So long, Doctor Jones…
You’re all expecting a rave, aren’t you? Shades of ‘your reviewer arrived flushed and breathless, gentle reader, after thrilling once more to the exploits of Indiana Jones in the latest action-packed installment, and couldn’t wait to share his joy with world’. Sorry, but think again, and prepare yourself for a rude awakening. The magic is over, and all we’re left with, in chapter four, is an historical artefact of bygone glories.
Now please, I beg of you, don’t get me wrong – I have thrilled to Spielberg’s films and the Indy series, from Raiders…(1981) onwards for nearly as long as I’ve been watching movies, so be assured that it was with no satisfaction whatsoever that I watched Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull first begin to slowly unravel after a very promising opening then, by slow and painful degrees, sink into a contrived, overplayed, poorly written mess that was lifted very little by a ‘spectacular’ climax that gives new meaning to ‘superfluous’, followed by a distinctly dubious denouement that I’m itching to spoil, but won’t, because any viewer with half an eye open will see where it’s all heading.
This may seem to be a paradoxical stance to take, but what seems finally to have run away from the creators, from director Steven Spielberg down to writer and story concocters David Koepp and George Lucas, is the concept of credibility.
Sure, we can all still buy the idea of an ageing Indy (Harrison Ford is now in his mid-sixties, which is older than Sean Connery was when he played Henry Jones Senior in …Last Crusade (1989)), pulled out of retirement during the Cold War (the story opens in 1957) encountering renegade Russians, led by a disturbingly sexy Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett), who are seeking ‘paranormal weapons’ technology and are on to a secret that’s buried in the depths of time involving the Roswell Incident, El Dorado and ancient Mayan technology. We can even accept another ‘sidekick’ – thank God at least that this time around, it’s not Short Round, as in …Temple of Doom (1984), but rather James Dean-lookalike Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf), who is set to find that the ‘part-time teacher’ he’s been thrown in with has a few tricks up his sleeve.
What is completely unacceptable, however, is the expectation on the part of Spielberg and Co. that audiences will accept a group of talented actors (including Ford, it must be said, and John Hurt, and Ray Winstone) simply going through the motions, with one contrived set-piece following another. Even the return of Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood from the first film disappoints – quite frankly, she’s not aged very well, and seems not to have been practising her acting too much in the interim, either.
Good stuff? Well, the early action and snide back-and-forth between Ford-Blanchett-Winstone is enjoyable, and there’s a sense that the film may be building to something truly spectacular. Sadly though, it never does – as Jones says, to Marion’s comment that he was not the man she knew ten years ago, way back in Raiders of the Lost Ark and in what now seems like another lifetime, let alone another film: ‘It’s not the years, it’s the mileage.’ How true, Harrison, how very true – and how sad that, despite Ford’s enduring charm as everyone’s favourite action hero, these words have proven to be a self-fulfilling prophecy both for the character and franchise.