Here's your hat, Indy — but really, what's your hurry? Because 19 years after the Last Crusade that sadly wasn't, it's almost unfathomable that this hoary mishmash is the best that George Lucas and Steven Spielberg could cough up.
From humdrum start to shrugging finish, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull bears almost no resemblance to its three predecessors: It's absent the spark and spirit of Raiders of the Lost Ark, the grown-up menace and slapdash comedy of Temple of Doom, and the loose-limbed effervescence and emotional jolts of Last Crusade.
Much has been made of producer George Lucas, director Steven Spielberg, and a cadre of screenwriters pushing the franchise into the late 1950s — away from the Nazis and biblical collectors' items and toward the Russians and ETs. Early word suggested a film verging on summer camp, as creaky ol' Indy donned fedora and whip, and Cate Blanchett slipped into dominatrix bob-cut bangs and borscht-scented accent for some outer-space trip flavored with the era's grade-Z conventions. But Crystal Skull is no fun at all — not for a single second, not even accidentally. Not even with Shia LaBeouf terribly miscast as Marlon Brando as the Wild One. (The Mild One? Sure, fine.)
The dialogue's drab when not absolutely dumb; the actors seem lost if not outright listless; the scant action sequences appear to have been filmed entirely in front of green screens. And the storyline's a bunch of convoluted mumbo having to do with Russians and mind control and the mythical, golden South American city of El Dorado, which, according to The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, may have been constructed by "visitors" who taught the locals how to, um, farm. Twenty years between offerings, and this is all that the A-team could come up with?
Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is as joyless as its predecessors were blissful: Its sole intention seems to be the launching of a new franchise, with LaBeouf's Mutt as heir to his father's fedora. And no, it spoils nothing to give away that LaBeouf is the son of Indiana Jones and Karen Allen's Marion Ravenwood, who appears late in the film and serves little function other than to grin like a schoolgirl at the professor who got away.
There is one rather brilliant sequence, set in a model suburbia that serves as an Army testing ground for nuclear bombs. We're reminded, in a blinding flash, that the Indiana Jones who bested the Nazis is no match for the atomic age. But random asides aside, the movie has no interest in exploring the morality of 1950s America or the mortality of Indiana Jones. It's just an exercise in creating instant nostalgia for boxed sets on sale at a Big Box near you. There are even references to episodes of Young Indiana Jones, about as close as the film gets to clever. (One sight gag, involving a familiar relic, didn't even elicit a chuckle among an amped-up preview audience.)
Still, Indy lumbers forward, surviving not only the copious attacks on his age — "What're you, like, 80?" asks a sneering Mutt upon introduction — but also one more chase in a hijacked truck carrying the key to global domination. This being a George Lucas movie, the dangers are almost entirely computer-generated now; the climactic pursuit through a South American jungle looks like it was shot on the forest moon of Endor, complete with ferocious CG monkeys. The monkeys, however, fare better than Blanchett, who has absolutely no idea what to do with her role: She's equal parts evil and incompetent, and she's the least dangerous villain Indiana Jones has ever faced. Turns out that George Lucas and Steven Spielberg are far more threatening foes.