Dir. Steven Spielberg
(PG-13) ★ ★ ½

Of course, there’s no reason Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull needed to be made. The job of Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and company is to convince us why we should want one. They succeed some and they fail some. Considering the favorable but not rapturous reviews, I set my expectations low, and it met them.

The plot is more or less immaterial; Indiana Jones and the Bedazzled Port-O-Potty would sell as many tickets. What matters is Harrison Ford’s return as the adventuring archaeologist and Karen Allen’s as his former flame Marion Ravenwood. This is a success. The actors have a playful, undiminished chemistry, and despite their advancing years are still robust action heroes. We’re happy to see them and their well-cast companions who include such stalwart character actors as Ray Winstone and John Hurt. Joining them also is Shia LaBeouf; the studio’s publicity machine labored so greatly to obscure his character that they practically spelled it out on his forehead. I won’t say it here, but you’re already thinking it.

But then there is the plot, which may be immaterial but it’s necessary to move these characters from point A to B to C. It’s the plot that gums up the works. The story is front-loaded with exposition, and screenwriter David Koepp is bad at hiding the seams. Egregious is an early scene where Indy explains how closely the government guarded its secrets when Indiana inspected a mysterious crash at Roswell — hint, hint. Everyone in the room already knows everything he’s saying, so this dialogue can only be for our benefit — it may as well be spoken into the camera.

The rest of the plot involves a skull that may or may not be crystal, from a creature who may or may not be an alien. It has mysterious powers and holds the secret to a lost city of gold, and — I find myself no longer interested in writing about it. It’s all a bit daft, and the creatures, their powers, their identities, and their lost city remain vague despite being over-explained. I wish they had kept it simple, and left more room for the cast to settle into their characters and interact.

Another problem — and I never thought I’d say this about a film — is Cate Blanchett. I never completely believe her as underwritten Soviet operative Irina Spalco, and a large part of it is the accent. Blanchett, who rivals Meryl Streep in her talent for mimicry and accents, may very well be speaking in a technically proficient Eastern Ukranian dialect — I wouldn’t know — but what is it about affecting a Russian accent that makes actors sound like Boris and Natasha? Perhaps Spielberg and Blanchett are in on the joke — how preposterous this entire enterprise would be if they took themselves too seriously. Still, once we reach the finale, we wish they had at least given it more thought.