The long-awaited third sequel to RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981), is aimed squarely at fans who waited nearly 20 years for swashbuckling archeologist Henry "Indiana" Jones Jr. to pick up his trademark bullwhip, shake the dust off his fedora and save the world.
1957, Nevada. At the fork in a dusty desert road, two pop-culture images of the 1950s diverge. A car filled with fresh-faced teens zooms off in one direction, all giggles and post-war consumer optimism. A military convoy turns off and proceeds to the mysterious Groom Lake military facility base – the fabled Area 51 – and murders everyone who stands between them and a warehouse stacked high with crates crammed with things the government wants to keep hidden. The convoy is made up of Soviet spies in disguise, led by Louise Brooks-bobbed she-wolf Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett), who's shanghaied Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) and his old OSS buddy, Mac (Ray Winstone), to help her find one particular crate, containing a top-secret whatzit she believes will help Russia win the arms race. Jones isn't about to let her have it, and she's not about to let him stop her.
And that, in a nutshell, is the plot. Everything else is highly decorative window dressing. Some is specific to the era: The atomic test village peopled by doomed mannequins, the red-baiting FBI agents, the evil Russians (Blanchett's Natasha Fatale accent and all), the malt-shop brawl where greasers and clean-cut college kids duke it out to a rock 'n' roll beat, the mind control experiments, the wicked Russians, the WILD ONE staging of brainy biker Mutt Williams' (Shia LaBeouf) entrance. Some is the stuff of historical esoterica: The fabled lost city of El Dorado, the rock crystal skulls that seem beyond the abilities of the primitive Mesoamerican cultures to which they're attributed, the Nazca lines – giant, ancient glyphs visible only from the air. And the rest is Indy-world lore: The affectionate references to the late Dr. Henry Jones Sr. and Marcus Brody, a quick shot of the Ark of the Covenant peeping out of a broken crate, the reappearance of Indy's one true love, the feisty Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), the inevitable snake, plus miscellaneous icky bugs, scary locals, ever-escalating feats of derring do and self-aware tough-guy quips.
The overall effect is either exhilarating or exhausting, depending on your emotional investment in the franchise, but credit where credit is due: Steven Spielberg and George Lucas set out to make one for the fans and delivered. For all the sound and fury, the result lacks the archly retro-freshness of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981), but how could it? You can't dash through the same river twice.
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