(Second or third viewing, On TV, September 2016) Forgetting something isn’t usually a cause for joy, but forgetting enough of a great movie to make it possible to rediscover it as a great movie is an exception. So it is that I remembered enough of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade to remember that it was a good movie, but not enough to spoil the moment-to-moment joy of watching it again twenty years later. A far more decent follow-up to Raiders of the Lost Ark than the disappointing Temple of Doom, this Last Crusade quickly fires on all cylinders the moment Jones Senior (Sean Connery in one of his most enjoyable performances) shows up to rival Jones Junior. The interplay between Connery and Harrison Ford is terrific (especially when Alison Doody’s temptress character is involved), and confronting the Nazis in their backyard is a great way to heighten the stakes. Steven Spielberg is also remarkable in his action-adventure mode, cleverly building up suspense and working his audience like a fiddle—the tank sequence alone is a masterclass in how to build an action sequence. Faithfully taking up the thrill-a-minute rhythm of the serials that inspired the first film, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is one of the good adventure movies of the eighties, and it still works remarkably well today. For best results, watch it soon after the first film.
(Third or fourth viewing, On TV, September 2016) What a movie! I probably saw it more than twice before I started keeping online reviews in 1997, but it had been so long that I almost rediscovered the film in watching it again. It hasn’t aged much: while some of the special effects now look charmingly quaint, the pacing, shot construction, acting performances and overall sense of fun remains timeless. Harrison Ford has one of his career-best roles here, and Karen Allen is simply fantastic as Marion. Steven Spielberg directs the film with uncanny precision, and much of the practical effects are still convincing today. The use of Nazis as antagonists is guilt-free, while the mystical overtones of the story perfectly complete it rather than confuse it. Even looking at the film through the now-familiar Protagonist Redundancy Paradox (i.e.; Does Indiana Jones actually change anything through his actions?) doesn’t take away any of the thrills of the results. I’ve been revisiting a number of classic movies lately, and most of the time the reassessment isn’t kind. But with Raiders of the Lost Ark, I’m just as thrilled now as I was when I first saw the movie as a kid. What a movie!
(In theaters, May 2008) No movie could match the expectations regarding the further adventures of a now-archetypal hero. The most this fourth entry could do was to avoid disaster, and that’s generally what Spielberg and the gang manages to do here: Among other smart moves, they acknowledge the age of the character but doesn’t makes it a target of easy jokes, they adapt the tone to fit the fifties-setting of the story and they wink at the other films without drawing too much upon them. This being said, they do indulge and make some easily-avoided mistakes: The revelation of Mutt’s lineage is too obvious to be much of a shock, the film’s numerous missteps in mysticism are unnecessary (so are the gratuitous CGI groundhogs) and the film’s huge plausibility problems defy even loose pulp standards. Jones himself remains a remarkably passive protagonist, the last few minutes of the film unfolding without much participation from him. Even the thrills seem dulled: a retracting staircase sequence ends up giving the characters nothing much than a mild dunking. Yet the film itself fits with its three predecessors, never touching the superlative greatness of the first volume, but duking it out with the two others in overall ranking. It’s hardly perfect, but it ought to satisfy most even as it introduced the short-lived expression “nuking the fridge” into the vernacular.
(Third viewing, On TV, August 1998) An amazing movie, and what may be my third viewing proves it: Even despite being familiar with most elements, the movie fells as fresh and exciting as the first time. The timing is impeccable, the set-pieces are fabulous, and the level of humor doesn’t flag down. Excellent fun.
(Fourth viewing, On TV, September 2016) Taken on its own, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is a better-than-average adventure: Directed with Steven Spielberg’s usual skill, it’s got original action set pieces that impress even today, genuinely funny moments, wide-screen vistas, Harrison Ford’s charm and great pacing. It’s well worth watching still. But when you set it against its predecessor or its sequel, that’s when this second Indiana Jones adventure comes in for a harsher assessment. It’s not as accomplished. There isn’t much character development. Kate Capshaw’s Willie is nowhere near as interesting as the first film’s Marion. (Heck, at times she’s straight-up irritating.) The stereotypes and jokey racism grate. There’s a much grimmer tone that doesn’t quite work as well as the alternative. There’s a five-minute stretch of possessed-Indiana that can’t end soon enough. Nazis aren’t there to be punched in the face. For all sorts of reasons, that makes Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom a significantly lesser movie than the first or third films in the series. If you want to watch it, do it separately from the other instalments, otherwise the comparison won’t be kind.