Rating: 28,345 out of 52,977 mysterious crates.
Indiana Jones is back, blah blah blah.
I have to admit, it was difficult to muster my enthusiasm for this latter-day installment in the "Indiana Jones and the ______" series. My love for Raiders of the Lost Ark and a reasonable fondness for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade were tempered by ambivalence toward Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
When rumors began to surface that this movie had Indy mucking about with Roswell aliens, alarm bells started to sound. More significantly, however, I have been burned by George Lucas before, when he managed to retroactively wreck Star Wars for me with a trilogy of nonsensical, craptacular prequels. I worried whether Steven Spielberg keep Lucas's legacy-defiling tendencies in check?
The answer is, "mostly, but we don't get away clean."
Surprisingly, the aliens aspect comes off as one of the more well-written aspects of the movie (at least early on). After an introductory sequence in the famed warehouse full of crates (one of which -- surprise! -- holds the Ark of the Covenant), we get a little background on what's been going on with Indy for the past couple of decades, as well as a reasonably plausible link between his character and the "Roswell Incident."
Lucas then uses a couple of quick scenes as shorthand to show us how the Red Scare made people act irrationally and caused bad things to happen to innocent people. The subtlety here is about on par with his anti-Bush allusions in the Star Wars prequels, but the fact that he's using a real historical phenomenon helps him avoid most of the groan-inducing obviousness he smacked audiences of those movies with. (Yes, George, we get it. Lying to start a war is bad. Palpatine is Bush. We GET it. Jesus!)
The introduction of Shia LaBeouf as "Mutt Williams," Indy's greaser-kid sidekick, is handled fairly well, if a bit obviously, and followed by a chase scene that is probably the high point of the movie, action-wise.
Aaannnd ... we're about 1/3 of the way through at this point.
Things begin to fall apart pretty quickly from this point out. Indy and Mutt do some decent bonding for a while, but there is a huge, glaring, stupid problem: Despite the fact that Mutt tells Indy that his mother's name is Marion, that she knows Indy and specifically told Mutt to seek him out for help, Indy spends what has to be several days with the kid and never even asks him his mother's maiden name. It is just idiotic. I mean, yes, it's been many years since he saw Marion Ravenwood, but we learn later that she is actually still very significant to him and it is totally inconceivable to me that he wouldn't associate the name "Marion" with her by default. When Marion eventually does show up, it is a surprise to no one except Indy himself.
I'm not going to go into any detail on the plot, because the movie has precious little else to keep the viewer's interest. The acting is stiff -- even Cate Blanchett is fairly boring as a psychic KGB Nazi stand-in, and Karen Allen, though still amiable, is kind of glassy-eyed -- and there is very little tension at any point. Indy & Co. face raging waterfalls, quicksand-like quagmires, killer ants, and ruins that are apparently designed specifically to kill anyone who actually knows how to get into them, but there isn't a single moment where the survival of any character feels remotely threatened.
To paraphrase my wife's reaction to the movie: I didn't hate it, really, but I didn't like it either. I just didn't give a shit.
Minor Spoiler Alert
For some reason, Lucas felt it necessary to insert a second "sidekick" character into the film, early on, only to have him betray Indy almost immediately. This character and his actions have no bearing whatsoever on the plot, and we never have even a scrap of interest in him as a person. I don't remember the last time I saw a character this utterly superfluous in a movie -- and that includes Jar Jar Binks -- yet this guy is in scene after scene, and we're obviously supposed to care about him one way or another. He repeatedly "switches sides" and you never, even for a moment, give a rat's ass.