Short version: While it definitely had its moments and plenty of nods to the fans, there was also more ridiculousness than we've ever seen in an Indiana Jones film.
Ok, I'd really like an easy movie to review for a change...
Reviewing the first Indiana Jones movie to be released in 20 years and directed by Steven Spielberg is not something I take lightly. It's no secret that I haven't exactly been fired up for this film or a big cheerleader for it (our writer Niall has taken that upon himself here at Screen Rant), but I truly hoped it would be great even if I didn't think it would be.
So was it awful? Of course not. But was it great? Unfortunately, no.
What it was is pretty ridiculous in more than a couple of places - but oh, how it tried to be awesome... (BTW, I tried to keep this review as spoiler free as possible.)
From the start it seemed like they were doing things right with the opening credits matching the style of the original Raiders of the Lost Ark, and with the Paramount logo fading into a similarly styled mound of dirt. However I actually cringed when the writers credit appeared and one of the two names was George Lucas.
It opened up on a scene out in the Nevada desert that established right away the time period of the film with a bunch of 1950's teenagers out racing their 32 Ford painted with flames. They come upon a military convoy and a bit of a race ensues that although the movie has just started, seems weirdly out of place. Shortly thereafter the tone changes to classic Indiana Jones and I'll admit that I got a bit of a rush from seeing the scene in the trailer where Harrison first picks up his hat in its full context.
This time the villains are Communist Russians instead of Nazis, and they too are after some artifact that will give them ultimate power. We end up at a very familiar storage facility the first test of whether Harrison Ford can still pull off the role kicks off.
Can he still don the fedora, leather jacket and whip respectably? Yes, indeed.
As a matter of fact he portrays the character quite well and with more confidence than Jones displayed in the previous three films. It works because it seems he's been "adventuring" for the entire time that has passed since we've last seen him.
Despite his age, the sequences are almost believable and at the end of the scene we get to see just how "buff" Ford is in the film, making it a bit easier to suspend our disbelief.
The problem with the movie however is just how FAR we have to suspend reality. The Indy films, while fantastic in their own way, have always had some sort of connection to reality both in the action sequences and the mythic basis for the stories. But here there are scenes and plot ideas that just seem way too over the top for an Indiana Jones movie. One escape by him shortly after the scenes I just described is:
B. Looks like it belongs in a superhero movie via the implausibility of his having survived.
From there however it gets pretty decent again as we meet Shia Lebouf's "young tough" character, who seeks out Dr. Jones in order to save his mother and older family friend. Shia does a very decent job in the film and is enjoyable to watch. They were wise to not write him as a wide-eyed "Indy Jr." in training.
One of the enjoyable things about the film are the many "hat tips" to the earlier films that real fans of the first three films will notice. I'm pretty sure that repeat viewings will expose more that the viewer may miss the first time around. In once scene we see a familiar artifact, and in another there's a funny role reversal regarding Indy's and "Mutt's" (yes, that's the name of Shia's character) escape from some bad guys which compares to a scene between Harrison Ford and Sean Connery.
It was also great to see Karen Allen back in the familiar role. Of course she's much older now but she still had that familiar sparkle. It's too bad they didn't make better use of her in the film.
There were a few moments that will charge you up, mainly due to the familiar John Williams music and the unique sound effects attached to anyone getting punched and the good old whip. But then there are other things that are laughable, and I don't mean in a way that they intended to make you laugh. One of them involves Shia in the jungle (I won't spoil it) and a big one is just who the mystery is about.
So in the end, will audiences like this? Yeah, I'm pretty sure they will. Should they have left well enough alone and not milked the franchise for another film? That's a tougher question - I can see how it could have been really great and I would LOVE to know what the original screenplay for this was like. If they make another one and bring the action and story a bit more down to earth it might actually turn out even better than this one.