Let's get one thing straight, right off the bat: no Indiana Jones sequel (or TV prequel) will ever equal Raiders of the Lost Ark.
With that first film, Lucas, Spielberg, Kasdan and Ford captured lightning in a bottle, and created a modern classic with a character that was so original – ironic, considering the film's pulp & serial inspirations – that he became an instant cultural icon. There was no way that that lightning could be captured again, and it never has been.
That said, both Temple of Doom and The Last Crusade have their merits, and while none of them can match the original, they're fine entertainments in their own rights. And the same can be said of the long-awaited Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
Now, I never thought that there was a need a for a fourth film; The Last Crusade made a fitting and mostly satisfying conclusion to the trilogy. I also never really thought a fourth movie would ever get made. I've got film magazines touting this fourth film going back to at least 1990, and as the years whipped by and Harrison Ford became more and more bland and wooden in his rare film appearances, not only did I figure that the possibility was a pipe dream, but kinda hoped it wouldn't happen at all.
Well, last weekend I finally saw the movie, and I liked it. Not loved it though, and I wanted to. It was too long and had too much CGI (waay too much CGI), but at least Ford appeared to be conscious, alert and engaged, and I found myself enjoying visiting with the character again. Like Temple of Doom, much of the action is too cartoony and over the top for my taste – which robs the scenes of any sense of genuine danger or consequence – but overall, I had a good time with it.
The science fiction elements didn't bother me; the theological stuff in the previous films are just as far-fetched to me, anyway. And while I hated the idea of Indy having a son to share his adventures with, the character was written and performed well enough that I was able to bear it. Finally, I was pleased to see Karen Allen in there; not only has she aged well, but her smile is as devastating as ever.
I look forward to watching it again on DVD. Going into the theater I couldn't help but bring decades of expectations and apprehensions to it. When I was a teenager, Raiders was probably my favorite movie ever. I saw it at least four times in the Summer of 1981, and paid to see it at least six different revival showings over the next decade or so.
On DVD, I'll be able to look at it more objectively, and have a chance to discover any hidden/subtle pleasures that may have whipped by me the first time. It often happens for me upon rewatching – I never cared much for Temple of Doom, but since I got the DVD, I've watched it a few times and found a lot more to like about it than I did before. I expect that the same will be true of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
At least, I hope so.