15 Years On, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Demands a Rewatch


Working at the crappy local multiplex as a teenager, one of the only benefits was staff showings, when new films were screened at midnight the day before the general public got to see them. As someone who’d grown up on Indiana Jones, I was pretty excited one May evening in 2008 to go see The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – the first Indy film to be released theatrically in my lifetime.

Like many of you reading this, I left the screen feeling disappointed. A bit empty. Technically, this was an Indiana Jones film but also… aliens?

But, as that film celebrates its 15th anniversary, and as we gear up for the release of Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny this June, I’ve come to, if not love, then like Crystal Skull a lot. With the perspective of time, I’d argue that Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is actually a pretty decent film, and well worth a rewatch.

First things first: yes, Indy is old in Crystal Skull. Harrison Ford was 66 when it was released. But, sixty six isn’t as old in 2023 as it was in 2008—Brad Pitt’s about to turn 60, for Christ’s sake, and look at him. Harrison Ford at 66 looks great and, compared to the 80-year-old Ford in Dial of Destiny trailer, he’s basically a spring chicken (Ford was a youthful 47 in Last Crusade, FYI).

Indy’s age doesn’t detract from the action. Yes, he’s given less to do in Crystal Skull, but he’s never been some hand-to-hand master like James Bond. That’s the beauty of the character—for a good portion of the runtime Indy will be in over his head, scraping along by the skin of his teeth. He’s making it up as he goes along, taking his lumps along the way; when we see an OAP Jones getting knocked about by a Russian colonel, we’re not seeing a man past his prime, we’re seeing Indy do what he does.

Photo by Alamy.

Moving the action to 1957 with those pesky Ruskies as the villains wasn’t the most popular choice at the time. It’s something the new film looks to have rectified by bringing the Nazis back into the fold. But, seeing Indy in the atomic age is fantastic, as is learning about his exploits in the 20 years since the previous movie. From examining Roswell wreckage to “spying on the reds” and working for the OSS, it all fires the imagination in the way a good Indy film should (“Do you have any idea how many medals this son of a bitch won?” A colonel asks at one point).

Having Indy find himself in a mock town about to be blown apart by a nuclear test, only to survive inside a lead-lined fridge also caught some flak, with detractors arguing the series should stick to more realistic scenes like having Indy running from strategically-placed boulders, or drinking from the actual Holy Grail.

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To hate the nuclear age stuff is to miss the point. No, Indy doesn’t belong in the 1950s and he isn’t meant to. He’s a man out of place, out of time, just as he looks to be ten years later in the new film. He’s a man contending with old(er) age, fighting foreign elements both literally and culturally. The world is changing, but he’s muddling through, just as Indy is meant to. And, whatever you think of the nuclear fridge scene, Indy silhouetted against a mushroom cloud is an awesome image in the truest sense of the word—even if the later shot swapping out the mushroom cloud for an alien spaceship has the opposite effect.

In short: time has passed, but Indy is still Indy; it’s the same silhouette, the same shivers when he picks up his fedora or cracks his whip. It’s a delight to see him, no matter the context of the film around him.

Yes, the extended Jeep chase through the jungle goes on too long and leans a bit too heavily into humor. Yes, John Hurt, Ray Winstone, and Cate Blanchett are all hamming it up. No, we don’t need Shia LaBeouf’s cocky greaser, and we especially don’t need him swinging on vines like Tarzan. Yes, the depiction of native peoples is still problematic. And no, dear god, no, we don’t need the final twenty minutes.

But at the same time, Crystal Skull isn’t yet another Marvel film. It isn’t a lackluster Star Wars sequel. However flimsy its relation to actual cultures and mythologies, at least Crystal Skull is a film that seeks to excite audiences about the world, about history—in this day and age, how rare is that?


If nothing else, think of Crystal Skull as the stepping stone needed to keep the franchise going long enough to be rescued by one final film. No, it isn’t a masterpiece, but without Crystal Skull we wouldn’t have Dial Of Destiny, which by all accounts is a fitting send-off.

For all the ropey GCI and bad accents, at 66, Indy’s still got it. “You know, for an old man, you ain’t bad in a fight. What are you, like 80?” LaBeouf’s character asks at one point. Here, here.

FromEsquire UK

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