This movie is much-maligned, and rightly so. It's definitely the weakest of the series (er, "quadrilogy"?). But it still has some good moments and I'm unwilling to completely toss it out. Everybody focuses on the bad, and I will too. But first I want to point out some of the good stuff:
What the Movie Got Right:
1. Advancing the time era along with Harrison Ford's age. Made it seem more authentic.
2. The 50's nuclear weapons tests.
3. The Cold War mentality of that era.
4. Along with that, having Russians as the enemy. I thought this worked well.
5. Harrison Ford still does pretty good as an aged Indy.
6. Cate Blanchett rocked as a villain.
7. Bringing Karen Allen back was a good idea. That's always something I didn't like about the former movies. They bounce around with a different love interest every movie, and in that way weren't very cohesive.
8. The IDEA of an Amazon jungle setting was good, even if the execution was off.
9. Similarly, the idea of having one creepy-crawly (first snakes, then bugs and rats, now ants) was good, even if it was done stupidly.
10. Indy wanting to settle down. Personally, I thought this was a nice touch and kind of realistic.
11. Centering the movie around a "possibly real but still sort of mythical" historical object. In this case, crystal skulls. There are crystal skull objects which are real. It's too bad that right as this movie was released, the whole crystal skull thing was proven to be a big hoax.
12. Still entertaining.
13. It was not directed by Michael Bay.
Things that Many People don't like but I think are Okay:
1. ESP. I thought this was kind of cool, and I was okay with it. I realize it isn't real, but neither are angels, magic rocks, and magic cups.
2. Similarly, aliens. Seriously, why does this part of the movie bother people? I mean, the Indy series was somewhat X-files like anyway in that it usually involved classified information. And there was always a historical tie-in. In this case, the tie-in for aliens was crystal skulls. Those really do exist, but are not ancient at all and are hoaxes. But to get worked up over aliens... I don't get it. We've got God in the first movie, some Hindu gods in the second, God again in the third - why not aliens? We were all created by the Flying Spaghetti Monster, after all.
3. The "Son I never knew I had" story. I thought it worked well.
4. Mutt. The character was good to me. Could they have gotten a different actor? I wish.
5. The ending. Yeah it's kind of odd, but where else could it go really?
6. The cameo appearance of the ark. Meh. I would have prefered they left that one hidden forever.
Things that make you want to strangle the filmmakers:
1. Too much exposition. There's one character especially who's sole purpose in the movie is to explain everything. And if you see something in the movie you don't understand, don't worry because he'll explain it to you. This drags the movie down, BIG TIME.
2. CGI Groundhog. I mean, come on... seriously? George Lucasitis at its worst.
3. CGI Ants. That act in a way that is completely different from ants in real life.
4. CGI Jungle.
5. CGI Monkeys. Swinging through the trees with Shia LaBeouf, no less.
6. CGI. In fact, pretty much every scene in this movie involving CGI is a complete fail. It looks fake. It looks stupid. It seems gratuitous. You can pin this on Georgie Lucas's personal addiction to CGI. He has rose-colored glasses when it come to the stuff. Insisted on making 3 movies filled with it, and probably would have taken the human actors out of those too if he could. When confronted with how fake it looks, he just says, "It's no faker-looking than using a puppet." No George, you're wrong. It IS faker-looking than using a puppet. MUCH faker! So he throws it into his Indiana Jones movie. Why? No reason, really. The groundhog is a good example. It's just there for atmosphere, apparently. He couldn't put womp rats in because it's not the Mos Eisley spaceport, so he settled for groundhogs.
7. Snake scene. Yes, I realize this was meant to be funny. However, it wasn't funny. It was dumb.
8. Driving over a cliff. I don't know. I realize we had similar moments in the other movies. Just seems like this one wasn't done as well. It just seemed off.
9. The refrigerator scene. Like many others, this one threw me off from the very beginning. Now I realize we had a similar incident in Temple of Doom... Where Indy jumped off an airplane with a raft, landed on the side of a snowy mountain, slid down the mountain, went off a cliff, landed in the water, etc. And even though that too was unlikely, it still seemed SLIGHTLY plausible. But flying hundreds of feet through the air in a refrigerator, crashing to the ground, and then walking right out? I'm sorry, it's just too much of a stretch for me. (Sequels sometimes have this problem, where they are trying to push the envelope but end up pushing it too far. I felt the same way about some of the goofier scenes in Live Free or Die Hard.)
10. Shia LaBeouf. Need I say more?
So there you have it. Yeah, there's a lot of bad but I did want to also point out the good. This movie is a low point, but it's still better than the boring TV series. (Okay TV series fans, there. I said it. Feel free to trash me now!)
There are several things that go wrong in this movie and it is difficult to pin down exactly where it failed the worst. It's hard to say it's the story, because Temple of Doom had a similarly non-epic story, and it's a great movie. To me a lot of it is the overuse and reliance on CGI. This was something that was new to the Indy series. A little bit - where needed - would have been okay. But in usual George Lucas fashion, he went over the top with it. It really hurts the movie, I think.
So what if you take out / ignore the bad CGI? Is it a good movie? I dunno. It fails when it comes to the humor quite a bit, also. And I have to say, the story is pretty random and hard to follow.
Well, so much for saying good things about this movie. I gave it my best, folks!
UPDATE: So I've watched this movie again, 5 years after the first time I saw it. I have to say, it has aged pretty well. I am upping my review to 5 stars.
Also, I believe that I complained too much about the CGI. Seeing this again, it wasn't as bad as I had remembered. It was all done quite well, actually. It all looks very real.
The main thing to me is that in hindsight, this movie "fits" just right. It wasn't the greatest but it certainly wasn't bad at all. The movie was absolutely action packed, and my kids and I both enjoyed it.
I think this movie came across to me the same way The Last Crusade did. The first time I saw that movie, I wasn't all that thrilled with it. But over time, it aged well. And I grew to love it. I think I'm finding myself in the same place with the Crystal Skull.
Thanks for the all the comments below! Have a good day :)