Whether Harrison Ford, who turns 66 this July, can still hack it as an action hero is just one of many questions hovering around Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Per director Steven Spielberg's strict decree, not even the Paramount marketing team has been allowed to see any work-in-progress versions. Neither has EW. (Finishing touches weren't done until mid-April.) But we do have inside intelligence on what it's about: greed, abduction, the Cold War, anticommunist fervor, torture, theft, artifact-acquisition rivalry, and the post-WWII generation gap, among other things. (Now's a good time to bail out if you hate spoilers even though we'd classify the ones that follow as mild.)
Remember dark-haired Marion Ravenwood, Indy's squeeze from Raiders of the Lost Ark? She's back and once again played by Karen Allen, now 56 and looking remarkably unchanged. Expect to see Marion and Indy trading gibes through lots of South American jungle jeopardy involving quicksand, amphibious vehicles, so-called Ugha warriors, and large, nasty ants. To the likely delight of teenage girls, Spielberg and Co. have also given Indy a sidekick played by 21-year-old Shia LaBeouf, a strong ticket-seller in Disturbia and Transformers last year. (Spielberg helped produce the latter.) Muscled up, LaBeouf adopts a sort of Marlon Brando punk-rebel persona right out of The Wild One as a leather-jacketed, switchblade-carrying, motorcycle-riding young searcher named Mutt Williams. Hmmm, Mutt as in a mongrel, of mixed or uncertain parentage. Will it turn out he's the son of Indy and/or Marion? And does Crystal Skull set up Mutt as a spin-off-ready new hero? Fans have been arguing these points online for well over a year.
Another focus of chatroom buzz has been the baddies, a nasty group of Russian soldiers and operatives in search of the title object because of its reputed mind-controlling powers. (About time, says Ford, that Indy moved on from tangling with German SS officers, as he did in movies 1 and 3: ''We plum wore the Nazis out. Couldn't go there again.'') The leader of the KGB-backed pack is Cate Blanchett, in a severe, straight-banged, ink black wig, as Agent Irina Spalko. She's a born interrogator. Gimlet-eyed and handy with a sword, she crosses blades with Mutt. Asked if Agent Spalko gives off a vaguely dominatrix vibe, producer George Lucas says, ''Not so vaguely,'' and bursts out laughing. Could be the kinkiest thing he's helped brainstorm since he put Princess Leia in a gold bikini and chains in Return of the Jedi. (This is an online-only excerpt of Entertainment Weekly's Summer Movie Preview cover story. Click here to read the full text.)