It has been 19 years since Harrison Ford starred in the third Indiana Jones film, and an incredible 27 years since he was first seen searching for legendary ancient relics in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
It would be unkind to imply that Ford is now an ancient relic himself, but the Indiana Jones franchise is almost legendary, which makes it quite a risk – critically if not commercially – for Steven Spielberg and George Lucas to revive it now, especially considering that the last time Lucas brought back a revered film series after such a long sabbatical, it was with the woeful Star Wars prequels. Rest assured, the exhaustingly titled Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is nowhere near as dire as The Phantom Menace. It's just not as good as we all wanted it to be.
It's set in 1957. Indy is still a university lecturer, but now, instead of thumping Nazis on his days off, he thumps Commies. At the beginning of the film – which starts, as ever, at the tail end of a previous adventure – he and his trusty sidekick, Ray Winstone, have been captured by a team of Soviet spies led by Cate Blanchett, a sword-wielding Ukrainian psychic with a black bob and a grey jumpsuit. She demands that they help her locate a mysterious Mayan artefact, but, of course, Indy is only a whip-crack away from escape – at least until the next scene.
For the first 20 minutes or so of IJATKOTCS Spielberg gets everything right, keeping to the pulpy sensibility of Raiders while updating it with rock'n'roll, nuclear energy, red menace paranoia and alien invasion movies. But, true to the other Indiana Jones films, the opening roller-coaster ride is the best bit.
Ford is now 65, and neither the role nor his trousers fit quite as well as they did two decades ago. To bring down the average age, there's another sidekick, Shia LaBeouf, dressed as Marlon Brando in The Wild One. He asks for Indy's aid in rescuing two people who have been caught up in the Soviets' dastardly schemes. One is an old classmate of Indy's, played by a shaggy John Hurt, and the other is Karen Allen, the ballsy love interest from Raiders of the Lost Ark.
The adventure that unfolds is spirited, fun and glowing with affection for the original films. It certainly beats Tomb Raider, National Treasure and all the other franchises that have stolen everything from Indiana Jones except the fedora. But it's busier and more confused than Raiders, with too many characters and too much exposition interrupting the excessively farcical action.
It might seem to be an odd criticism of a character we last saw chatting to the immortal guardian of the Holy Grail, but sometimes, frankly, Indy is just silly. Like Bruce Willis in last year's Die Hard 4.0, he hasn't weakened with age but grown superhumanly resilient. The audience is denied the thrill of trying to guess how he's going to cheat death, time after time, because he does so with all the ease of the Road Runner dodging Wile E Coyote. It's not that I mind Indy being bulletproof, or being able to tumble unscathed down a cliff and three successive waterfalls. The deal-breaker is when he walks away from a direct hit by an atom bomb. After that, it's awfully difficult to get excited about the danger of Blanchett swishing her sword at him.
Need to know
Following the runaway success of Steven Spielberg's 'Jaws' and George Lucas's 'Star Wars', the two friends collaborated, as director and producer respectively, on 'Raiders of the Lost Ark', their all-action homage to James Bond, Tintin, and Saturday matinée adventure serials. When Tom Selleck couldn't fit shooting into his schedule, the globe-trotting archaeologist role went to Harrison Ford. The trio followed up 1981's 'Raiders' with 'Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom' (1984), and 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade' (1989).