Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
I’ve said that Raiders of the Lost Ark is a perfect adventure movie, a movie that will never be surpassed. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade equals it. I honestly cannot say which film I like better, usually it is the one I last saw. Unlike Temple of Doom, which tried to top it predecessor with a darker tone, slapstick and shocks, the Last Crusade aims for lighter tone and is a more character based experience. Raiders and even Temple are movies about what Indiana Jones does, The Last Crusade is a movie about who Indiana Jones is and why.
The first two films open with the ending of Indiana’s previous adventure that leads into his next one. It gives him a sense of continuous motion, that he is always on an adventure and this is just the one we happen to get to see. They were both great scenes and perfectly laid out the focus of the rest of the movie, either Indy’s rivalry with Belloq in Raiders or Anything goes in Temple. In Last Crusade we do not get the end of Indy’s previous adventure, at least not at first. Instead, it is an almost too perfect origin story for all of the famous Indiana Jones traits. How did he come to wield a bullwhip, fear snakes and wear the hat? It is all shown right there. The most important part of the scene is what is conspicuously not shown, Indy’s father. By making the short scene with his father part of their intentional Indiana Jones origin, it tries to show him as important an aspect of the character as any of the other things shown during the opening. But if Henry Jones, Sr. is vital to Indy’s story, where has he been for the first two movies? That is the question that Last Crusade asks and answers.
The action in Last Crusade is if anything less amazing or fantastic than Raiders of the Lost Ark, let alone Temple of Doom. That is not to say it is lacking, but it is more mundane. And like the rest of the movies it is still excellently shot. There is clearly a lessened focus on making the action shocking and more on making it fun. The lighter tone comes through in Last Crusade’s focus on humor. Even the big action scenes are laced with humor. Humor that comes naturally from the characters, not forced slapstick. The early escape and chase scenes are not quite as well done as Raiders’ big car chase, but they are as close as I’ve ever seen. The big showdown with the Nazi’s and their tanks near the end is possibly my favorite scene from any movie. It is all that is great about the Indiana Jones series compounded into twenty perfect minutes.
Where the last movie faltered badly, Indy’s companions, the Last Crusade shines even above the first. It brings back Sallah and Brody and gives them more time to define themselves. Ilsa is probably the best of Indiana’s love interests, being both a believable romantic interest and the closest any of the later movies gets to a Belloq replacement. While her knowledge doesn’t match Indy’s like Belloq’s did, she shows herself to be tolerably competent in the field and much more personally dangerous to Indy. All that dances around what truly elevates Last Crusade above most films. The presence of a star to rival Harrison Ford.
Sean Connery as Henry Jones, Sr. makes The Last Crusade. The damaged, nearly broken relationship between the Doctors Jones is what drives the film, and the elder one had to match Ford on screen and Connery absolutely does. In every other situation Indiana Jones is the man. He is the that everyone looks to to solve their problems. He is often exasperated and tired, but he is never at a loss. He always has an idea if not a plan. Around his father he reverts to Junior. To his father he is still a child, always a child. Indy’s actions in this movie are to prove his manhood to his father, to earn his respect. To earn his recognition. All he wants is to earn his father’s notice.
Henry Jones, Sr. is blinded by his quest enough to not even realize how close he is to losing his son. Even through their trip to Berlin he barely acknowledges his son. It is best seen in the motorcycle chase, with Indy’s proud smile being stopped by his father’s disapproving stare, except when he takes down one via joust. That earns him a brief smile. It is all about the grail to him. Until the tank scene, that is. Until he truly sees Indy in action as Indy he is always Junior to his father. During that scene, his truly realizes how capable his son is. When he thinks Indy has gone over the cliff he is finally forced to realize how broken their relationship is. It all culminates at the end when his father finally calls him Indiana, an admission that he is a man.
What makes Crusade so good is that every thing feels so natural. From Jones, Sr. constant casual dismissal of his son to Brody’s complete inability to function in the real world to the marvelous, kinetic and funny action scenes. Much of the slapstick in Temple felt forced and out of place, constantly testing the viewers sense of disbelief. The lighter tone of Crusade makes it fit with much more fluidity. It is the family film version, both in that it is about the Jones family and that it is meant for families. The Last Crusade can’t match Raiders of the Lost ark in straight adventure. If it tried it could never feel like more than a pale imitation. So instead it makes a different experience. While Raiders was a somewhat humorous adventure movie, the Last Crusade goes full on adventure/comedy. The humor is no longer a pleasant side effect of Harrison Ford being so charismatic, but it is given weight equal, or at least much closer to equal, to the action. The adjustment of that balance makes Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade a different experience but an equal one to Raiders of the Lost Ark.