Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

4 out of 5

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Yeah, probably because I think it was the Indiana Jones movie I saw first, and also because there was a taint of the forbidden to it: my Dad was not happy that grandpa had allowed my brother and me to watch what he considered to be a pretty violent movie at our relative young ages (The magical mysteries of memory also somehow incorrectly conjured an R rating on the VHS copy we watched – I have oddly clear memories of rechecking the box art and goggling over that Restricted marking – making it even more taboo.); whatever the case, Temple of Doom was my favorite Indiana Jones movie growing up.  And maybe we can draw a faint line to my later fondness for the horror genre, as it’s the entry with more of that vibe going for it than the others.  Regardless, out of the 80s regulars that you grow up with, this was a big one for me, stripped of the ‘silly’ characterizations of the first one and the ‘silly, drawn out’ mystery of the third one, and just all down to roof-jumping and plane-driving and heart-rippings and whatnot.  That mine cart ride also definitely looks like the first rollercoaster ride I was addicted to, riding it multiple times over on our rare visits to Six Flags.

As an adult, of course, that silliness of the Raiders and Last Crusade is a lot more interesting than the generally vacuous (and occasionally senseless) antics of Temple of Doom.  It’s a pulp serial, so maybe we can excuse the Hindu mysticism bullshit, but it’s still kinda bullshit, and I don’t understand why we would think that other cultures eat monkey brains just because there aren’t McDonalds on the corners.  As a kid, I didn’t really register that stuff, of course, it was just more wackadoo dressing on the flick; I also definitely didn’t understand what Willie and Indiana were debating doing in each other’s bedrooms (but it’s just funny, you can tell by how it’s shot and scored), and I didn’t care to question the awful coincidental nature of how the movie stumbles from action setpiece to piece.  Again: this thing is pretty empty.  But damn, it’s also a mighty fine adventure, with an entertainingly garish willingness to dip into blood and guts – I don’t quite appreciate the retrospective tongue lashing Spielberg has given the film as tasteless, as I think all the IJ movies have similar indulgences – and the stunt and effects work are mind blowing, especially for the time and budget.  The whole first run of Indy’s diamond / statue swap and plane crash are another masterclass of filmmaking (after the entirety of Raiders proving that), and though the Indians get a short shrift and Kate Capshaw’s Willie is an unfortunate, wailing, damsel tagalong, Short-Round (Ke Huy Quan) is probably the coolest kid sidekick of all time: he’s intelligent, he actually helps, he’s actually funny, he can take care of himself, and… I don’t think it’s a racist representation?  He speaks in and out of Chinese, but this isn’t mined for any Engrish jokes; there’s no humor that I feel is at his expense.  It’s hard to get a read on this, since the internet thoughts I browsed on the matter were mostly from white people, but I’d definitely be interested to hear from the millions and millions of readers of these reviews what their takes are.

For a jam packed two hours, Indiana Jones, Willie, and Short-Round get chased from a jewel heist in China to a tiny, destitute Indian village, and are then tasked with finding a sacred stone that’s been whisked away to the titular temple.  Attempts at grounding things in the historical sprinklings that elevated Raiders are mostly just to justify having mystic cult figures doing mystic culty things, but dang if it ain’t pretty much a non-stop joyride.