Monday, May 19, 2008

The New Indy Plot

...updating the action precisely the same number of years as have elapsed since "Last Crusade," to 1957, smack dab in the middle of the Cold War. U.S. versus USSR dynamic spurs the dynamite opening action sequence, in which a convoy of Russian soldiers camouflaged in American army vehicles rolls into a remote desert nuclear testing base in search of a coveted object. Helping them in this effort will be their prisoner, Indiana Jones.

With an energy and enthusiasm bespeaking years of pent-up desire to get back to this sort of fun filmmaking, Spielberg sets the period spirit with a rock 'n' roll-fueled drag race and, with the characters' entry into the legendary Hangar 51, intimations of an other-worldly presence. As the aging issue is tossed off with a joke or two, the sixtysomething hero quickly proves that the passage of time will not be an inhibiting factor all these years later, as Indy trades smart remarks with the formidable Soviet officer Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett) before jumping into action the equal of any of the great setpieces the entire series has previously offered.

...The 20 nonstop opening minutes include a striking variation on the many cookie-cutter middle-class housing tracts featured in Spielberg films, this one populated exclusively by plastic figurines enacting a cliche of a '50s Yank lifestyle while awaiting the nuclear test to come, one Indy must quickly figure out how to survive...

...When Professor Jones returns to his university, he's informed by his dean (Jim Broadbent, replacing the late Denholm Elliott) that he's being suspended due to FBI doubt over his loyalty.

...Another iconic aspect of the decade rolls in with a kid named Mutt (Shia LaBeouf), a leather-jacketed biker who travels with comb and switchblade. Between a contrived fistfight and extended motorized chase around the leafy college campus, Mutt sets the grand adventure in motion by offering evidence of the possible location of the Crystal Skull of Akator, an object of great archeological and, possibly, psychic and other-dimensional fascination.

In a nostalgia-producing air travel montage like those in previous series entries, Indy and Mutt make their way to Peru, where the action relaxes in some rather rote creepy-crawly cave shenanigans before the guys lay their hands on the crystal skull itself, an oddly shaped clear cranium that all agree is not of human origin. But it's shortly snatched by Spalko, who believes the skull possesses psychic power that would prove decisive in mind warfare, no doubt ending the Cold War then and there.

All this gibberish is merely designed to justify the battle of wits and weapons, which continues apace as the Russians collect two further prisoners, Indy's old cohort and crystal skull expert, the now insane Professor Oxley (John Hurt), and Mutt's mom, none other than Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), Indy's flame from "Raiders" and clearly the woman he was always meant to be with.

...But it's off and running again, with a race through the jungle as the good guys and bad guys jump between vehicles, duel with fists, sabers and machine guns, are assaulted by monkeys and ravenous giant ants and, in an undoubted preview of a forthcoming theme-park ride, plummet down three imposing waterfalls...

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