"We have reached an age when more things are taken from us than are given," says Jim Broadbent after the explosive opening of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. His words are soon proved true as this creaky fourth instalment unfolds, and the viewer is left wondering when the characters are going to stop explaining the plot to one another and get on with the action. This is doubly frustrating, since the franchise has a terrific legacy to build on. Instead, this film seems intent on stealing from it, leaving us to wonder whether Steven Spielberg is the real archaeologist here.
For once, there appears to be too much plot, with characters constantly swapping sides and unnecessarily jumping from location to location and back again. The film dabbles in mysticism, strange powers, telepathy and alien cultures, but without the sense of earthy reality that grounded the earlier films. Even the Russian baddies are totally interchangeable with the Nazis of previous outings and come across as equally one-dimensional.
Much has been made of Harrison Ford's advancing years and if he can still cut it as an action hero. He gives a lot and seems to relish much of his pithy dialogue, but seeing him dressed in the familiar hat, jacket and whip, you can't help but be reminded of someone's dad going to a fancy-dress party as Indiana Jones. The rest of the cast fare little better. Both Ray Winstone and Cate Blanchett are criminally underused, John Hurt looks like he regrets being talked into the thing, and Karen Allen seems to have been added as an afterthought the day before filming began. Indiana's protégé (Shia LaBeouf) acquits himself well and provides much of the humour, but often finds himself, like all the others, sidelined by the special-effects budget. The are moments of impressive spectacle, but for all the comments about Spielberg's old-fashioned filming techniques, most of the action sequences have more than a whiff of CGI about them.
But the director, with this cast and a huge budget, can't completely mess up. He has the sense to let people play to their strengths and seems to know what the fans want to see. Unfortunately, this Indiana Jones seems more at risk of drowning in syrup than getting audiences' pulses racing. There are flashes of brilliance, especially in the opening and closing sequences, but you know what they say about late middle age: it all starts to go soft in the middle.
Stan Broadwell, community psychiatric nurse, Bristol
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