On the scale of insanity ranging from sitting quietly on the couch to wearing the cushions for pants while rounding up a neighborhood dog ultra-army, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull rates somewhere around hosting a tea party inside your sofa-fort.
Which is to say yes, it's a little weird, but it's the forgivable kind, and at least you'll come out of it well-caffeinated. There'll be a hint of disappointment, too (scones are never as good as they should be) and a big dose of puzzlement (if we're going to get aristocratic, shouldn't it be a davenport-fort?), but as an experience, it was a good one, right?
Of course, the analogy's not perfect. Nobody's been waiting for that fourth tea party for 20-odd years, scouring the gossipy corners of the Internet for speculation about what kind of leaves the hosts will use or what pattern the tablecloth will be. There wasn't a revolutionary original party that forever changed the way we served tea.
In fact, maybe comparing Crystal Skull to a tea party was a terrible idea. Is that what you wanted to hear? Well congratulations, jerk, I just spent the last two hours blow-drying the tears out of my laptop. Here's your damn plot recap.
By 1957, America has mastered the atom, but the Soviets are looking to expand the arms race into the psychic realm. Kidnapped by KGB agent Cate Blanchett, Harrison Ford is forced to relocate one of his earlier finds: the mummified body of what may be an alien.
Ford makes a dashing escape, only to be scooped up by the feds and accused of being a Communist sympathizer. The charge costs him his teaching job. On his way out of town, he's accosted by Shia LaBeouf, a greaser punk with troubling news about John Hurt, Ford's friend and colleague.
It seems Hurt has found a legendary crystal skull which, if returned to its home in Eldorado, the fabled lost city of gold, will grant its bearer great powers. Hurt and his find have been scooped up by the KGB -- and unless he leads them to the city, he'll be killed.
Ford and LaBeouf hightail it for Peru and are immediately embroiled in the wild chases and escapes that made the Indiana Jones franchise a legend in its own right. As far as the action and choreography goes, Crystal Skull can stand along any of the others, especially in a nuke-test sequence that's awesome in both the modern and biblical senses of the word. Director Steven Spielberg is a master of making violence that's scary, thrilling, and beautiful all at once.
In terms of raw spectacle, that mushroom cloud overshadows the rest of the movie, which at times feels like one interminable chase. It's an adventurous and funny chase, though; like Ford, Crystal Skull's high-octane archeology is no longer young, but it's still got its charm.
Without giving too much away, the ending doesn't add up. Not because it's unbelievable -- frankly, you have no room to bitch about the crazy paranormal goings-on in Crystal Skull if you liked Raiders of the Lost Ark, which, in case you've forgotten, features a Nazi-smiting God. (And if you don't like Raiders, that's craziest of all.) The Incan legend of ancient teachers Crystal Skull is inspired by is no sillier than hoodoo death cults or some Dark Age foofaraw about a cup that can make you immortal.
It's the logic of the ending that doesn't make sense. It's got the comeuppance of hubris that's an Indiana Jones standard, but rather than being deserved, that punishment is almost comically mean-spirited. One might even call it a real dick move. Rather than being built up to by the plot, it feels like shallow mimicry of the earlier movies.
Nonetheless, when the credits rolled in our packed theater, there was plenty of applause. I wouldn't go that far -- even if you can suspend (or perhaps expel) your disbelief for the supernatural finale, Crystal Skull isn't as funny or cohesive as Raiders or Last Crusade.
But who says it needs to be compared to two of the best action movies of all time? It's still fun--and that's what counts.