In terms of tone, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade can be compared more easily to the first installment in the series. It’s a lighthearted affair much like Raiders of the Lost Ark, filled with jokes, fun, and a good time. Unlike Temple of Doom, this film isn’t going to frighten anyone. It’s the best film in the series, too, fixing all of the problems that previous films had and not adding any into the mix. It’s exactly what you should want in an Indiana Jones movie.
This is a direct sequel to Raiders, picking up a few years later. Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford continues with the whip and fedora) is still teaching college, but after a colleague informs him that the Holy Grail is out there, and that Jones is needed in order to find it — and locate the man previously heading the investigation, who has now disappeared — Indy sets out on another adventure. He doesn’t want to at the beginning, but after learning that the man who disappeared is his estranged father (played by Sean Connery), he heads out to look for both the man and the chalice.
The pair is quickly reunited, because why would you leave Sean Connery out of the picture for very long? From there, it’s almost elementary what has to happen. Clues will be found, puzzles solved, bad guys — this time it’s the Nazis again — will be fought, and the Holy Grail will either be found or not. It’s all about how each of these stages plays out, and about how much fun the characters are having while going through the motions. In this case, it’s a lot.
There are actually a couple of character twists this time around. The earlier, which I won’t consider a spoiler, comes in the form of the only important woman in the film, Dr. Elsa Schneider (Alison Doody). She initially looks to be filling the Marion/Willie role as the love interest, but soon betrays Indy and leaves him and his father for dead. She’s one of two main villains, the other being Walter Donovan (Julian Glover), both of whom work with the Nazis in hopes that they’ll be able to find the Grail and live forever.
So, thankfully, there is no love interest this time around. I don’t recall what happened to Marion from the first film — a line of dialogue might have told us but I might have missed it — but that role gets filled by Connery anyway. He’s somewhat helpless, and has great chemistry with Ford, so he does the job perfectly. He provides a lot of comic relief, too, and even gets in on the action once in a while. He’s the perfect sidekick, especially because the relationship between him and Indy ends up being a focal point.
There are a couple of strong heart-to-heart conversations that take place between the two characters that allows you to understand Indy’s childhood. There’s a scene early on showing us how Indy got the whip and fedora (and his fear of snakes), but it doesn’t delve into the relationship between him and his father. We learn early on, and then we find out that what Indy really wants, even more than finding the Grail, is to finally have a real relationship with his father. Isn’t that sweet?
More action is in this film than in the previous one, which I’m thankful for. Temple of Doom wasn’t boring by any means, but the nonstop, breakneck pacing of Raiders wasn’t quite there. It is here. Once Indy and his father get going, there’s no stopping them. The stunts and action scenes are still very creative and enjoyable, and there isn’t a lot of time to rest. And unlike the first film, the ending doesn’t feel like a cheat; the characters directly impact it, and it also resolves pretty much everything that is important.
That solves the problem from the first movie. The second movie had worse supporting characters than Raiders did. That’s also solved. Sean Connery’s involvement is enough to ensure that, but then you add in Doody’s villain and John Rhys-Davies’ reprisal of his role in the first film, and you’re golden. And while it fixes the two major issues from the first two movies, it doesn’t introduce any new problems. All of the things that worked earlier worked in this one, too, with nothing regressing or becoming stale.
If I have to find a complaint, it’s that the prologue/flashback scene was a bit contrived. So, he gets everything that he needs to become our hero in one day? Right, like I’ll believe that. I say this somewhat sarcastically, because it makes for a fine back story even if it is a bit too easy. In fact, not including it would have shortened the running time and not brought this complaint up at all. Maybe it wasn’t necessary at all, although I suppose, all in all, I was glad it was included.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is exactly what is needed out of an Indiana Jones movie. It’s action-packed, it’s funny, it has strong and enjoyable characters, and it never gets boring. It’s the strongest of the first three films in the series, and because of how well Connery and Ford work together, it’s a very, very fun film. It’s more tonally similar to the first film, which is probably a good thing, and it’s recommended very highly.