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In defense of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’s monkey chase scene

The fourth Indiana Jones is better than you might remember, in a very practical way

Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf) looks in confusion in in the direction of a monkey; both are high up in a jungle canopy Image: Lucasfilm/Paramount Pictures

When people say something like “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is the worst one in the series,” they are probably talking about two specific scenes. The first is at the end of the film’s prologue, when Indy, stuck at a nuclear-testing site with a bomb about to go off, survives the blast by climbing into a lead-lined refrigerator. When the nuke explodes, the fridge is blown sky high, lands with a thud, and rolls to a stop — then Indy stumbles out mildly concussed but otherwise fine.

The other is the monkey chase, a weird moment during a car chase through the jungle in which Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf), the son Indy didn’t know he had (and a controversial character with fans), is separated from the group. He returns a few minutes later, swinging back with a bunch of monkeys.

I really can’t defend “nuke the fridge.” It’s too much, too fast. And besides, when you open with your hero surviving a nuclear blast, it’s kind of hard to top that. (Later in the movie, the nuke might have gone down more easily.) Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is best enjoyed if you just immediately forget that the fridge thing happened. That’s hard to do, but still worth trying, because the movie is loads of fun to enjoy in 2023.

The monkey chase is a big reason why! The monkeys are just a tiny part of an ingeniously staged and very long chase scene, where Indy (Harrison Ford), Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), Mutt, and their friend Harold Oxley (John Hurt) are trying to keep the crystal alien skull away from Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett) and her Soviet troops.

Mutt Williams fights Irina Spalko on top of two jeeps driving through the jungle in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Image: Lucasfilm/Paramount Pictures

So much happens in this scene. The skull moves back and forth between Indy’s crew and the Soviets, each car constantly changes passengers without ever stopping, Mutt fences with Spalko, and the whole thing crackles with energy in a way that feels like a good sequel to Temple of Doom’s famous minecart sequence. The monkeys, by the way, are played for comedy — when Mutt lands in a tree as the chase goes on without him, he notices a monkey has his Greaser hair, and then Tarzans his way back to the fight. Unlike the nuke, this is easier to ignore: If you’re worried about the monkeys, just go to the bathroom or get a drink when you see one. When you’re back, the moment will be over.

There’s another reason why the scene is better than you might remember: It now looks better than it did in 2008. When Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was released in 4K Ultra HD in 2021, Spielberg and Paramount reworked the film’s color grading, toning down the yellow hue that persisted throughout, which made its effects shots look extra artificial. Since this is the version that is now streaming on Disney Plus, it might surprise you how much better the film looks now that the piss filter is gone.

Is this enough to redeem Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’s less-than-stellar reputation? Maybe not. But the movie has plenty to applaud: it tries lots of new things, moves Indy forward as a character in fun ways, and does not waste Karen Allen’s return as Marion. At the very least, it deserves to be ranked higher than Temple of Doom.

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