Notes from the back row 

Indy's big comeback

Movie fans of a certain age (mine) have been nervously chewing their fingernails into bloody stumps the past few weeks and, for some, anticipation that has been building for 19 years is about to be released in one big, two-hour spurt – Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is now playing at the Village 8.

Yes, Indy is back and the fourth installment of the golden age-adventure-serial homage has got a lot of people nervous — will a 65-year-old hero still have the chops? Will it be too sci-fi? Or too kiddie? Will it suck like the ‘new’ Star Wars films did?

There will never be another Raiders of the Lost Ark , especially in this day and age where internet trailers, mass marketing and tons of pre-release magazine and newspaper articles and spoilers make it all but impossible to walk into a movie and not know at least half of what is going to happen. But Crystal Skull is still an Indiana Jones movie and fans old and new are going to see it regardless of how good it is. So here’s the scoop:

Set in 1957, amidst the Cold War era of nuclear fear. Indy (Harrison Ford) is battling the Russians this time around, and the film opens with him being forced to steal U.S. military artifacts from Area 51. After an explosive escape Indy heads back to school only to find his teaching times are over and he’s been blacklisted as a communist sympathizer (it happens when people see you hanging out with Russians).

No problem though, a young greaser named Mutt (Shia LaBoeuf) shows up and enlists Indy’s help to hunt down an old friend in Peru and find the ancient Mayan city of gold. The Soviets, led by Irina Spalko (a whips-and-leather Cate Blanchett) are hot on the same trail and the adventure continues with lots of chasing, escaping, fighting, re-uniting, witty banter, creepy bugs, and the return or Marion (Karen Allen) Ravenwood who was last seen in Raiders.

The convoluted storyline contains some predictable subplots (and some, like the McCarthyism blacklisting one that are set up and never utilized) but people watch Indiana Jones for the action and the characters and Harrison Ford, almost 66 years old, still makes a great (albeit somewhat grumpy) Indiana — although he does seem to have the athletic ability of a much younger man, which perhaps has something to do with that Holy Grail he found last time out.

Shia LaBeouf holds his own as Mutt, the sidekick-plus, and sets things up for future installments. Cate Blanchett does what she can, and does just fine. The sexual undertones between Indy and Marion are way scaled back but since they’re old enough to be grandparents, and it’s a good thing.

Not so good is how Indiana Jones 4 lacks much of the edge-of-your-seat excitement and peril that defined the first (and best) film of the series. Much of this has to do with the involvement of George Lucas, who continues to pander to the child market with lots of animal reaction shots, hit-in-the-balls humour, and a cartoonish Tarzan sequence. As well, the flick suffers from how it’s shot – too tight, too much greenscreen.

The sweeping vistas of real locations (like the epic bridge scene of the second film) seem to have been replaced by CGI action (e.g. moving truck duel) and too many studio set piece shots.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a good adventure movie, with plenty of humourous self-referential bits and enough balls-out action to keep fans pleased but it also plays a tad too nostalgic and musty, almost as if director Spielberg and producer Lucas forgot to polish their great artifact before they put it back on display.

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