Despite its frenetic pacing and the nearly-interminable length of its action sequences, an aura of lethargy pervades the latest chapter in this series of adolescent adventures featuring the cinematically famous archeologist/bullwhip aficionado originally introduced to audiences by Director Steven Spielberg in Raiders of the Lost Ark over a quarter-century ago. “Indy’s” now in his 60’s and his joints creak nearly as much as this plot does. Harrison Ford has worn the same knowing smirk since he first raced hot-rods in American Graffiti, and he looks more shop-worn than seasoned here as he wanders through an un-named South American landscape searching for the last remains of Spanish conquistadors said to have discovered an ancient city of gold.
Beware action films whose plot exposition comes from the mouths of its characters rather than from the events depicted; screenwriter David Koepp, (responsible for burdening viewers with the Jurassic Park movies) works here from a story credited to George “Star Wars” Lucas, proving that the dangers of creative Hollywood in-breeding aren’t exclusively genetic. Set in 1957, Skull’s action lurches from a Southwestern nuclear test-site to an Eastern university to undisclosed Amazonian locations with scant attention paid to storyline coherence. Along the way we’re treated to Cate Blanchett’s updated version of Lotte Lenya’s villainous spymaster in From Russia With Love, Shia LaBeouf’s painful impersonation of Brando’s motorcycle skills in The Wild One and Karen Allen’s reprise of her perky self as Indy’s girlfriend in the original Raiders. Talented British actors like Ray Winstone (Sexy Beast, Ladybird, Ladybird) and John Hurt, (Scandal, Rob Roy) function as talking plot-devices, vainly trying to keep the storyline glued together.
Spielberg’s a master craftsman, so the technical aspects of Skull are first rate and with its large budget, the special effects are as predictably spectacular as one might expect. But this movie’s an example of “same old, same old”; when compared to The Iron Man’s zany freshness, this one’s just lame and tame…yet likely to be the biggest box-office success of the year.
The verdict? This cinematic franchise provides ample proof of the power of branding in movie sequels, but Indiana Jones now appears well-past his sell-by date.
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