Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a movie so bad we joke about how it doesn’t exist—“Oh, it’s a shame they never made a fourth Indiana Jones movie” is a statement one might say or hear. But over a decade since its release, it’s a whole new world.
Negativity is easy. Positivity is not. Because watching Crystal Skull as a massive Indy fan was one of the most disappointing movie experiences of my life, I decided to turn a negative into a positive. I rewatched Crystal Skull (which is now on Netflix) with the aim of just saying nice things about it. Here’s what I came up with.
The Logos - If you’re a fan of the original Star Wars or Indiana Jones movies, there’s just something comforting about seeing that Lucasfilm logo followed by, in the case of Indy, the Paramount mountain. In Crystal Skull, we see the return of that old school logo from the 1980s.
The gang’s all here - The film’s credits make you feel fortunate that not only was Harrison Ford able to return, but so were co-star Karen Allen, director Steven Spielberg, composer John Williams and, of course, producer and story writer George Lucas.
Killer shot selection - While the movie certainly has a more glossy feel than the other Indiana Jones films, director of photography Janusz Kaminski composes some stellar shots throughout, with a standout being Indy’s introduction via the hat shadow.
John Williams’ score - Put Williams’ Indiana Jones score over anything and you’re bound to get goosebumps. So it’s no surprise that happens multiple times throughout this movie. There’s even a very welcome and excellent addition later on to give Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf) a theme when he’s fighting Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett) between jeeps.
Oh, right, Cate Blanchett - How awesome is it that Cate Blanchett is the villain in an Indiana Jones movie? With her killer haircut and demeanor to match, she’s a physical and intellectual foil for Indy. Plus, she’s one of the few actors in the film who realizes this movie isn’t serious and just goes for it.
Magnets - The film’s opening scene is driven by the fact that the case the Russians are looking for is very magnetic. So Indy throws gun powder in the air to find it. It’s a very clever, very cool idea.
The Ark - The second Indy walks into the warehouse, we immediately think of the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. It’s a rewarding, welcome little wink when we see a glimpse of it toward the end of the scene.
Indy’s military past - Though we never see it, Crystal Skull continually makes mention of Indiana Jones’ time during World War II. Him as a soldier, as a spy, a prisoner, and oh my God we wish we could see all of that.
RIP - The moment when Indy acknowledges the deaths of characters Marcus Brody and Henry Jones Sr. is incredibly touching and poignant. Actor Denholm Elliott had actually died shortly after the release of Last Crusade and now that we’ve lost Sean Connery, it’s even more emotional to watch.
The motorcycle action scene - Not every action scene in Crystal Skull is a winner, but this one is, simply because Mutt and Indy really make a great use of space. They drive not just through the streets, but an anti-Communist rally and eventually a library. It feels different from the rest of the series in a good way.
The classic Indy stuff - You can’t have an Indiana Jones movie without a few things. Among them are a snake joke (check), him losing his hat a few times (check), and a travel sequence conveyed by a red line on a map (check). It just feels right.
Grave balancing - As Indy and Mutt go into the grave that contains the Crystal Skull, they have to traverse a very cool circular table that’s balancing on something. It’s pointless, but it’s somehow cooler than most of the other minor obstacles they encounter.
The Crystal Skull design - The idea of the Crystal Skulls aside, the objects themselves look gorgeous. If the movie was better, it would be one of those pieces of movie memorabilia everyone would kill to have in their home.
Indy and Marion’s reunion - When Indy realizes Marion has been kidnapped, and that she’s Mutt’s mom, it feels like 1981 again. Instantly, Ford and Allen have incredible chemistry and energy...unlike basically everyone else in the film.
*SMACK* - A punch in an Indiana Jones movie just somehow lands differently than in every other movie. That’s thanks to the sound team, of course, and when you hear it you’re instantly in an Indy movie.
The same big guy - Indiana Jones always fights a guy who is much bigger than him, but only in Crystal Skull is it the same guy over and over again. We first meet Dovchenko (played by actor Igor Jijikine) at the film’s opening and he fights Indy multiple times until his demise. The repetition somehow just makes those fights more engaging.
Eaten alive - While I don’t think the idea of these giant killer ants is very good, nor are the digital effects that convincing, the moment where they overwhelm the aforementioned Dovchenko and eat him whole is delightfully bonkers and violent.
They’re in the walls - When the indigenous people of Akator see Indy and his team, they emerge from the walls in an almost shocking yet beautiful manner.
The design of Akator - From the large temple to the incredible spiral staircase to, eventually, the breathtaking practical gate used to enter the final room, Akator represents some of the best production and set designs in the entire Indiana Jones saga.
Triple cross - Ray Winstone is usually awesome. In this film, well...this is a positive article. Nevertheless, his usefulness to the script by becoming not just a double agent, but a triple agent, is so hilariously over the top, you can’t help but laugh at it.
The almost passing of the torch - At the end of the wedding (which almost made this list but didn’t, for reasons), there’s a moment where Mutt picks up Indy’s hat and is about to put it on, only for Indy to snatch it from him at the last second. It’s Spielberg’s way of teasing the audience that maybe Indy’s son was going to take mantle but Indy isn’t ready to give it up just yet. It’s a perfect wink to end the movie on.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and its three prequels, are all currently on Netflix.
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