'Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull'/Grade: B+
Indy races against the Russians to return an ancient alien skull to a lost city in the Amazon.
Just revisited this much-divisive sequel last night, having not seen it in forever. Still enjoyed it as much I did in my childhood. Harrison Ford is once again magnificent as the titular archaeologist/professor, proving he hasn't lost his touch in terms of his stunt work, delivery, and charisma. Cate Blanchett is an over-the-top delight as his nemesis this time around, Irina Spalko. Every line reading, her cropped black hair, her agility with swordplay; she's so much fun to watch, she's my favorite villain in the franchise, following Renee Belloq from Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981).
Shia Labeouf as Mutt Williams, and this will prove a controversial opinion, I also find to be very entertaining in this. In addition to his swaggering fifties-era 'bad boy' look, he bounces off of Harrison Ford quite well. I just love seeing the two of them interact. He's likable, quick-witted, skilled with motorcycles and swords. Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood, and Ray Winstone as Indy's double-crossing friend Mac, are also very entertaining.
In addition to the performances, the action and special effects are sensational throughout. The biggest standouts here are a motorcycle chase where Indy and Mutt escape from the KGB, as well as a lengthy jungle chase, the latter being one of my favorite action sequences in this series. The fight scene between Mutt and Irina, the sweet driving. I'll even say the thing you're not supposed to say: I actually like the moment of Mutt doing a Tarzan through the trees with a swarm of monkeys. I know, I'm so terrible. But I do find that legitimately funny and exciting, as it was intended to be. Plus, I actually like the idea of incorporating aliens into this. It crosses the series' thirties-adventure-serial style with a fifties B-movie style that's quite engaging.
Where this movie falls flat are a couple of key components. One, Mutt's relationship with Professor Harold Oxley (John Hurt), an old friend of Indy's who apparently was a major father figure to Mutt growing up. However, they hardly share any scenes together, and so that kind of bond is just never felt. By comparison, Indy has a lot more shared screen time with this guy, and so I actually can feel the importance of their connection throughout the story.
Two, the 'Nuke the Fridge' scene. I get where it falls into the movie's themes, as well as how it relates to Irina Spark's overarching evil scheme. But like everyone else has pointed out, HOW could Indiana Jones survive a nuclear explosion, as well as being flung through the air inside a lead-lined fridge? The production design and setup of the scene is creepy enough, but at that point it leaps beyond all credibility.
Overall, while imperfect, I still find this to be a much better movie than some give it credit for. It's got great action, witty characters, cool effects, a suitably goofy story; what more could you want?