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Movie Review: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

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Set in 1957, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull stays true to the film series while taking Indy, well played by Harrison Ford, to a level that he hasn't seen yet. Ford fits his familiar role as Dr. Henry Walton "Indiana" Jones, Jr., a learned man full of brains and brawn, ideal for academia and his rough field of study, archeology. In this fourth installment of the Indiana Jones film series, Indy seeks the Crystal Skull of Akator. His expertise still demands worldwide attention, which usually isn't good.

Oscar winner Cate Blanchett plays the antagonist Irina Spalko, a Russian special agent on a mission from Joseph Stalin to give the Soviet Union the upper hand in the world theatre of superpowers. "I know things… what I do not know, I find out," she says. Her unique point of view makes her a less menacing enemy, easing the overall tension, but she still packs a good punch. Karen Allen reprises her role as Marion Ravenwood from the first film, Raiders of the Lost Ark, while Shia LaBeouf (Transformers) also stars as Mutt Williams.

LaBeouf has great chemistry with the rest of the cast and brings some essential emotions into the plot, which could've been built up more to enhance some ensuing twists instead of jabbing the painfully predictable "old" jokes at Indy. Mutt clings to his tough guy attitude while he tries to find direction in his life. "You don't have to get sore all the time to prove how tough you are," Indy says to Mutt as they discuss important issues at a local restaurant. His scenes with Indy progress the plot in multiple ways as he discovers there's more to this professor than meets the eye. Without much bickering, the duo quickly gains mutual understanding and a natural chemistry.

A trio of excellent British actors round out the main cast. Ray Winstone plays Indy's burly associate, Mac; Jim Broadbent plays Indy's college dean, and an almost unrecognizable John Hurt (Contact, V For Vendetta) plays Professor Oxley.

Director Steven Spielberg and executive producer George Lucas sustain a high level of continuity, making every effort to reunite the core crew members and the production team, including editor Michael Kahn, who won his first Oscar for Raiders of the Lost Ark. The monster producer team of Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall also return with executive producer and co-character creator George Lucas. Spielberg made a few substitutions like cinematographer Janusz Kaminski (Saving Private Ryan), who replaced the retired Douglas Slocombe. John Williams provides another great musical score based on familiar musical movements and the background music plays well except when characters arrive in Peru. Another Indy mainstay, the large Pat Roach, the only actor besides Ford to be in all three installments, unfortunately passed away. Roach always played the big bad guy and gets replaced by the equally large Igor Jijikine in this film.

The filmmakers do a nice job capturing the time period. In the beginning sequences, Indy's activities attract the attention of the U.S. government, on high alert due to all the anti-Communist sentiment at the time. These government agents eagerly question Indy, but then disappear from the story, not even appearing as back-up. So, Indy's off on his own again, but at least this time he has a larger group.

Special effects by Industrial Light & Magic keep the realistic stunts and visuals intact. The only extraordinary limits pushed are the actions themselves, especially in the beginning sequence in New Mexico with Indy and the Amazon jungle sequence high the trees with Mutt. Non-stop action with touches of humor overshadow the scares and tension in this film. Without heart-stopping scenes like in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, screenwriters push more nostalgic scenes into the usual Indy formula.

The plot contains some great themes (e.g. "stay in school", "do what you love") amid the standard history lessons, myth debunking, and some famous name-dropping, but nothing really innovative. Indy gets several memorable and lengthy lines, strengthened by Ford's intonation and steadfast voice, but screenwriters could've reduced the tiresome riddle elements a bit. Audiences not looking for anything different can expect all the standard scenery, exotic locations and, of course, creepy critters. Recommended and rated PG-13 for adventure violence and scary images.

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