In the five years between the disappointing Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and the third film, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, director Steven Spielberg and his writing team led by George Lucas manage to recapture much of what was great about the first of their Indiana Jones series, Raiders of the Lost Ark. Closer attention to pacing, the inclusion of a brief prologue and the introduction of Sean Connery give Crusade just the boost it needs.
River Phoenix is the young Indy, a boy scout on an expedition with his mates who comes across some treasure hunters who have happened upon the Cross of Coronado (an ornamental cross belonging to Francisco Vásquez de Coronado). When he steals it, determined that it be on display in a museum instead of stolen away forever as a trinket for a rich collector, several aspects of Jones’ character the audience knows all too well will be revealed – Indy’s first use of a whip, the basis of his aversion to snakes, and the origin of the famous fedora. This will also be the first time he has his prize stolen from him at the final second, seemingly the mirror of the opening of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
What follows is an action/adventure film with just the right mix of incredible set pieces and character development and exposition. Connery is a welcome addition to the film, in spite of the sense the filmmakers may have been jumping the shark, and his scenes with his ‘Junior’ are witty and fun. Connery is an old master, knowing just how to play opposite his physically more active co-star. Harrison Ford seems to have rediscovered his love of his character after a relatively dull turn in Temple of Doom, and his portrayal of Jones’ frustration at his father’s antics works very well indeed.
Denholm Elliott, Alison Doody and John Rhys-Davies all appear, with both Elliott and Rhys-Davies seemingly present only to afford the film a sense of continuity, such is the limitation on their roles. Doody plays the Nazi love interest adequately, although her final scenes fail to capture the imagination. To this point, the only one of the female characters to have worked well in this series is Karen Allen’s Marion in Raiders of the Lost Ark, and even she could have been allowed a bit more screen time to develop her role.
The problems with pacing that blight Temple of Doom have for the most part been resolved, with adequate time allowed for the characters to interact meaningfully in between running for their lives. The action sequences continue to show Spielberg at his best, with the rather prolonged tank scene completely gripping. The incredible choreography Spielberg displays in Raiders of the Lost Ark is again showed off to its best, with chase sequences using all manner of vehicles crossing and recrossing paths with each other that may never be matched.
Although it certainly isn’t a perfect film, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade successfully reinvigorates a series that was floundering after the disappointing Temple of Doom. Everyone likely has their favourite Indiana Jones film, and although for me it is Raiders of the Lost Ark, for many it will be The Last Crusade. Any fan of the Indiana Jones series will be waiting with bated breath for the release of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and thankfully the wait is almost over.Rating:
Stuart talked about Raiders of the Lost Ark on Chatflixpodcast.