"If it ain't broke, don't fix it" might as well be the mantra of the *Indiana Jones* movies. It might even serve as a title for the next sequel, should there be one. *Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull* offers more of the wasn't-broke-didn't-fix-it same, which is what makes Indy fun. The movies were originally inspired by 1930s serials, and the *Indy* movies have more or less become a series, even if it's been almost two decades since we last saw the intrepid archeologist swing his bullwhip and don his dusty fedora.
*Kingdom of the Crystal Skull* acknowledges the years passed -- instead of the pre-war 30s, it's set in the post-war, Cold War 1950s. What was Indy (Harrison Ford) doing in the ensuing years? Some spying, maybe, but it's a little vague. As this movie opens, however, he's in the trunk of a car being driven by Russians, who've captured the infamous Area 51 military base. What they're looking for should be obvious to anyone familiar with the lore of Area 51, and certain mysterious events that occurred in Roswell, NM.
The Russkies are led by Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett), a paranormal researcher whose personality is as severe and unforgiving as her precision-engineered black bob. Less precise than the haircut is Blanchett's Russian accent, which is -- how do you say? -- rather loose. Spalko seems to have learned to speak English in Blanchett's own native Australia, not that the actress was in danger of earning a bazillionth Oscar nom for this movie. Anyway, Spalko's interested in space aliens and mind control, which according to legend, were among Stalin's obsessions too.
There's a daring escape, involving the usual Rube Goldbergian stuff, and, just to give the movie some Cold War relevance, Indy survives an atomic bomb, too. After his own personal Red Scare, Indy gets a taste of red-baiting government paranoia, which is where *Crystal Skull* dips a toe into contemporary political issues, but --fear not! -- ever so briefly.
Indy meets a switchblade-wielding, Brando-wannabe, Harley-riding hooligan named Mutt (Shia LeBeouf) who enlists his help in finding his kidnapped mother and a fellow archeologist named Oxley (John Hurt). Turns out Ox and Indy have history -- they once shared a mutual obsession with finding a legendary Mayan crystal skull. Turns out Indy and Mutt's mom have history too -- she's Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), who hasn't been seen since she was the spunky heroine of *Raiders of the Lost Ark*.
*Kingdom of the Crystal Skull*, like all the *Indy* movies, is a Steven Spielberg gestalt, so the various pieces -- space aliens, religious artifacts with history-altering powers, fascism, family drama, children searching for lost parents -- fit together and make sense about as well as can be expected. So what happens when those old warriors Spielberg and Ford become Cold Warriors? Pretty much the usual stuff. Creepy, cobwebby caves. Skeletons. Poison darts. Quicksand. Monkeys. The *Indy* movies are well-oiled machines at this point, and they need to be with all those moving parts. This one's got wall-to-wall action, lots of clever stunts, and a script by David Koepp that doesn't really innovate, but mixes up familiar elements (snakes again!) in a familiar but new enough and fun way. This Indy's a little more PC than he used to be too -- he's not shooting brown-skinned people anymore, and he's actually trying to *return* a priceless artifact rather than plunder it. Maybe he's getting soft in his old age.
But not too soft. Ford looks energized playing the whip-cracking, wisecracking hero again -- even when he's supposed to be a slightly creaky, cranky old coot, he's got a twinkle in his eye. And although Spielberg hasn't been directing any *fun* movies lately, he still knows how to engage the gears and create glorious, inconsequential mayhem.