Last year there was a lot of desperate stabs for former glory, from Die Hard 4.0 to Rocky Balboa, hallmarks of faded stars past their prime whose last few movies had bombed, proving there was little sadder than a fading 80s action star now pushing 60 and running around like the 35 year old they once were.
Harrison Ford was in the same boat, the only three films he’d headlined in the 21st century all critical and commercial failures. And in the wake of Minority Report, Catch Me If You Can and The Terminal, was Spielberg himself fading? Was a fourth Indiana Jones film a desperate stab at the top again?
Franchise overlord George Lucas took almost a decade to shepherd the story through four writers — one of whom quit writing over it (Frank Darabont), and finally it’s here. Is it fun? Of course. Is it brilliant? Far from it — it’s more like a pair of favourite slippers. But there are cracks showing. Flabby pacing, poor camera angles and dodgy scripting are the beginning, but poor Indy can’t hide his age, 65-year-old Harrison Ford looking and sounding as creaky as the ancient temples he plunders.
Escaping not just the eeeevil Russians led by ice cold Cate Blanchett (replacing the Nazis as the goons-for-hire, it being 1957) but a nuclear bomb test in Nevada, Indy’s hounded out of his job by the FBI because of his involvement with a certain New Mexico incident in 1947.
If you were around for the X Files and UFO mania of the mid 1990s, you’ll recognise it as the date of the infamous Roswell UFO crash, and the Russians force Indy to find what he saw that day in the cavernous warehouse from the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, the Ark of the Covenant still safe and sound.
As he’s about to leave, a young Brando wannabe, Mutt (LeBeouf), tells Indy about a letter from his missing mother, with the scrawl of a mad professor and former friend of Indy’s. The letter apparently leads to yet another archaeological treasure deep in the forests of Peru, and if you haven’t read any spoilers yet we won’t ruin it for you, except to say you’ll never guess what the crystal skull is and how it’s linked to a supposedly alien race.
It’s new territory for Indy and his hangers-on, including old flame Marion (Allen) and sidekick Mac (Winstone), but it all takes place in enough crumbling ruins and on the run from enough South American Indians firing poison darts that it’s all very familiar.
Not the finest work of anyone involved, you get the feeling Lucas, Spielberg, Ford and Co wanted a big party to remind them of old times more than craft an enduring film. Everything’s in the right place, from the stunts to the quips and the effects to the Indy icons we know and love. But it’s possible Indiana Jones films were always this klutzy, and throughout the 1980s — long before the time of Jurassic Park, Transformers and Titanic ? we didn’t know any better.