Indiana Jones received louder applause going in than he did coming out.
His latest adventure, “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” earned a respectful — though far from glowing — reception Sunday at the Cannes Film Festival, avoiding the sort of thrashing the event’s harsh critics gave to “The Da Vinci Code” two years ago.
Yet Indy’s fourth big-screen romp is not likely to go down as one of the most memorable. Some viewers at its first press screening loved it, some called it slick and enjoyable though formulaic, some said it was not worth the 19-year wait since Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Harrison Ford made the last film.
“They should have left well enough alone,” said J. Sperling Reich, who writes for FilmStew.com. “It really looked like they were going through the motions. It really looked like no one had their heart in it.”
Alain Spira of French magazine Paris Match found “Crystal Skull” a perfectly acceptable “Indiana Jones” tale, a sentiment echoed by the solid applause the movie received as the final credits rolled.
The applause was louder at the outset, though. Fans at the early afternoon showing, which preceded the film’s glitzy formal premiere with cast and crew Sunday night, cheered and clapped wildly at an announcement that the screening was about to start. Some even hummed the Indiana Jones fanfare as the lights went down.
The applause at the end was more subdued.
Cast and crew were unconcerned about how critics might dissect the film.
“I’m not afraid at all. I expect to have the whip turned on me,” Ford told reporters after the screening. “It’s not unusual for something that is popular to be disdained by some people, and I fully expect it.
But, he said: “I work for the people who pay to get in. They are my customers, and my focus is on providing the best experience I can for those people.”
The filmmakers kept the movie shrouded in secrecy, skipping the rounds of press screenings often held for big studio movies and going for a big blowout at Cannes.
Spielberg said he and his collaborators decided “that the fair thing to do and the fun thing to do would be to view it where the entire world is come together every year at this wonderful festival, and we thought that was the best place to introduce Indiana Jones to you again after 19 years.”
There were a few titters from the “Crystal Skull” crowd early on over co-star Cate Blanchett’s thick, Boris-and-Natasha accent as a Soviet operative racing against Indy to find an artifact of immeasurable power. The rather corny romantic ending also drew a chuckle or two.
In between, the film packed a fair amount of action, though some viewers found the middle portion dull. Conchita Casanovas, of Spain’s RNE radio, said she was “bored to death.”
The new movie hurls archaeologist Jones into the Cold War in 1957. He survives a nuclear blast in the desert in typically creative fashion and is reunited with “Raiders” flame Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen).
As speculated, the film has an alien connection, though far more subdued than the “Indiana Jones and the Saucer Men From Mars” story Lucas once envisioned.
There are melancholy nods to Sean Connery, who played Indy’s dad in 1989’s “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” but declined to return for the new movie, and the late Denholm Elliott, Indy’s college dean in two of the previous movies.
And the film reveals the relationship between Indy and his new sidekick, an angry young motorcycle rebel played by Shia LaBeouf.
As with “Da Vinci Code,” which went on to gross $758 million worldwide, “Crystal Skull” is so hotly anticipated that it will be virtually immune from critics’ opinions. The film is expected to put up blockbuster box-office numbers when it opens globally Thursday.
“The movie was absolutely effective enough to score with audiences everywhere,” said Anne Thompson, deputy editor of Hollywood trade paper Variety. “This played way better than ’Da Vinci Code.’ No one was gunning for it. They were excited going in, hooting for it in a positive way.”
Dozens of fans prowled outside the Palais, the Cannes headquarters, holding signs saying they needed tickets for “Crystal Skull.”
Amelia Sims, a 19-year-old University of Georgia student studying abroad, held a sign reading “I (heart) Indy.” She managed to get a pass to the press screening and loved the movie.
“I guess I’ve been waiting 19 years for this,” Sims said. “You could say I’ve been waiting my whole life.”
But Christian Monggaard, who is reviewing “Crystal Skull” for Danish newspaper Information, said he grew up with the “Indiana Jones” films and came away from this one disappointed, finding the climax an “overblown special-effects extravaganza.”
“Talk about a woman scorned,” Monggaard said. “A fan scorned is even worse.”