Sarah Kremen-Hicks brings her young son through the Indiana Jones movies and finds that Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, while forgettable, isn’t nearly the disaster she remembers.
Ten Years Ago
My kid is two, and we’ve hired a sitter—luxury of luxuries!—and gone out. Maybe we’ve gotten pizza, and even beer, and we’re going to see a movie in a damned theatre like real grown-ups. And it’s the new Indiana Jones, which is like being a kid again, too.
And it’s so bad.
Okay, maybe not snuck-away-from-bedrest-to-see-Revenge-of-the-Sith bad, but at least that was a matinee, and I’ve paid full price for this crap. (How much did a full price movie cost ten years ago? Probably close to a matinee now, right? When I was young, movies were $4. You kids get off my lawn.) If I wanted an X-Files episode set in the 1950s, I’d read fanfic. (Okay, actually, I’m pretty sure I have read that fanfic.) The fuck are aliens doing in my archaeological, Nazi-punching pulp adventure?
Five Years Ago
My kid is seven, and is away visiting my parents. I have multiple weeks home alone with no idea what to do. I get an email from my stepmother: “Why hasn’t your child seen Indiana Jones? Don’t worry, we fixed that.” We have standards in my family.
I’m not sure how to respond. I wanted to watch it with him; I wanted to see him bounce on the sofa when the boulder is rolling toward the camera, to see him go perfectly still when the angel of death comes out of the Ark. I wanted to hear him cackle at “You go first.”
I write back, “Thanks for taking care of that.” Anything else seems inappropriate.
A Week Ago
“I told Marcus I’d review the fourth Indiana Jones. I hadn’t really thought through the fact that it means I have to watch the fourth Indiana Jones.”
“Can I watch it with you, Mom?”
“I don’t know; how well do you remember the original three?” (Like I said: standards.)
“Ummm… Not much.”
“You’ll have to watch those first. “ (Beat.) “Well, maybe not the second one; it’s pretty terrible.” (Beat.) “Hey, maybe they’re like the Star Trek movies, where every other one sucks!”
But the child does not watch the other movies. Instead, there is homework, and violin lessons, and Hebrew school, and a Torah portion to practice. I consider watching it alone, but he has a way of sneaking out of bed and watching from the top of the stairs when I do that. I don’t know how he knows.
A Day Ago
An entire glorious afternoon spreads out before us, and I make the offer that I know will be well-received: “Do you want to binge the whole Indiana Jones series? Not the second one, though, because it’s awful.”
Obviously, he says yes. I put out chips and salsa, and we settle in.
At twelve (nearly thirteen), movies are still a full body experience for this kid—so much so that I have to pause Raiders of the Lost Ark at one point to get him an ice pack, because he bounced and cackled so much that he’s cracked his head on the back of the sofa.
The earlier films mostly hold up. Marion isn’t as badass as I remember her being, and some of the racist caricatures are such that I wonder whether the second one really deserves the label as “the bad film,” but the kid is delighted and not actually concussed, and has an opportunity to tell me everything that’s wrong with the way they describe the Ark, so at least I know I’m getting my money’s worth out of Hebrew school.
And so we come, finally, to The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
It’s really not as bad as I remember it being.
The worst thing about it, frankly, is that not a single Nazi gets punched in the entire course of the movie. This is a great failing indeed. However, I’m forced to admit that, really, this is about 85% of a good movie. Everyone got old, which suggest that perhaps I have, as well (in case the smart-ass kid didn’t remind me of that most days). The time gap leads to some confusion—is the guy who double-crosses Indy in the first scene supposed to be Marcus Brody? No, it turns out; it’s some other guy. What’s his name? Did you catch it? (Kid, who is terrible with names at the best of times, did not catch it.)
And that, really, is where Crystal Skull fails. Even with Cate Blanchett chewing the scenery for all she’s worth, it’s ultimately forgettable. The cringe-inducing family bonding scene atop the flooded alien city at the end, the demotion of Marion to someone who has hysterics and clings to a steering wheel in the bushes, the tortured way it tries to leave the door open for both sequels starring Harrison Ford and sequels starring Shia LaBeouf—none of these are as bad as the fact that there simply isn’t anything in this film that stands out. It relies on nostalgia as the main draw—underscored by the view of the crated-up Ark of the Covenant in the opening scene—but even that isn’t done in a way that works. The call-outs are too subtle, or the characters too changed. No lines stand out to be recited, and no formative memories are likely to be made.
In the end, this was an un-bouncable movie, in which no ice packs were necessary, and while it was an enjoyable couple of hours, I’ve already forgotten it again.