I have a confession to make at this point. Truth be told, I grew up on Indiana Jones. I probably watched Raiders of The Lost Ark over 50 times when I was between 9 and 13. The Temple of Doom was a poor follow-up which didn't grab me as much, but the third instalment with its' Nazis and saving the world plot had me gripped again. To have been deprived of the series for the last 2 decades has left me feeling cheated, but I was certainly not disappointed on seeing Ford return in the eponymous role of my boyhood dreams.
So, I'm probably a little biased when I say that I loved this new episode. For fans, it has all the familiar aspects that one would expect, but with some fun twists and subtle differences. There is the Crystal Skull – a mythic object with untold powers. However, although it is linked to an ancient civilisation in the form of the Myans, this time it's ultimate source is from outer space, a theme in keeping with the fifties, that forms the background for this new story. As such, the bad guys this time are Russians, rather than the Nazis that made such compelling baddies in earlier episodes. Taking place in a decade upon which the spectre of nuclear holocaust loomed large over America, the film also touches on this tricky subject and makes it clear that the great world war has now been replaced by a cold war.
With Ford back in the title role at the age of 64, it's fascinating to watch how he carries it off, drawing attention to and having fun with the comic possibilities of his ageing frame, rather than glossing over it. Shia Leboef also holds his own as Jones' heir apparent, styled in the image of Marlon Brando in The Wild One, simultaneously signalling to the viewer that it is a decade since WWII, and the world is moving on. The tension between the two characters provides a great deal of the films' conflict, as the older figure struggles to accept the young upstart, and vice versa. Lucas always said that Jones was a partly a tribute to the matinee shows of the 30s, and part James Bond. Given the ongoing nature of the latter, it seems only fitting that the film clearly leaves open the door for the younger actor to take on the mantle of the great adventurer over from Ford in future films.
The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is also fascinating for kids who grew up on in the eighties on a diet of Spielberg and Lucas movies for the way in which it ties together major themes from their movies. By bringing together their fascination for sci-fi seen in movies like Star Wars and Close Encounters with the fascination with ancient cultures depicted in earlier Indiana movies, this film provides an interesting commentary on their previous work, uniting it in an unexpected and interesting way.
In the end, while Lucas worked hard on the three Star Wars prequels in the past decade, I felt that they were largely poor and diminished the franchise. In the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull on the other hand, Lucas, Spielberg and Ford have made us wait two decades for a film which, while not perfect, is the belated ending that fans deserved. Although I wonder how the old-fashioned cinematic values and narrative will be percieved by a younger audience, as a fan myself, I loved every minute of it.