I'm not even exactly sure how to describe what I just saw. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull feels like two different types of movies in one, split at the halfway point. All I'm left with are uncertain thoughts as to which of those types it is striving to be. Did I enjoy the movie? Yes, but what began as vintage sequel setup with hints of cheese degenerated into a ludicrous plot that needed me to turn my brain off to excuse it .
The story begins unassumingly. Indy is in the clutches of the KGB, meaning this time, as we are picking up 19 years later, the communists are the villains rather than the Nazis. The comrades want Dr. Jones to tell them where a unique artifact is and he does, but then, of course, escapes in heroic fashion. It is an opening that is classic for the series. The bad guys want his knowledge. He plays along until he can get away. Still, it's not an opening without hints of the coming decline.
The setting for this dramatic escape from the communists is Roswell, New Mexico, specifically Area 51. The second I saw those numbers on the door I expected that this tale was going in a different direction. My suspicions were confirmed when the Russians opened the artifact to find a body that looked...no, it couldn't be alien. Before I had a chance to grapple with this possibility, Indy stumbled into an atomic bomb test town in the middle of the desert. I'll let you see for yourself how he survives. Even more ridiculous than that escape is that the wake he subsequently gets caught in is not from the bomb, but McCarthyism, as he is accused of being a communist (by the janitor from Scrubs!) and fired from his tenured teaching job.
Shia LaBeouf's introduction into the story as Mutt Williams steers things back on track. He has information for Indy and the pair travel to South America and act like archeologists. Along the way they throw punches, trade jokes, ride motorcycles, and uncover clues. This point is where the movies soars. It is Indiana Jones. I'd forgotten Harrison Ford's age. Labeouf was engaging. The shortsighted nature of the movie still lurked beneath the surface though. LaBeouf's character's leather jacket and need to constantly comb his hair reminded me that the attempt to establish a 1950s setting was incredibly cliche.
The remainder of the movie played more like a thrill ride designed for Disney World by George Lucas than an honest attempt at another Indiana Jones installment. A better name for it would have been "Indiana Jones and the Sci-Fi Adventure." Perhaps it was inevitable that Lucas mixed his love for science fiction and Indiana Jones, but the ending was so nonsensical that it would have been an improvement if Indy stood face to face with Han Solo followed by an immediate cut to the credits. Then, I would have applauded what was surely an attempt at self parody. Now, from the penchant for CGI animals to the need to add the word "interdimensional," I'm not sure what I saw, and I'm a science fiction fan who can appreciate Stargate, Sliders, and Dr. Who.