A still from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones stands in a cobweb filled temple, with Shia Le Beouf as Mutt, and Ray Winstone as Mac beside him. In the background, Karen Allen as Marian tends to John Hurt as Prof Oxley.
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July 4, 2018

In defense of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Watching the Indy marathon on the Paramount Channel, I’ve come to a realization. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull isn’t as bad of a movie as society collectively decided it was.

…first things first, I am not defending the alien subplot. I will never defend any plot point that implies that the people of the Americas could not have build their cities, temples or structures with the technology and knowledge they had at hand. That is ridiculous and I will forever be mad that the rest of the movie was tainted by this.

Tainted? Oh come now, Whitney. It’s the worst of the Indiana Jones movies. There was Shia LeBeouf. Monkeys. Cate Blanchett with a sword!

TIt’s the only Indiana Jones movie that acknowledges the trail of chaos he’s left behind him his entire life (beyond his backstory with Marion). Despite a career doing the right thing with regards to the US Government, a run-in with Soviets immediately puts him in the crosshairs of the FBI, which threatens his professional career. Oxley, a man he went to school with, reaches out to Marion instead of Indy- because he’s still mad that Indy left Marion.

It’s also the only Indiana Jones movie to do right by the female lead. Sure, Marion was left by Indy. But, she married a nice man, gave birth to her son- and gave him a very good life. A life with a supportive father, a good education. She still had her own friends, her own circle. When they’re all in trouble, Marion’s the one who realizes that she’s driving a DUKW and can take them all into the river. While the Soviets capture her, but she’s hardly a damsel in distress.

What about the refrigerator, Whitney?

Nuclear tests with fake cities in the midst of the desert were part of our history. Yes, in Nevada. The US Military filmed propaganda movies to scare Americans into what could happen if the Communists attacked us- we already knew what these bombs could do. They built these neighborhoods and destroyed them. It was a good fakeout for Indy trying to find help with the Soviets on his tail. (The only unbelievable thing is that Indy was able to get OUT of the fridge. Those old models were notorious for having kids die from being trapped inside them. 2023 update: On rewatching this, the amount of abuse that fridge goes through being tossed is a believable way to knock the door loose.) But every movie is filled with some sort of unbelievable moment that Indy goes through. Indy’s defining trait is that he’s incredibly lucky.

What about Mutt?

Other than the monkeys accepting him as one of their own, any issues you have with Mutt are with Shia playing Indy’s son. They gave you a character with education, an adventurous spirit- who believed deeply in doing the right thing (c’mon, he was judging Indy for trying to take a dagger off a corpse). He tracked down Indy because his mom thought that Indy would be able to help save Oxley. He was upset because Oxley was a huge part of his life, his family- and when they find him, seeing him rambling like a lunatic affected him deeply. He’s not all that unlike Indy- the tough guy on the outside, but really just a softie.

Spalko.

Cate Blanchett’s Irina Spalko? There’s no romantic subplots there- she’s an arrogant villain seeking knowledge and glory for her country. She’s the only non-sexualized woman in the entire franchise. Up until this movie, the only role that women in an Indiana Jones film could fill was Indy’s love interest. She shares a lot of qualities with Elsa- driven by the goal and the glory, though Elsa’s was personal glory she was after. Spalko believed firmly in the Soviet Union, and what gifts she could bring to them. If you can’t see the appeal of a woman in a well fitted jumpsuit with a sword, well, that’s your deal.

The Aliens

In the end, it’s impossible to avoid discussing the aliens, since that was the entire plot. I once wanted to become an archaeologist, focusing on Meso-American civilizations. I admired how knowledgable, how skilled those people were- shows like Ancient Aliens have long infuriated me.

So far as character work goes? It’s a pretty solid movie.

There is moment that made me smile when I thought about it later on. While going to the cemetery that Oxley had mapped out in the asylum, Indy’s telling Mutt about the elongated skulls being a way to the honor God. “That’s not what God looks like,” Mutt says. And for a moment, I couldn’t figure out why Marion’s kid would be religious. Since Marion didn’t strike me as the type. But post a run-in with the Ark of the Covenant? I’m pretty sure that would have changed.

Anyways, your thoughts? I know, asking you to discuss the movie without the aliens is a pretty big ask- but I’m dying to know what you think.

(PS- Temple of Doom has aged the worst, Short Round excluded. Trust me on it)

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