Friday, June 27, 2014

FlashBack Friday: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

It's Friday again! Of all of the Indiana Jones films, this is probably the one I've anticipated seeing the most. Despite my love of Raiders of the Lost Ark, the movie I've watched the most in this series is easily Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Ever since I was little I remember wanting to be Indiana Jones, going on adventures around my parents' yard with my friends and getting into dangerous situations only to escape by the skin of my teeth at the last moment. All of my fandom primarily derives from this film, so I knew it would be a difficult one for me to critique. Despite my misgivings, I knew it was at least going to surpass my sub-par viewing experience with Temple of Doom last week.

Each one of these movies makes a point of giving us a memorable introductory scene, and right off the bat I felt much more comfortable in the world of Indiana Jones as this film opened. Maybe it has to do with the familiar setting of my home state, or perhaps it's just the resemblance it has to the first installment of the series. Either way, I loved seeing one of Indy's first exploits as he snatches the Cross of Coronado from a group of thugs and flees on horseback toward a speeding circus train. Some of the long takes of Indy jumping from car to car while evading the angry group of thugs are incredibly entertaining, and it was refreshing to see so many things filmed practically compared with the green screen/rear projection of the previous film. 

This opening scene does a great job of setting up some fundamental things about Indiana's character, with the introduction of his bull-whip (even Harrison Ford's real-life chin scar), his phobia of snakes, his desire to preserve archeological findings, the origins of his trademark hat, and most importantly his relationship with his father. It all culminates in a great flash-forward to an adult Indiana Jones aboard a storm-tossed ship, wearing a cheesy grin right before being punched in the face. Its a hilarious moment and a great opening, even giving Raiders a run for its money.

From there the movie takes us back to familiar territory with Dr. Jones addressing his archeology class providing exposition for things that will pay off comedically at a later point in the film. One of the few complaints I have about this movie is its somewhat over-reliance on the tropes of the first film. A lot of the story beats from Raiders make a reappearance in Last Crusade, making it somewhat difficult to remember which scenes happened in which films at times. Having said that, reminding me of the penultimate Indiana Jones film is hardly a problem in my book, particularly after the extreme deviation taken in the last film. Spielberg and Lucas seemed to have realized the error of their ways and have made a course-correction that definitely resulted in a more enjoyable if slightly formulaic effort.

Despite its obvious similarities to Raiders of the Lost Ark, I really appreciated some of the character exploration this film delves into, particularly between Indy and his father. Sean Connery breathes fresh life into this series, playing a bumbling, hard-nosed, yet oddly lovable figure who constantly irks and inspires our titular hero. Their incessant bickering can be a bit much at times, but the humorous interplay between the Jones boys is almost always a joy to watch as two screen legends chew up the scenery in the best way. It's fascinating to see Indiana's (or Henry Jones Jr.'s) origins, and the backstory actually makes sense.

This takes me back to something I said during my review of Raiders, where I mentioned Indy's character arc relating to his views of faith. Everything he may have learned in that film comes full circle in Last Crusade, where his beliefs are constantly called into question by friends and foes alike. As Marcus Brody puts it, "The search for the grail is the search for the divine in all of us. But if you want facts, Indy, I've none to give you. At my age, I'm prepared to take a few things on faith." This seems to be one of the main themes of the movie, coming full circle when the duplicitous Donovan shoots Henry Jones Sr. in the stomach with the phrase, "The healing power of the grail is the only thing that can save your father now. It's time to ask yourself what you believe." In the end, it all comes down to a literal leap of faith that I personally found incredibly inspiring, both because of the great score accompanying the scene as well as the symbolism such an act underlines.

Another example of this series' return to form is the overall entertainment this third film offers. The entire movie is peppered with genuinely humorous moments, clever dialogue, and hilarious physical comedy. Much of this is thanks to Sean Connery's near perfect performance and his incredible chemistry with Harrison Ford (who has never been better in the role, I might add). They have wonderful interplay, and the differences between the two characters is not only relatable to many father-and-son relationships, but it's also immensely entertaining. There are too many funny father-son moments to possibly list in full, but one scene that makes me laugh out loud to this day is where Donovan snidely remarks on Marcus's inability to take care of himself in a foreign land. In a desperate attempt to inspire fear in the traitor, Indy boldly says the following (while Henry Sr. looks on in bemusement):

Love it! Though this may not be quite as strong as Raiders, it's probably the most fun and may also have the most powerful and fleshed-out subtext of any Indiana Jones movie. The father-son dynamic is a great extension of the character we all know and love, and the resemblance to Raiders actually ties this in as one of the great trilogies in movie history (barring that disappointing second entry). The macguffin in this movie might be kind of obvious, but it ties in those meaningful themes perfectly with the rest of the story. There's just enough attention paid to the plot of the film while also devoting the necessary time to action, humor, and suspense. It's a terrific blend of Indiana Jones iconography, and though many might think of it as a safe bet, I think it's a wonderful film. I was so close to four stars on this one, but I ended up giving it the highest possible three and a half stars. I love this movie!


**What do you think of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? Is it the best of the series, or is it a total rip-off of Raiders of the Lost Ark?**