American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
"Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull." Say it aloud. The very title causes the pulse to quicken, if you, like me, are a lover of pulp fiction. What I want is goofy action--lots of it. I want man-eating ants, swordfights between two people balanced on the backs of speeding jeeps, subterranean caverns of gold, vicious femme fatales, plunges down three waterfalls in a row, and the explanation for flying saucers. And throw in lots of monkeys.
The Indiana Jones movies were directed by Steven Spielberg and written by George Lucas and a small army of screenwriters, but they exist in a universe of their own. Hell, they created it. All you can do is compare one to the other three. And even then, what will it get you? If you eat four pounds of sausage, how do you choose which pound tasted the best? Well, the first one, of course, and then there's a steady drop-off of interest. That's why no Indy adventure can match "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (1981). But if "Crystal Skull" (or "Temple of Doom" from 1984 or "Last Crusade" from, 1989) had come first in the series, who knows how much fresher it might have seemed? True, "Raiders of the Lost Ark" stands alone as an action masterpiece, but after that the series is compelled to be, in the words of Indiana himself, "same old same old." Yes, but that's what I want it to be.
"Crystal Skull" even dusts off the Russians, so severely under-exploited in recent years, as the bad guys. Up against them, Indiana Jones is once again played by Harrison Ford, who is now 65 but looks a lot like he did at 55 or 46, which is how old he was when he made "Last Crusade." He has one of those Robert Mitchum faces that doesn't age, it only frowns more. He and his sidekick Mac McHale (Ray Winstone) are taken by the cool, contemptuous Soviet uber-villainess Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett) to a cavernous warehouse to seek out a crate he saw there years ago. The contents of the crate are hyper-magnetic (lord, I love this stuff) and betray themselves when Indy throws a handful of gunpowder into the air.
In ways too labyrinthine to describe, the crate leads Indy, Mac, Irina and the Russians far up the Amazon. Along the way they've gathered Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), Indy's girlfriend from the first film, and a young biker named Mutt Williams (Shia LeBeouf), who is always combing his ducktail haircut. They also acquire Professor Oxley (John Hurt), elderly colleague from the University of Chicago, whose function is to read all the necessary languages, know all the necessary background, and explain everything.