So that thing we're all worried about? About how Harrison Ford is ancient and decrepit, no doubt bumbling around gumming on a Werther's while Ally McBeal scrubs out his bedpan? How there's no goddamn way the dude can still be the world's greatest action hero? Well—no worries. In Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Ford is, once again, funny and tough and cool, able to crack a bullwhip and punch out a stooge with the best of 'em. It's been 19 years(!) since Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and Ford is now in his 60s—but you wouldn't know that from Crystal Skull, where he swings and sprints his way through yet another carnival of action sequences designed by Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. "For an old man, you're not bad in a fight," one of Crystal Skull's new characters, Mutt Williams, says to Indy. "What are you, like 80?"
Indiana Jones' world has gotten older, too: It's 1957, which means commies have replaced Nazis, greasers face off in diners, and Cold War paranoia soaks America. But past that window dressing, Crystal Skull is nothing more and nothing less than an old-fashioned adventure flick—pulpy, goofy, ridiculous, and fun.
That's not to say Crystal Skull feels exactly like the other films: There's CG this time around, for one thing, but more importantly, this is Indy's first foray into science fiction. The film kicks off at Area 51, and, as Indy chases after yet another priceless artifact (the specific nature of which is pretty obvious, given the film's ungainly title), Crystal Skull's plot leans toward that all-encompassing terror of the '50s: invaders, be they from Russia or elsewhere. Also, there are: mythical lost cities, an atomic bomb, quicksand, high-speed car chases, a sword fight that somehow happens on top of one of those high-speed car chases, and... yeah. You get it.
Which works out pretty great. The Indiana Jones films' formula of fantastic action sequences strung together by likeable characters is continued here, with Ford happily dashing off quips and dispatching bad guys. This time around, he's joined by teenage greaser Mutt Williams (the charming and frustratingly named Shia LaBeouf) and his old flame Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), and when the killer action sequences aren't piling up on top of each other, Indy's fending off the eeeevil Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett, wielding a rapier and a ludicrous Russian accent with equal gusto). The globetrotting script (by David Koepp, working from a plot by Lucas and Jeff Nathanson) keeps the action constant and the one-liners sharp, though a couple of side characters are sloppier than they should be. (Granted, anybody buying a ticket for Indiana Jones knows not to expect high art, but a couple of scenes make Crystal Skull the cartooniest Indy film to date. It comes as little surprise that Spielberg's propensity for sap gets out of hand a few times, or that that Lucas cranks up the CG in the final reel, but those are minor infractions compared to one jaw-clenching scene featuring Mutt and a tribe of friendly monkeys.)
But gripes aside, and more importantly: Crystal Skull is the first new Indiana Jones flick I've seen since I was nine, and as the opening credits rolled, I felt a type of excitement I hadn't felt since then. It stuck, and it stayed, and even when the end credits came up, I was still grinning. Above all, Crystal Skull is just fun, but it's also a reminder: Indiana Jones has been gone for entirely too long, and it's good to have him back.