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REVIEW:
INDIANA JONES FIGURES - THE RUSSIANS
By Thomas Wheeler


In two of the three original Indiana Jones movies, which took place in the mid to late 1930's, Indy fought the Nazis, as well as individual enemies affiliated with them. It could probably be argued that in the second movie, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Indiana Jones fought an overly grim storyline in a movie that was technically a prequel and was not that well received by certain fans. Even Steven Spielberg said one of the reasons he was involved in the third movie, Last Crusade, was to "apologize for the last one".

However, with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull taking place in 1957, 19 years after the events of Last Crusade, in keeping with the real amount of time having passed since the last Indiana Jones movie, using Nazis as the enemy was no longer viable. Another enemy had to be found.

It wasn't a hard decision to make -- Russians. In 1957, the Cold War was in full swing, people were desperately afraid of Soviet Communist hordes taking over or dropping atom bombs all over the place, and indeed, the Soviet Union did seem determined to one day rule the world, and they would remain the United States' opposite number and most threatening enemy for decades to come.

In Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Colonel-Doctor Irina Spalko and a convoy of Soviet agents posing as US Army soldiers infiltrate a military base called Hanger 51 in the Nevada desert. They force Indiana Jones to lead them to a crate in "Hangar 51", which holds the remains of an extraterrestrial creature that crashed ten years before in Roswell, New Mexico. Jones attempts to escape, but is foiled by his partner Mac, who reveals that he is working with the Soviets. After a fight and an elaborate vehicle chase through the warehouse, Jones escapes on a rocket sled into the desert.

While being debriefed, Jones discovers he is under FBI investigation because of Mac's Soviet ties. Jones returns to Marshall College, where he is offered a leave of absence to avoid being fired because of the investigation. While leaving, Jones is stopped by Mutt Williams and told that his old colleague, Harold Oxley, disappeared after discovering a crystal skull in Peru.

In Peru, Jones and Mutt discover that Oxley was locked in a psychiatric hospital until Soviet soldiers kidnapped him. In Oxley's former cell, Jones discovers clues to the grave of Francisco de Orellana, a Conquistador who went missing in the 1500s while seeking Akator, also known as El Dorado. At the Nazca Lines, Jones finds the crystal skull that Oxley hid in Orellana's grave. The skull is elongated in the shape that indigenous peoples formed their own skulls into; the Soviets believe the skull is from an extraterrestrial life-form, holding great psychic power.

The Soviets capture Indy and Mutt and take them to the camp where they are holding Oxley and Mutt's mother, Marion Ravenwood, who reveals that Mutt is Jones's son. The four escape from the camp, leading to a lengthy vehicle chase involving sword fights and other battles, including giant ants. Mutt, Marion, Mac, Oxley, and Jones ride an amphibious vehicle over a cliff and down three waterfalls, eventually finding the Temple of Akator.

The group enters the temple and Jones uses the skull to open the door to a chamber tomb. Inside, thirteen crystal skeletons, one with a missing skull, are seated on thrones. And that, is probably more than I should tell you if you haven't seen the movie yet, which I highly recommend.

As one might expect, there are no shortage of Russian action figures available in the current Indiana Jones toy line. This review will take a look at three of them -- Irina Spalko, Colonel Dovchenko, and the Russian Soldier.

IRINA SPALKO - Played in the movie by Cate Blanchett, whom Spielberg credited with a number of Spalko's character and visual traits, including her bob-cut haircut. Critics have had few kind words about Blanchett's Russian accent. For myself, I'd have to say it's a little over the top, but I've certainly heard far worse.

As Irina Spalko, she is in charge of the Soviet mission to retrieve the crystal skull and determine its meaning. Spalko believes that the skull has vast psychic powers, something she claims to have herself, and gives evidence of to some small degree in the movie. Indy is skeptical about this, as one would expect. Spalko is unyielding, severe, and largely emotionless except for a certain viciousness and utter determination to see the mission through to completion. The unusual haircut she has somehow seems to reinforce this.

Spalko is superb at swordplay, which gives actor Shia LaBeouf's character, Mutt Williams, his one really extended action scene in the movie, as he faces off against Spalko in a fencing match across two moving vehicles in the middle of the jungle!

The other thing that really sets Spalko apart from the rest of the Soviet troopers in the movie is her uniform. It is a pale grey in color, as opposed to the usual tan that the rest of the Soviets wear. Spalko is unquestionably the main villain of the movie. Screenwriter David Koepp created the character. Frank Marshall said Spalko continued the tradition of Indiana having a love-hate relationship "with every woman he ever comes in contact with". Blanchett had wanted to play a villain for a "couple of years", and enjoyed being part of the Indiana Jones legacy as she loved the previous films.

The figure is a superb likeness of the movie character, and has been one of the more difficult ones to find in the line. Whether this is due to the characters prominence and possible popularity in the movie, or whether the figure is short-packed, yet again a victim of the belief that female characters do not sell well in an action figure line, I am not certain.

The figure's headsculpt is perfect. Good facial likeness, and they got the haircut just right. The detailing on the face is painted superbly well, although I do recommend taking a close look before purchasing. I've noticed that some figures in the Indiana Jones line have had a little trouble with precise painting on the eyes. Granted, the eyes are generally quite complex, including the whites, irises, pupils, and a line above the eyes representing eyelashes. That's NOT easy, especially at this 3-3/4" scale size. But it's not impossible at all to find well-painted ones. Might just take a little digging and patience.

Spalko's figure seems to have the same confident-and-nasty stare as the character in the movie. She is utterly assured of her own victory.

The uniform is perfectly crafted, and in precisely the right color. Spalko's uniform does not have a lot of ornamentation on it. It is a grey coat and grey trousers, the same color, with a few pockets on the coat, and a bit of flair to the upper legs of the trousers. Apart from that, she has black gloves, belt, and boots, and a sheathe for her long and fancy sword, really the only unusual ornamentation anywhere on the uniform.

What detail there is -- mostly buttons on the coat and the belt buckle, are very nicely and neatly painted.

As one would expect, the figure comes with a long and ornate sword. About my only criticism here is that the sheathe cannot actually hold the sword. A minor point, however. The sword is very nicely made, and fairly ornate. The only other accessory is a very small pistol that, unless you plan to have the Spalko figure actually holding it, I recommend putting it in a Ziploc bag for safe-keeping. Otherwise this pistol stands too much of a chance of becoming vacuum cleaner bait.

Irina Spalko is very well articulated. Hasbro has really done a magnificent job with these figures. Irina is poseable at the head, arms, elbows, glove tops (for wrist turning, certainly essential for fencing), waist, legs, knees, and boot tops.

In my opinion, Irina Spalko is perhaps Indiana Jones' most ardent adversary ever, and this figure of her is very nicely done, and should certainly be of interest to anyone collecting the Indiana Jones figures.

COLONEL DOVCHENKO - Played in the movie by Igor Jijikine. Whenever possible, Spielberg cast actual Russian actors for the Russian roles in the movie, so that their accents would sound authentic.

The figures arrived in the stores some time before the movie hit the theaters, and of course I had seen the Colonel Dovchenko figure. I assumed he would have a rather large role in the movie, but really, he doesn't have all that much to do. He has two good scenes, though. One of them (assuming I have my Russians straight - they all dress pretty much alike and it's a little hard to tell), is when he's in the back of a truck guarding Jones, Marion, and Mutt Williams. The three of them are arguing about their pasts, and finally Dovchenko has enough and snaps, "Oh for the love of God, shut up!"

And even if that one wasn't Dovchenko, it was still a pretty funny comment in the scene.

Dovchenko's really big scene, though, is in a knock-down, drag-out fight with Indy. In this, he's filling in for that big shirtless German that fought Indy in the first movie. Only here, they're surrounded by ants.

Both groups, Spalko's and Jones', managed to really tick off a huge population of very large, and apparently carnivorous ants, that proceed to chase the two vehicles. Jones and Dovchenko are on the ground, and the only thing keeping them from being victims of the ants is the fact that Jones' longtime friend Harold Oxley is using the Crystal Skull's power to keep the ants at bay. They form a ring around the three men, as Jones and Dovchenko proceed to try to beat the daylights out of each other.

Ultimately, after considerable effort, Jones manages to defeat Dovchenko, who falls outside of the protective circle created by the Crystal Skull, and is swarmed by the ants, who actually carry him off and drag him entirely into their massive anthill.

Dovchenko looks like a fairly typical Soviet military officer for the time period. I'd have to check my Osprey Military books on the Soviet Army to see just HOW authentic they got it for the movie, but he looks good. He is wearing an officer's hat, tan in color, with a red star on the front. He is wearing a gold-tan uniform, consisting of a tunic-like jacket, and trousers that are slightly flared near the tops of the legs. He has a brown belt with a holster to the side, and a narrower brown belt over his right shoulder. The shoulders have ornate little boards on them denoting his rank, with gold stars and red stripes. Dovchenko also has black boots.

The painted detail is not all that extensive, nor does it need to be, but what there is of it is very well done, and down to some pretty small details. All of the buttons on Dovchenko's jacket are painting, including at the collar and sleeve cuffs. The shoulder braid is also very nicely done. The facial detail on Dovchenko is neatly applied, although my warning about eyes maintains here.

Dovchenko is very well articulated, poseable at the head, arms, elbows (including swivel), wrists, waist, legs, knees (including swivel) and ankles. As to his accessories, he comes with a small but nicely made machine gun, that has some painted detail on it. Oddly, the machine gun is made from a VERY rubbery plastic. It's almost funny. He also comes with the same small pistol that Spalko comes with. Another one for the Ziploc bag, trust me.

Overall, although he wasn't all that prominent in the movie, the figure of Colonel Dovchenko is an impressive one, and certainly recommended for anyone collecting the line.

RUSSIAN SOLDIER - Some action figure collectors love "army-builders". I've seen Star Wars collectors round up hundreds of Clone Troopers and Stormtroopers. I've seen G.I. Joe fans bring in hundreds Cobra Troopers and Cobra Vipers. That being said, if for whatever reason you've ever wanted to build your own private Red Army of Russian soldiers, and you don't really care that they'll all have the same face -- well, here's your chance!

Obviously Irina Spalko isn't going to set up an operation of this magnitude on her own. She's accompanied by a generous supply of Russian Soldiers. And although the figure doesn't represent any ONE specific soldier, it's still a cool design.

The figure has a nice, if somewhat generic headsculpt that somehow manages to look reasonably Russian nevertheless. The figure has light brown hair, and is wearing a military cap with a red star on the front of it.

The uniform is the same gold-tan of Colonel Dovchenko, and consists of a tunic and trousers. There's a brown belt with a gold belt buckle, and black boots.

Once again, the intricacy of some of the painted detailing really comes through. Shirt buttons are painted, as are clasps on the boots, snaps on the belt pouches, and the clasp on the canteen on the back of the belt, which itself is painted a different color than the belt. The painting, as a rule, is very neatly done, although I did notice that part of the right hand wasn't painted as it should have been, but this was likely an isolated incident.

The Russian Soldier figure is very nicely articulated, fully poseable at the head, arms, elbows, wrists, waist, legs, knees, and ankles.

Accessorywise, he comes with a very nice, and distinctly larger rifle than the one Dovchenko comes with. It's got some painted detail on it, and is also made from a somewhat rubbery plastic, but it doesn't seem quite as flexible as Dovchenko's floppy firearm.

One somewhat unusual thing about all three of these figures. Their upper torsos are completely painted. I've seen Hasbro do this before, notably in G.I. Joe, where they'll paint the entire head, or sometimes the entire torso, in one particular color, and then add the additional painted detail such as eyes and eyebrows, buttons, insignias, whatever. I just don't get this. It's not as glaring on these figures as in other instances, but it still strikes me as pointless. More often than not, the part has been molded in the correct color in the first place? However, in this instance, I don't think this is the case. It took me a while to figure it out, but the figures' torsos appear to have been molded in the flesh tone of the skin -- in other words, for their necks. Now it strikes me that it might've been a little easier, or at least have used less paint, to mold the torsos in the uniform color and paint the necks, but -- whatever.

Still, on these, at least, it's nowhere near as annoying as it's been on some other toy lines. I can tolerate it more readily on a uniform than on a face, and it blends in well enough. All three figures are really superbly done.

Now, when it comes to Hasbro making 3-3/4" military figures, there's going to be one inevitable comparison. How do they stack up to G.I. Joe? And really, it's not a fair comparison. Structurally, these figures aren't really that close to any established version of the Real American Hero. If anything, they're more like Star Wars figures in their structural design. Now, if you're not too picky about format, there's no real reason you couldn't buy a mess of Russian Soldiers and give your Oktober Guard a heck of a reserve force. But that's entirely up to you. Regardless of any comparison, these figures are very cool.

One more accessory note: Each figure comes with a little cardboard box. This cardboard box includes a little plastic artifact, and a sticker. You can use six of the stickers to mail order a Crystal Skeleton with Throne, at least until October 2008. I honestly have no idea how many artifacts there are, although I have heard that there are 17, with more on the way with future assortments of figures and new characters -- which means that, hopefully, if all goes well, the Indiana Jones line IS continuing, which I consider VERY good news!

This is a line that deserves to continue, and maintain a presence in the toy stores for a good long time. It's a great concept and it's had some great movies. And my final word on the Russian contingent here? All well made, and very impressive. IRINA SPALKO, COLONEL DOVCHENKO, and the RUSSIAN SOLDIER (Buy one! Buy tons!) from INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL definitely all have my highest recommendation!