WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD! SPOILERS AHEAD!
I am a huge Indiana Jones fan. Raiders, Temple and Crusade pretty much account for 25% of my lifetime film viewing on their own. So when I heard that a 4th film was in the making, I was naturally rather excited. Then came the usual train of Hollywood rumours - people were attached to the project, plot possibilities were discussed, mouthy crewmembers were sued for breaching the non-disclosure agreement signed by all those associated with the film - and my excitement grew. On paper, EVERYTHING about the movie was guaranteed to interest me: Harrison Ford was back, Ray Winstone, John Hurt, Cate Blanchett and Jim Broadbent were involved, and the ever-radiant Karen Allen was reprising her role from Raiders as Indy's love interest. Then everything seemed to start going downhill. Indy was now fighting Soviet agents in the 50s (a period too cynical to be in keeping with the pulpy goodness of the original trilogy), Shia LaBeouf was cast as Indy's son, Mutt (a nice nod to the conclusion of Crusade: "we named the dog Indiana!"), and... worst of all, he was investigating aliens.
Now, part of me still went into the cinema with the anticipation of a fun romp through 2 hours of wisecracks and whipcracks - after all, the gang was back together, and the previous 3 had been so fantastic. Alas, this was not the case. I'd even re-watched the first 3 movies in anticipation of this new release, and found them to be as good as ever, so the argument of rose-tinted memories of the original films can't apply. In short, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a very, very bad film.
The script is poor, the CGI dreadful, there are plotholes EVERYWHERE, the villains are more reminiscent of pantomime versions of Fearless Leader, Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale from the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons. There are several ineptly-handled and ill-conceived scenes, notably the prolonged swordfight between speeding jeeps, Mutt attempting to persuade Indy to pull himself out of some quicksand with the said of a large snake, and the 'monkeys help humanity' schtick where Mutt, propelled into the jungle canopy, leads a swarm of monkeys, via swinging on vines, into a renewed assault on the Soviet agents. And the climax...? Well, rather than spoiling it too much, I will say that the CGI used makes Snoopy look like The Laughing Cavalier by comparison.
That's not to say there aren't some nice touches. The bike chase just after Indy first meets Mutt is pure Raiders in style, and the backstory of Indy's wartime activities is nicely hinted at to fill out his now aged character. Ford himself proves he still has the knack for playing world-weary, everyman characters, and there are nice recognition moments for Henry Jones Snr. and Marcus Brodie, whose characters' absences from the movie are explained early on - one of the many touches added to provide a sense of continuity from the earlier 3 films. In another, during a chase through Area 51, a truck crashes through a pile of crates before racing away, as the camera focuses in on one of the boxes, now smashed open, to reveal an all-too-familiar Ark made of gold...
It is, sadly, the supporting cast who, in my opinion, come in for the worst criticism, and deservedly so! Ray Winstone, as the shifty former intelligence colleague of Indy's, is so one-dimensional, and switches sides so frequently and predictably, that I was reminded of playing Pong as a kid. His accent, which, I must admit surprised me, probably because he's a native Londoner, sounded like Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins - I half expected him to start speaking entirely in rhyming slang, and dancing on the rooftops of London with various chimneysweep ne'er-do-wells. Cate Blanchett obviously needed a payday, and phoned in a comedy Soviet villainess routine that was more Ra-Ra-Rasputin than Russian.
When the best aspects of a film are the little nods to previous installments of the series, you know it's not a success. I have seen people praising it for staying true to the character, but I couldn't disagree more. I actually want those 2 hours of my life back...