of what it lacks: character and meaning. Allen was an integral part of Indiana Jones's initial success and bringing her back is spot on.
Derring-do makes way for family adventure and, borrowing from every serial from the Forties and Fifties through National Treasure: Book of Secrets, the plot combines both and develops a welcome, wholesome sensibility that carries through to the end—a deservedly happy, simple bow to middle class Americana.
That which precedes the conclusion is action-packed, with ants, monkeys, savages, and a mysterious, if thoroughly predictable in a Steven Spielberg picture, city of gold.
This long-windedly named installment is built for action-adventure and it delivers. Beyond that, the barely intelligible theme—the fallacy that knowledge robs reality of its wonder, another Spielbergian motif—is actually quite awful. The pursuit of knowledge equals death in the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, a theme which does not belong in a family movie.
The anti-intellectual thread does not ruin the experience of watching a family come together while dodging gun-toting villains, deadly insects and crumbling temples. Other fine work includes excellent casting—Pavel Lychnikoff stands out as a Soviet thug-stud—an edge-of-the-seat chase in a South American jungle and nostalgic transitions such as classic airplanes flying against faded maps and peppered references to Ike, Sears Roebuck and Indy's poppa.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has its issues, from pointless rodents, fake lighting and an overly scripted diner brawl to cardboard characters, and it is made with the brand's trademark accidentalism—key events occur at random, not moved by man's free will—but there's plenty to satisfy the moviegoer in search of good, clean American fun.