After the criticism of Temple of Doom, Lucas and Spielberg opted to return to Judeo Christian artifacts. This time was far more myth, in that they search for the Holy Grail, the cup Christ used at the Last Supper and gifted with the power of eternal life. They brought in Jeffrey Boam, writer of two Lethal Weapon films and the Lost Boys, to provide the Screenplay.
The film opens in Indiana Jones’ teen years. While out with his scout troop, he stumbles across treasure hunters. He grabs an artifact and they start to chase him. While the sequence is fun and generally exciting, it also suffers from a ridiculous amount of fan service. For reasons I cannot fathom, they decided they needed to explain…well, everything. Indy’s fear of snakes, how he got the scar on his chin, how he got his whip, how he got his hat. It is just absurd. Who really wanted to know how or when he got that scar? He is an adventurer…he got it on an adventure. They also establish where the name “Indiana” comes from. It is not great.
The film then jumps to 1938, where Indy has found that same artifact. He reclaims it and returns to the college where he is employed as a Professor. There, he is introduced to Walter Donovan, who was working with Indiana Jones’ father, a noted Grail expert. His father has disappeared, so Jones flies to Venice with Marcus Brody and they meet up with Elsa, who was also working Indy’s father (also named Henry, so his dad keeps referring to Indy as Jr.). They discover he is being held by Nazis…
Everyone gets divided up, Indy and his father escaping the Nazis, Marcus and a returning Sallah heading for the location of the Grail. They do eventually meet up in an action packed finale.
And the film does entertain, but then also tries to over compensate with background…wholly unnecessary background. Sean Connery as Indy’s dad is certainly a fun casting choice. He is not impressed at all with Indiana’s exploits. In one scene, they are riding a motor cycle. After he dispatches Nazis, he looks to his father with a big smile…and his dad is just indifferent. The look on Ford’s face as his ego is deflated is amusing.
The film really ramps up the jokes. Where humor complimented the prior films, this one seems almost more of a comedy. Marcus Brody and Sallah, two fairly dramatic and competent characters in the first film are played for laughs as bumbling fools.
The film does have some nice character moments for Ford and Connery where they try and reconnect after years of a strained relationship. The twists and reveals, on the other hand, feel heavily telegraphed.
The Last Crusade is often treated as a strong return to form, but I cannot say it is any better than the Temple of Doom. It is certainly tonally different (and admittedly, a lot of the jokes actually work, especially between Indy and Henry). But it has its weaknesses.