Through the motions

Nobody cracks the whip for grey power like Henry ‘Indiana” Jones Jr, professor, legendary lost-temple-discoverer, baddie-foiler and boulder-evader, in which iconic role the increasingly grizzled Harrison Ford returns for a fourth adventure — Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

There’s plenty going on in this movie, with one or two tremendous stunts and some very nasty giant ants. It steers clear of the dusky-foreigner stereotypes that got the second picture into hot water. But despite some good-natured fun, and one blinding flash of the old genius, this new Indy film looks like it’s going through the motions. The idea is that Indy is now plying his trade in the Cold War 1950s. He confronts a Russian villainess, Irina Spalko, played by Cate Blanchett, who looks like a very, very attractive and taller version of Rosa Klebb.

She wants to get her nasty commie hands on the mythical crystal skull of a pre-Mayan civilisation and return it to its legendary tomb deep in the South American jungle, which will give the USSR supreme mystical powers over the free world. But not if Indy gets there first.

But like it or not, since Indy disappeared in 1989, plenty of movies have been ripping off his act: National Treasure, Sahara — even the dreaded Da Vinci Code. So when Ford returns to discover more tombs, more stone walls that grind apart at the touch of a lever, more waterfalls of sand — well, the thrill is gone. As Indiana says grimly at one point: ‘Same old, same old.”

There is one moment of authentic Steven Spielberg genius. Indy blunders on to a nuclear test site in the desert 10 seconds before detonation. Desperately, he breaks into a nearby house and begs for help. But the house has only creepy mannequins instead of people. It is a entire fake town, constructed to assess the effect of a nuclear blast on civilians. Convulsed with horror, Indiana scrambles to find shelter from the annihilating blast.

It is really chilling and Indiana Jones’s bewildered predicament at the very epicentre of modernity gives a flash of the old Spielberg: the Spielberg of Jaws and Close Encounters. Everything else is a retread from the VHS age. Some nice moments and everything is good-natured enough. But this is a moment for Harrison Ford to hang up the hat. —

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