Over the last year, two of the most influential Hollywood franchises of the 1980s, “Die Hard” and “Rambo”, have already added fourth installments. But those comebacks were small potatoes compared to the one we are witnessing these days, namely the return of Indiana Jones. I don’t reckon there’s any other movie-movie series that’s as beloved as this one, spawned from the combined imaginations of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg.

Why? Maybe because it encompasses just about every popular genre: action, adventure, romance, comedy and horror, with hints of war movies, westerns and even musicals (remember the opening of “Temple of Doom”?). All that was missing was science-fiction and whaddya know, “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” introduces just that to the mix!

For you see, the crystal skull of the title has, according to legend, extra-terrestrial origins. And right from the start, we go deep into Area 51 (which is where the warehouse at the end of “Raiders” is located, it turns out) and learn the “truth” about the Roswell crash. This is a strike of genius on Lucas and Spielberg’s part, I feel, because one of the things that made “Last Crusade” slightly inferior to the other movies in the series is that it too obviously tried to go back to what worked in the original, notably the Nazis and the Judeo-Christian mythology.

While still retaining the spirit of its predecessors, this fourth episode feels unexpectedly fresh thanks to the aforementioned introduction of sci-fi elements, as well as how it takes full advantage of the fact that’s it’s now set in the 1950s instead of the 1930s like the other ones. As such, the Red Scare and the Nuclear fears of the era play heavily into the plot, and Shia LaBeouf‘s character is clearly intended as a Brando type (his introduction is straight out of “The Wild One”) contrasting with Harrison Ford‘s Bogart.

Speaking of which, the relationship between Ford’s Indiana Jones and LaBeouf’s Mutt Williams, the exact nature of which probably won’t be a surprise to anybody, is wonderful, acting as a neat reverse of the one between Indy and his dad in “Last Crusade”. Dr. Jones is now the older figure who’s initially somewhat disapproving of his younger counterpart, but who eventually looks at him with affection and pride. I also got a big kick out of the return of Karen Allen‘s Marion Ravenwood and her love-hate relationship with Indy, and Cate Blanchett‘s psychic Commie dominatrix Irina Spalko just might be the best villain in the series. As for Ford himself, while the film acknowledges that the actor and his character have aged, you couldn’t tell from the way he handles himself in the heat of action; he’s still a badass!

The same can be said of Spielberg, who proves once again that no one can direct an old-fashioned (i.e. devoid of post-Matrix or post-Bourne tics) rollicking ride like he can. From the Area 51 opening sequence to the awe-inspiring climax in the Mayan City of Gold and the endearing coda, by the way of the show-stopping jeep chase (which is at least equal to the truck chase in “Raiders”, the mineshaft chase in “Temple” and the tank chase in “Crusade”), “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” is pure entertainment. It’s not quite as lean and mean as the first two but, as mentioned, it’s fresher than the third outing. The most anticipated movie of the summer, it turns out, is indeed a must-see, thank God!