In Defense Of: ‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’
Indiana Jones has been on my mind a lot lately. (
) It’s a combination of a couple of things. Harrison Ford’s recent return to the iconic role of Han Solo in The Force Awakens breathed new life into a beloved character. Ford’s performance proves that despite age, characters conceived of decades ago can still surprise us. Sylvester Stallone’s turn as Rocky Balboa in last year’s Creed only serves to prove my point. However, of more immediate importance, Disney recently announced a fifth (and possibly final) Indiana Jones film with Harrison Ford, Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy, and Frank Marshall all involved. I can’t help being excited by this news despite the contentious debates raging on the Internet.
In the grand pantheon of beloved movie characters, Indiana Jones stands apart. He’s hands down my all-time favorite movie character. Jones’s intelligence, attractiveness, swagger, cunning, way with ladies, and borderline cockiness endeared him to a generation of fans. Adventure and danger follows him wherever he goes. To quote the old expression, “women want to be with him and men want to be him.” When I think of “cool” I think of Indiana Jones.
Fans of Indiana Jones are understandably wary of a fifth adventure featuring the bullwhip wielding adventurer. The reason inevitably traces back to one thing: the perceived failure of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. In spite of a 78% Certified Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes (which admittedly isn’t the ultimate authority in movie quality, Spaceballs has a 54% Rotten rating which in my mind is blasphemy) responses to the film were divisive to say the least. Some called it the best Indy movie yet (wholeheartedly disagree), others claimed the film “raped their childhood” (insulting to real victims of sexual abuse and ridiculous hyperbole), to the film being average at best.
While eight years ago I wrote a scathing review of Crystal Skull, I’ve since done a complete 180 on the film. In fact it’s my third favorite behind Raiders and Last Crusade. (Incidentally I never really cared for Temple of Doom.) Skull is by no means a great film, however I’d argue it’s a very good film and entertaining as Hell. I’ve watched it multiple times and each time I find new things to like about it.
This is not to say that Skull is a perfect film. Far from it. It contains plenty of faults. Having said that, the positives far outweigh the negatives.
In light of the recent announcement regarding the fifth Indy film I thought it appropriate to examine the fourth adventure and see if it deserves all of the hate.
NUKING THE FRIDGE
This scene in Crystal Skull has been lambasted ad nauseam among the film’s detractors and rightly so. While the Indiana Jones franchise has had its fair share of improbable moments (the submarine scene from Raiders, the perfect train car leap across the missing track in Temple of Doom) this takes the proverbial cake. Seriously, Indiana Jones is supposed to survive a nuclear blast in a lead-lined refrigerator? Yeah no. The idea is so ridiculous that the phrase, “nuking the fridge” has usurped the phrase, “jumping the shark” when referencing series or franchises that are past their prime. It was a stupid gimmick and should never have been included.
One of the go to motifs of any Indiana Jones film involves the fade in to some sort of mountain image to start the film. It’s been a staple in all four movies. Sort of. In Indy’s fourth adventure the Paramount logo morphs into…a groundhog’s dirt pile. Guh? This was just a bizarre sequence. The situation was made even nuttier when after Indy’s escape from Hangar 51 said groundhogs are staring at Indy. It was meant to be funny but just came across weird.
THE SNAKE AS ROPE SEQUENCE
Just like the standard mountain shot, Indy’s fear of snakes plays a prominent role in these films. However this scene was completely unnecessary. The whole incident felt contrived, a way to shoehorn in an Indy/snake moment. It was truly a huge WTF moment in the movie.
MUTT SWINGING THROUGH THE JUNGLE
This one falls squarely on the shoulders of screenwriter David Koepp and director Steven Spielberg. Koepp should have removed this sequence entirely from the script and if not him Spielberg. I know people hate on Shia LaBeouf as Mutt Williams in Crystal Skull but this part of the film is in no way his fault. Adding insult to injury was the fact that hundreds of CGI monkeys decided to join Mutt when he goes full Tarzan. Inexplicably he’s also able to catch up to the vehicle, even though it’s probably going 40 or 50 MPH.
THE ALIENS (ERR INTERDIMENSIONAL SPACE BEINGS) AND FLYING SAUCER
Truth be told I was actually fine with the alien aspect of the film. If you look at some of the history surrounding the real life crystal skulls, there’s some theories that propose they were made by aliens. (Insert Ancient Aliens meme here.) It was the execution that failed. The thirteen aliens who merge into one, all the while having a really perturbed look on their face just felt so awkward. Additionally, the flying saucer was just an eyesore.
HANGAR 51 AND OPENING SEQUENCE
This part was pure Indiana Jones. A hostile situation, explosions, the use of the whip, a kick-ass fight, and a daring escape. I can’t tell you how much I loved the first fifteen minutes of Crystal Skull. Think about it. We’ve got a new threat in the Russians, villains searching for an artifact in Hangar 51, one of the coolest places in American folklore, and even a nod to Raiders when a broken crate reveals the Ark of Covenant. Plus there’s a fantastic car chase with an even better fight between Indy and Colonel Antonin Dovchenko culminating in an escape via jet engine. All around a great way to start the film.
I know a lot people would put this in the negative category but not me. Although he’s become a GIF waiting to happen and his mental stability is less than solid, I thought Shia LaBeouf was great as Mutt Williams/Henry Jones III. LaBeouf’s performance nails the prototypical 1950s greaser. Brash, short-tempered, and tough, he’s a great counterpoint to Indy’s somewhat stuffy professorial type. The influence of films like Blackboard Jungle and The Wild One are clearly evident in LaBeouf’s performance. Plus I love that freaking switch blade he sports.
THE CAR CHASE THROUGH CAMPUS
For me this was one of the coolest parts of the film. Aside from the fist fight at the end of Crystal Skull this was the sequence that despite being fifty-eight years old, shows Indiana Jones is still tougher than Salah’s buckwheat pancakes. Seeing Indy jump from Mutt’s motorcycle to the KGB’s car brings a giddiness to my body every time I watch it. The fact that the KGB members crash into a statue of Marcus Brody amidst a sea of college Communist protesters was pure poetry.
JUNGLE SWORD FIGHT
While this part didn’t redeem the laughable scene of Mutt swinging through the trees, it helped. This felt like a throwback moment to the early Zorro movies as Mutt and Spalko clash with rapiers between two military vehicles. Although the sexual innuendo charged line from Spalko about how young men are “quick to finish” is cringe worthy, the fight itself is anything but. Although I’m sure there was plenty of green screen here, the fight was well choreographed and one of the more memorable parts of the third act.
THE CITY AND PYRAMID OF EL DORADO
The legend of El Dorado is centuries old. The so-called Lost City of Gold, has been featured in numerous films, television shows, and novels down through the years. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull takes a unique perspective on the city that’s visually appealing and coolly deceptive. The treasure and sacred holy rooms of the aliens are stunning and as authentic looking as anything from the previous Indy films. I loved how the pyramid transformed into a staircase that led them down into the catacombs. The natives deferring to the crystal skull itself also had some appeal. As I mentioned the flying saucer aspect didn’t quite work but I at least appreciate the effort and how it ties into the pyramid and city itself.
INDY AND MARION FINALLY TIE THE KNOT
Granted this was somewhat of a contrived and hokey ending but I loved it none the less. Obviously there’s something a little regrettable about ladies man Indiana Jones settling down, however it also demonstrates his maturity. Additionally, if Indy was going to marry anyone, Marion is the perfect choice. She’s his match in every way through toughness, tenacity, and intelligence. And how can you not love that little moment at the end where Mutt picks up Indy’s Fedora and is just about to place it on his head when Indiana Jones snatches it from Mutt’s hand. The implication is that the torch will be passed…just not quite yet. I guess the upcoming fifth film is proof of that.
IT’S FREAKIN’ INDIANA JONES!!!
This may be the most obvious one but it’s also the most relevant. Although people were constantly calling Ford “Henry” throughout the movie (something I hated), the fact remains that Indiana Jones was once again gracing the big screen. After a nineteen year hiatus, the globe-trotting archaeologist was back cracking his whip and tossing out saucy rejoinders. Harrison Ford may not have been as fully invested in Crystal Skull as he was in previous Indy films, however his presence and character more than make up for it. Harrison is now and forever will be Indiana Jones. Even if the series goes the way of the James Bond movies (which I hope it does) Harrison Ford will always be the Sean Connery of the franchise.
No one’s ever going to call Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull the best film of the franchise. In point of fact many consider it the worst of the series. While I respect their opinions, I vehemently disagree with those people. Crystal Skull is not nearly as bad as people say it is. My advice for Indy fans who hated this film is to re-watch it again. Go into it with absolutely no expectations. I think you’ll enjoy it better than you might expect.
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