Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

4 out of 5

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

On the wiki page for the third Indiana Jones movie – Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – there’s a quote from Spielberg that he was “consciously regressing” during the making of the film, and the context in which the quote is shared suggests that this is in the spirit of recapturing the inspirations and tone of the first and best Indy movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and as an apology for Temple of Doom.

While I’m not on board with the retroactive dismissal Spielberg has given the second entry, I agree that it’s a pretty empty-headed movie.  Minus the characterizations and the slightly more logical story that helped to fuel Raiders, it gets by solely on its energy, which, thankfully, it has in spades.  But five years had passed since Doom, and nine since Raiders, and that “regression” is what, I think, ends up holding Last Crusade back.  There’s a very willful desire to let loose and have fun, which shows up in, as ever, some excellent and engaging sequences – the opening with young Indy; the crypt underneath the library – but there’s also a desire to move forward, as Indy (Harrison Ford) reunites with his father (Sean Connery), giving the film a more mature emotional backbone.

Sean gets to have his kicks as an adventurer as well, contributing some great humor and a good balance to further action sequences, but as we start to rope in characters from the past (John Rhys-Davies’ Sallah), re-do the brusque romantics we’ve seen before, bring in the Nazis as villains again, and even nod directly to the Ark of the Covenant, Last Crusade becomes somewhat held up between being a tribute and being an original.  The story is very compelling – Indy joins his father on a quest for the life-extending Holy Grail – and it’s thematically tied well to not only our leads’ relationship, but also to several snapshot moments of growing older and accepting responsibilities, and Spielberg and his team concoct wonderful antics to put us through (although some of it suffers from more obvious blue-screening than before).  Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade undoubtedly meets the requisite needs of the franchise’s excitements and derring-do.  But interestingly, its aspect with the most potential – the expansion of its lead character, giving us a much richer story than, certainly, Doom – is crowded by these same needs, which sets it at about the same overall level as the preceding flick.

A classic trilogy nonetheless, and a good way for it to “grow up” before lying dormant for a few decades.