Time has not been kind to the mouth and mind of Steven Spielberg. His legless horse running in the grand, popular circuit, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull would surely not have been so poorly received had it not broken its way into the brains of a paying public all those years ago. It coined terminology for students of film, with the “nuking the fridge” a moment for writers and film philosophers to leap upon, but for audiences to tut at and shake their head with the same warmth and shame they have for children who chase squirrels in the hopes of sitting atop them like a bicycle.
But times have changed. Audiences have too. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull can sit, comfortably, at third place on the poll of Indiana Jones films from best to worst. That is no small achievement. It is a moderate one at best, but the effort necessary to usurp Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom from its pedestal is a small task for such big ideas. There is genuine authority and charm to the chances and changes chosen within this fourth entry into the Harrison Ford-led series. They ride the antics and antagonism of the Cold War twenty years after its finishing moments. But as Mr. Gorbachev did, indeed, tear down that wall, he could have no idea that the ramifications of such would lead to the backdrop of a fourth Indiana Jones film, one that, does, indeed, nuke the fridge.
Its inclusion of aliens, Shia LaBeouf and a Russian-clad Cate Blanchett do give more questions than answers, but were ropey villains and good-hearted heroes representing the best of the best not featured so prominently in the previous three films? Ford brings just as much energy and charisma to the eponymous role as he always did, and the supporting cast, from Ray Winstone and John Hurt to Blanchett and Jim Broadbent too. Returning face Karen Allen is a tremendous strength, although her role as Marion barely develops past its foundational supporting need in Raiders of the Lost Ark. It is, however, entertaining. Winstone too is particularly enjoyable, essentially an extension of Alfred Molina in Raiders of the Lost Ark, but presented far more frequently and with much greater effect.
You cannot teach an old dog new tricks, as the old saying goes. But why teach Jones any new tricks at all? His old shtick and whip-slinging action still works for the new generation of movie-goers. Naturally, it is not as strong as the moments Ford shared with Sean Connery or Paul Freeman, but it allows for a generally strong revival of a franchise many found far beyond salvaging. Its allusions at the end are dirty, and how dare they suggest LaBeouf would ever be responsible for the franchise. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is an insult to the former generations, but they are the old dogs. For those that are adapting to the new tricks, they will feel right at home with a rendition of Jones that is not faithful to the originals. Why would it be? Why should it be? Move on. Doctor Jones has.