So i'd heard a lot of mediocre things about the new movie before i went to see it. Despite having lowered expectations my final opinion was still very much 'meh.' Usually not expecting much helps with enjoying movies, but in this case i think perhaps it wasn't able to overcome the innate expectations of an Indiana Jones movie.
How did i 'meh' thee? Let me count the ways (with spoilers)
First of all, plain old plausibility. This was actually the least of my concerns if you can believe that.
(Also, i apologize for the poor job of organization and editing, but i'd already spent longer on this than i'd originally meant to, and finally had to give up and just hit "post.")
I'm reasonably good at noticing scientific or logical flaws in movies or books. Not great, but not too bad. However most of the time at the same time that i recognize a problem there is also a voice in the back of my head saying "it's just a show, you should really just relax."
So although i am aware of the flaw it doesn't jar me out of experience. If the flaw is small enough that it can be subsumed in the expectations of the genre that is. If the flaw is big enough even the voice in the back of my head can't overcome it. For example:
Me: "Gunpowder doesn't have metal in it, and it isn't magnetic"
Voice: "It's just a show, you should really just relax."
Me: "That box can make dust fly through the air from a thousand feet away and metal shot fly through the air from ten feet away. Anyone with a watch, a belt buckle, or especially a gun ought to be plastered to the side of it if they get within two or three feet, and gods help anyone with metal fillings in their teeth. Also that jeep should be toast."
Voice: "Didn't you know? The power of a magnetic field in a show is directly proportional to the square of the plot. Just relax."
Me: "They're shooting machine guns at people from 20 feet away and missing"
Voice: "Oh come on, that's not even worth bringing up!"
Me: "Indy just survived a nuclear blast by hiding in a refrigerator and getting thrown what seems to have been at least a mile before smashing into the ground and emerging unharmed. The force of takeoff and landing alone should have liquefied him."
Voice: "It's just a show, you should really just... wait, he did what?"
If this had been a Matrix-like movie or a superhero movie i could probably have accepted that, but although i'm willing to accept a fair bit from a action-adventure movie about an archaeologist that was far outside the range.
The rest of the move continued like that. Kid knowing instinctively how to swing through the jungle Tarzan style, it's a little far fetched but okay. A troop of monkeys choosing to join in on the attack with him, okay. Giant killer red ants that can drag struggling adult humans back to their dens, probably don't exist in real life but plausible for a movie. Said ants are magically repelled by the crystal skull, that's a bit weird, but okay. Driving over the edge of a cliff in such a way as to hit the only tree around and be gently lowered to the river below, rather implausible, but i can live with it. Going over the edge of a large waterfall and coming out at the bottom coughing and spluttering, i can accept that. Then going over the edge of two more even bigger waterfalls, HUGE waterfalls, at least one of which was full of jagged rocks at the bottom, now we've gone a fair bit past the plausibility envelope. If they'd even just kept it at two more moderately large waterfalls without the rocks of death at the bottom i probably could have swallowed it.
Also, i have no idea if snakes have the structural stability to be used as ropes, but i kind of suspect not, and just contemplating the issues involved put some very unpleasant images in my head that made watching the scene uncomfortable.
Aside from the pure "is that even" possible questions there were a lot of issues with entropy and repeatability with the film.
If there were deadly Mayans(?) guarding the cave with the Conquistadors and the crystal skull inside how did the other archaeologist guy, who seemed much less heroic than Indy even when he wasn't being crazy, get in to take it in the first place? And then how did he get in to put it back? Well, maybe the Mayans hadn't been trying to kill people before, but had gotten pissed off by the previous incursions.
Apparently the other group of Mayans spend their time lurking in walls so they can burst out of their plastered/carved/whatevered lurking places whenever intruders decide to trespass. In their off time they laboriously repair the busted out walls so they can jump out of them again when the next group of intruders come by.
Then they discover this giant monolith blocking the only way into the temple, and after some tinkering about they realize they can knock out some stone plugs to let sand flow out and the monolith sink. It continues sinking past the level where the sand was flowing out (one of those logical nitpicks that didn't actually bother me) before opening up the path to the temple. Of course the path has its own booby traps and as they race down the stairs they can see the remains of previous adventurers who had tried to pass. Er, so after the last group came through how did the giant several hundred ton monolith rise at least 10 or 20 feet into the air and suck up all the sand again to reset itself?
Then inside they find a sealed chamber with a single door inside, blocked my a massive locked door. They key to unlocking the door? The crystal skull of course. Inside they find the 13 alien skeletons, one of which was missing the skull. Which had been stolen hundreds of years ago by the Conquistadors. Who went through the door. Which could only be opened by a crystal skull. Which were all inside the chamber at the time... wait a second!
Now we come to the bigger issues, the plot and look and feel of the movie.
Okay, first of all, ALIENS?! WTF?!?
I actually got "spoiled" for this since it took me a couple weeks getting around to seeing the movie. I'd heard that the crystal skull was actually from an alien. I'd also heard a story that Lucas sent three script drafts to Spielberg, and the first two times Spielberg refused saying "I am not going to film an Indiana Jones movie about aliens" before finally giving up, supposedly because the third script had less aliens in it than the first two. I suspect that Lucas just wore him down, because i'm having trouble imagining a movie that involved aliens more than the one that got produced. Perhaps at some point the aliens came out and did a tap dance routine.
Okay, i take that back. According to wikipedia the story of the development of the movie was a little more complicated than that, but essentially true. And the second script ended with "a climactic battle between the US military and flying saucers."
But anyways the inclusion of aliens was a bad idea to begin with, and a bad idea to end with, no matter how much Ford and Spielberg managed to talk Lucas down on the idea. The fact that the MacGuffin is a crystal skull certainly doesn't help. Given that most of the existing crystal skulls are of questionable authenticity at best and they've been heavily latched onto by the new age movement gives them a certain lack of gravitas. The fact that i couldn't help but laugh every time i saw the ludicrously shaped crystal skull definitely didn't help either.
And it's not like there aren't plenty of other mythological items with actual "real" history that they couldn't have used instead. They could have used some Babylonian artifact and spent the entire movie wandering around the desserts of the middle east.
Speaking of which, for some reason the south american rain forest didn't really seem like the right place for Indy to be. Discounting the Temple of Doom, 90% of the rest of the Indiana Jones movies took place centered around the Mediterranean, which seems like a very stereotypically appropriate place for an archaeologist. Event the bit in the jungle at the beginning of Radiers seemed to have more of am.... environmentally friendly atmosphere. This however is a complaint that has no real justification whatsoever aside from a feeling on my part. Aztec/Mayan ruins are a perfectly reasonable place for an archaeologist to go exploring, even if it doesn't fit the stereotype quite as well.
However my biggest complaint about the MacGuffin was that it showed up _way_ too early. I went into the movie telling myself that i needed not to think too much about the fact that the skull was from an alien, and then in the first scene they're busting into Area 51! Okay, that's just a bit of a hint, i think, but then they're actually pulling out an alien corpse! They find the original crystal skull less than halfway through the movie and after that it starts doing magical tricks left and right! The only thing that was really surprising was when they held the crystal skull up the paintings in the temple at the end and gasp in surprise! As if they hadn't been told or shown that it was an alien a half dozen times already! =P
It just seemed like a lot of the tension was lost because they found the MacGuffin so early and by the time we got to the climax it had already done so much that the revelation of yet another power seemed rather blasé.
Anyways, once you get past the aliens bit you then notice the conspicuous lack of nazis. Isn't "Indiana Jones and whoever team up and fight nazis" supposed to be a synonym for "awesome"?
Russian communists lack a certain cachet as villains these days. If you want to examine some alternate history where we actually go to war with them, say "Red Dawn" or *ahem* "Red Alert 2" :) then sure, they're very credible villains. However in our current universe, which Indiana Jones is supposed to mostly inhabit, the USSR just kind of got to sixty or so and then fell over. We never had to get involved in a world war to stop them.
Yes, Stalin _was_ actually interested in psychic research, and yes one can argue that if they _had_ gained the ability to psychically take over it would have been all bad, but the idea is still kooky and the emotional impact just isn't there. Maybe i'm being unduly influenced by things like oh, say Red Alert 2, which had psychics in the Soviet army, led by Yuri, but it was all played for camp.
"Indiana Jones and his son team up to fight Nazis!" sounds awesome. "Indiana Jones and his son, and possibly some aliens, team up to fight Communists, and possibly some aliens!" just doesn't work as well. It also probably doesn't help that Indy is being harassed and coerced by real live communist agents from one side, and harassed by McCarthyism obsessed US government agents on the other, and meanwhile we can't tell if the aliens are on anyone's side but their own. Sure that's probably a more complex and realistic portrayal of things than "good guys" vs "bad guys," but i don't thing most people want complex portrayals in Indiana Jones movies, they want black and white.
And really, if they're going to throw in crystal skulls and aliens then is adding in the legends of groups of escaped Nazis in south america really such a huge leap?
Speaking of those issues, how did Indy end up getting forgiven and instituted as one of the deans or whatever at the end? As far as i can tell the sequence when something like this. Indy is coerced into helping the Communists but escapes. The government worries that he might be a traitor and/or might end up helping the Communists again, and tries to wreck his life. Indy _does_ get captured and coerced into helping the Communists again, but luckily no one in authority knows about it. Indy then escapes and then defeats the Communists, and some aliens, and some geography, but unfortunately no one in authority knows about it (and fortunately no other archaeologists know about the artifacts he inadvertently helped destroy.) He then goes home, and despite that fact that he can't prove anything happened, good or bad, he's suddenly back in good graces without explanation. Did McCarthyism manage to peak and fail entirely during the time while he was gone? Possibly, but it certainly wasn't explained.
As for the aliens, they sat around in their chamber for hundreds or thousands of years before one of their skulls got stolen, and the instant it comes back they need to get the hell out of dodge right _now_?
Of course not offering a reward to those who have valiantly rescued them. However despite the fact that one of them was along for the entire ride in the form of their skull, they don't seem to have a very clear idea of who it is exactly that deserves their gratitude.
Does the psychic russian person get the reward because she was the one to physically put the skull back? Because she was the first one to ask for it? Because the aliens are just dumb?
And although making bad choices when asking for a wish is a trope with a long history, it changes things a bit when the thing granting the wish is sentient and has free will. She asked for "all knowledge" (or something like that) as a reward, and it predictably resulted in a literal mind meltdown, during which the alien just watches her and makes some kind of indecipherable face. So what was it/they thinking at that point? Were they evil? Incompetent? Contemptuous? Just plain confused? "That's interesting, when I mentally access the repository of all knowledge my face doesn't reconfigure itself into liquid form. Is that something special you humans do? Oh well, I need to run now, I'm a few thousand years late for my dinner date. I need to hurry or I won't be getting lucky this eon! Have fun with your face melty thing! Bye!"
And then they depart, sucking up everyone who "helped" rescue them that wasn't smart enough to start running immediately, the chamber of ancient treasures they'd saved from around the world (only to destroy now) not to mention the entire ancient temple, and then topped it off by flooding the entire valley that their tribe of faithful worshipers had been living in for centuries. I guess it was a good thing for them that they were all killed by the Communists before they could be destroyed by the unfaithful gods =P
And speaking of who was responsible for what, why oh why did Indy decide to take his friend back after he had already been betrayed twice? And why did he even bother trying to save him after the third betrayal? It started to seem a little like a sitcom, Indy: "Hey look everyone! We're being betrayed to the enemy for a quick buck again! Oh that Mac!" Studio audience: "HAHAHAHAHA!"
Sure they had some kind of brief conversation in the middle of a fist fight in which Mac claimed he'd been planning to triple-cross the soviets all along, but it wasn't very convincing and it was bizarre that the rest of them never stopped to question it after they had escaped.
So all in all it was an okay action movie, but it didn't really live up to what i was expecting for an Indiana Jones movie. I'm hard pressed to say if i would rate it above or below Temple of Doom, but it's certainly not putting any pressure on Raiders or Last Crusade.