It's not easy for one of the most beloved film series of its time to return after a 19-year absence, though Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull manages to do a serviceable job of recapturing what audiences have come to equate with their favorite fearless archeologist. Indeed, Harrison Ford is back again, this time a tad wiser and a lot more grey, yet still packing that familiar quick wit, trusty whip, and mean punch to get him out of tough spots. Along for the ride are a slew of new cohorts (including Shia LaBeouf, Ray Winstone, and John Hurt) and a few new delicious baddies (Cate Blanchett, Igor Jijikine) to add to his roster of villains. Of course, it's the inclusion of Karen Allen as Marion that truly makes this outing special. But what of the excitement, the humor, and the old Spielberg fun that people of all ages have come to love from this fabled franchise? Inklings of them are there, even if the sands of time have eroded the filmmaker's potency for delivering the magic of yesteryear.
Just as Ford had much to prove, so did the movie's helmer. Spielberg's recent efforts had given rise to the idea that a sweet slice of cinema pie was once again in his recipe book. Resoundingly, he shows that his classic camera chops have gone nowhere, although his work with actors leaves a bit to be desired. In fact, Kingdom's stumbling blocks aren't in its presentation but in its execution. Much of the blame has been thrown screenwriter David Koepp's way, somewhat deservedly. Yet the fact is that the production is plagued by an underlying awkwardness that goes beyond Koepp's wordy approach and half-cooked character work. Performance-wise, viewers are delivered a hodgepodge of misses and knockouts, lending credence to the growing mistrust surrounding co-creator George Lucas' touch - especially given his fondness for stiff acting. The modern age can also be seen rearing its head, thanks to the overall lack of stunts and overuse of computer effects, which create a great lack of tension in much of the overly spectacular proceedings.
That said, there's still some stuff to love in this fourth outing. For instance, the action scenes are still superbly staged, with an early motorcycle chase standing out as a highlight. Also, as if it wasn't good enough to be able to see Indy doing his thing again, there are moments of brilliance between Marion and him, even if they leave one yearning for more. The same goes for the musical maestro behind the series, John Williams, who laces in the Raiders theme with ample glee, transporting his audience to a familiar and welcome place throughout the movie. Yet there is a desire to hear something beyond the subtle B-movie/sci-fi throwback score he delivers. If anything, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull might have the power to shine if viewed merely as escapism entertainment. However, it seems evident that the mileage has not only taken a toll on the character, but the series as well.