Lighten up, Indiana Jones is escapism and we love it

Harrison Ford reprises his role as Indiana Jones in "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," which opens nationwide today.

What's all this rubbish about angst and introspection?

Russians were supposed to be the bad guys in "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," but it could be critics who turn out to be the real spoilsports.

So far, reviewers have been less kind to Our Man Indy than the Soviet villains with whom he contends, circa 1957, claiming the film relies too heavily on our fondness for the first three films instead of digging into Jones' "dark" heart.

The summer's most anticipated movie opened today with midnight "sneaks" on a zillion screens, and the predictable raves are joined by equally predictable thumps. Perhaps one reason "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" got such a mixed response at the Cannes Film Festival is that, on the Cote d'Azur at least, escapism is out, seriousness in. Ordinary people, contemporary times, real crimes and misdemeanors have been the order of the day, not swashbuckling archaeologists who destroy more priceless antiquities than they uncover.

But just because Spider-Man is an adolescent, love-sick puppy, Batman does the Jekyll-Hyde bit and Iron Man is consumed with existential doubts doesn't mean we have to burden Indiana Jones with all that "character development." Not everyone wants to be edified at the bijou; the Indy movies are sheer entertainment. This is what Steven Spielberg and George Lucas have insisted since 1981. It's all about fun, and enough fun to earn $1.2 billion to date, one might add.

After all, weren't the Indy films inspired by all those cheesy Saturday matinee serials of the 1940s, the ones recycled for baby-boomer audiences of the 1960s? You bet, and that's a big part of their charm, with all the roller-coaster pacing and outlandish exploits.

Let's see now, Indy has rescued the Ark of the Covenant from Nazi clutches (only to have the U.S. government squirrel it away), thrashed a blood cult in India worshiping Sankara stones and returned the stones to villagers who revered them as religious objects, then outfoxed the Nazis again while discovering the Holy Grail and rekindling his relationship with his dad — maybe the greatest treasure of all. But ....

-- Real antiquities dealers and archaeologists shudder at the way Indy, with his reckless bull-in-the-china-shop techniques, mangles the ancient world.

Remember in "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" (1989), when classroom-bound Prof. Henry Jones Jr. tells students that "70 percent of archaeology is done in the library" and that they should "forget any ideas you've got about lost cities, exotic travel and digging up the world. We do not follow maps to buried treasure, and 'X' never, ever marks the spot." He refutes himself within an hour of arriving in Venice.

It'd be a lot less exciting to filmgoers, but some wish Dr. Jones would heed his own advice about practicing proper science. After all, "Raiders of the Lost Ark," could have been subtitled "Gilded Idol Secured; Secret Temple in Ruins."

-- Haven't found enough Indy online? Joining such catch-all websites as indyexperience.com is a growing community of devoted fans who can be engaged at The Indiana Jones Wiki (indianajones.wikia.com). Since 2005, these folks have been collaborating to whip some snap-crackle-pop into one of the more comprehensive online fan sites on the subject.

-- Based on the Wikipedia model — the site's info is open for editing and amendment, so anyone can contribute — this online encyclopedia of Indy lore is a ready reference for the feature films, television series, novels, comics and video games, with more than 850 articles to its credit.

A caution, though: Fans already are adding "spoiler" information on the new movie.

Give 'em 20 lashes.