Nobody cracks the whip for grey power like Professor Henry "Indiana" Jones Jr, legendary lost-temple-discoverer, baddie-foiler and boulder-evader, in which iconic role the increasingly grizzled Harrison Ford returns in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

It's a title that no one here in Cannes can quite remember off the top of their heads, preferring to say simply "IJ4" - and generally adding a whoop of excitement. It's no exaggeration to say that Cannes has gone Indy crazy, with delegates queueing for hours to get in before the show began at lunchtime. Many threw their cinephile dignity to the winds, attempting to vault the barriers and rush in for the best seats, and having to be hauled back by one of the grey-suited entry police after an undignified scramble. An appearance by Steven Spielberg at the back of the packed auditorium, accompanied by festival director Thierry Frémaux, caused among us a veritable Mexican wave of head-turning and neck-craning.

There's plenty going on in this movie, with one or two tremendous stunts and some very nasty giant ants. It also steers clear of the dusky-foreigner stereotypes that got the second Indiana Jones picture into hot water. But despite the genuine excitement, and one blinding flash of the old genius, this new Indy film looks like it's going through the motions. The third film was called Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, after all; perhaps, like the first Star Wars film, that will need a change of title, with the word "penultimate" added to all new DVDs.

Unlike the calamitous Star Wars prequel trilogy, this film doesn't trash our treasured memories, but it doesn't add anything either. In fact, it seems like a very, very long extra ending, like the six or seven Peter Jackson tacked on to his The Return of the King.

The idea is that Indy is now plying his trade in the cold war of the 1950s. After discovering a Soviet plot to infiltrate an Area 51-style US military base, with a highly classified alien corpse, he witnesses a nuclear test and is then confronted with the Russian villainness Irina Spalko, played by Cate Blanchett looking like a very, very attractive and taller version of Rosa Klebb. She wants to get her nasty Commie hands on the mythical crystal skull of a pre-Mayan civilisation, and return it to its legendary tomb deep in the South American jungle, created by Erich Von Daniken-style space invaders - and this will give the USSR supreme mystical powers over the free world. But not if Indy gets there first, and he's accompanied by his unreliable Brit pal Mac (Ray Winstone), addled academic Professer Oxley (John Hurt), new young sidekick Mutt (Shia Labeouf) and it's nice to see a return from Indy's first and feistiest love, Marion (Karen Allen).

Like it or not, however, since Indy disappeared in 1989, plenty of movies have been ripping off his act: National Treasure, Sahara - even the dreaded The Da Vinci Code. So when Harrison Ford now returns to discover more tombs, more stone walls that grind apart at the touch of a lever, more waterfalls of sand - well, the thrill is gone. As Indiana says grimly at one point: "Same old, same old." We were promised an eldorado, and I was hoping for a giant gold city. It turns out the gold is a metaphor for knowledge.

There is one moment of authentic Spielberg genius: Indy blunders onto a nuclear test site in the desert ten seconds before detonation. Desperately, he breaks into a nearby house and begs for help, but the house only has creepy mannequins instead of people. It is an entire fake town, constructed to assess the effect of a nuclear blast on civilians. Convulsed with horror, Indiana scrambles to find shelter from the blast. It really is chilling, and Indiana Jones's bewildering predicament at the very epicentre of modernity gives a flash of the old Spielberg; the Spielberg of Jaws and Close Encounters.

Everything else is a retread from the VHS age. There are some nice moments, and everything is good-natured enough. But this is a moment for Harrison Ford to hang up the hat.


Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

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