If you believe what you read on the message boards, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (262 screens) is just about the worst movie ever made. There are a few recurring comments, which I will hopefully address one at a time. But first I just want to say three things. One, I loved the film. I saw it twice, and it made me very happy both times. Secondly, I'm not working for George Lucas or Steven Spielberg, and they're not paying me to write this. (If they were, I'd probably be vacationing right now.) Thirdly, I want to argue that most of the disappointed reactions to the film had to do with two elements that are not actually in the film. (More on this later.)
Released in 1981, 1984 and 1989 respectively, the first three films are high on my list of the greatest summer movies of all time. I love them dearly; I yield to no one in my love for them. Raiders of the Lost Ark is certainly the best of the series, but truthfully, beyond an unmatched level of craftsmanship and enthusiasm, it's not exactly a work of art. It doesn't have much to say about the human condition except possibly for something about the juvenile repression of grown men -- but even that much is indirect and unintended.
The second and third movies lost the serious, professional edge of the first, and concentrated a little bit more on cartoonish non-reality. Pauline Kael made a passionate defense of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom in her 1984 New Yorker review, arguing that Spielberg opened himself up more and directed it with more unbridled, infectious fun. But whereas Indy's relationship with Marion Ravenwood in the first felt grounded, Indy's relationship with Willie Scott in the second is straight out of bad screwball. The Last Crusade makes improvements with the additions of the "Young Indy" character (River Phoenix) and Indy's father (Sean Connery) but adds an even worse female lead (Alison Doody) and even more bad jokes; it feels even less "realistic" than the second entry.