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6 Reasons ‘Temple of Doom’ Is the 2nd Best Indy Film

No sane soul doubts which Indiana Jones movie is the best (so far).

“Raiders of the Lost Ark,” an homage to classic film serials, is a near-perfect movie. Action. Adventure. Laughs. Romance. Melting Nazi faces.

It’s everything a grand popcorn movie should be.

Raiders of the Lost Ark (3/10) Movie CLIP - Sword vs. Gun (1981) HD

The battle royale begins when Indy fans bicker over which film ranks second in the franchise. Many suggest it’s “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” The 1989 smash snared Sean Connery to play Indy’s father. Never mind that Connery was only 12 years older than star Harrison Ford at the time.

And now, for those playing at home.

Director Steven Spielberg didn’t crank out his own ranking listicle, but he has been blunt about his disappointment in the first sequel, 1984’s “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.” Here’s what he said about the film in 1989.

“I wasn’t happy with the second film at all. It was too dark, too subterranean, and much too horrific. I thought it out-poltered ‘Poltergeist.’ There’s not an ounce of my own personal feeling in ‘Temple of Doom.’ 

Ouch. But he’s right … to an extent.

“Temple of Doom’s” silly dinner sequence (eyeball soup and monkey brains) proved both unnecessary and jarring. Whatever cheap laughs it generated came at the film’s expense.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (3/10) Movie CLIP - Chilled Monkey Brains (1984) HD

The film’s leading lady, Kate Capshaw, delivers a grating performance thanks largely to uninspired screenplay. Spielberg would never fully admit that, since he went on to marry Capshaw and remains with her ’til this day.

So, “Temple of Doom” is at best the franchise’s third-best entry since “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” is almost universally loathed.

No.

The following six reasons explain why “Temple of Doom” should be considered Indy’s second most thrilling adventure.

  1. It’s Not “The Last Crusade” -- This critic will never forget sitting in a theater and watching my fellow film goers guffawing over the 1989 sequel. The great Indiana Jones had been reduced to broad comedy, with Connery hamming it up as Papa Indy. This flimsy sequel lacks the gravitas of “Raiders” and the intensity of “Temple of Doom.” And you cannot unsee Connery steering birds into the path of an approaching plane with an umbrella like the fourth “Stooge.”
  2. Short Round -- Yes, that Short Round. Adding cutesy kids to a franchise is like waving the creative white flag. Making young Jonathan Ke Quan a martial arts fighter is both lame and stereotypical. Still, Spielberg and co. use the child masterfully at times. His allegiance to Indy adds texture to the crusty archaeologist. Visually, Spielberg shows Indy and Short Round battling with quick comparison shots heighten the film’s giddy appeal. The character also helps advance the story, allows younger viewers to see the adventure through new eyes and gives Indy a softer side that expands his persona.
  3. And … Action! Once Indy and the gang get captured mid-film, “Temple of Doom” floors the accelerator. Fist fights. Out of control mining cars. A conveyor belt with nasty intentions. It’s all captured with Spielberg’s eye for spectacle and humor. It’s one of the ’80s best action movies, no questions asked.
  4. That Musical Opening -- Talk about risky. Spielberg opens the hotly anticipated “Temple of Doom” with a whimsical take on “Anything Goes.” Did anyone see that coming? It’s part of a rollicking sequence that, while nowhere near as great as the “Raiders” intro (what is?) offers something instantly novel to the franchise.
  5. The Woke Indy: No, Ford’s character doesn’t lecture us about women’s rights or income inequality. He does torch Capshaw’s Willie Scott for insulting the locals when she refuses their food offering. Similarly, he’s touched by the faith expressed by those same locals regarding their missing stone, swiped by the film’s villains. He could have mocked them given his suspicions about faith and the supernatural. Instead, he rallies to their side, risking everything along the way. The movie’s depiction of Indian culture is hardly sensitive, particularly the cuisine with no firm connection to India fare.
  6. The Alpha Male in His Native Habitat: There’s a reason Indy came of age during the Reagan Era. His brand of Alpha Male heroics proved a snug fit for the decade. See Willis, Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Seagal for other examples. So he’s hardly kowtowing to Willie when it’s time for some serious flirtation. And the film’s final moment, where he slings out his whip to bring her back to him, would never pass muster today. But it’s right in character all the same.
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4 Comments

  1. I agree with your conclusion but not your reasons. If they had cut out Willie Scott, Short Round, the dance number at the beginning in fact the whole nightclub scene, 90% of the humor and kept the action within realm of suspension of disbelief it might have been a good film.

  2. Still go with Last Crusade as my #2 Indy, but my love for Temple of Doom has never wavered since plunking down $2.50 for it opening weekend (ahhhh, for the days of student/under 16 discounts). So, here’s a reason seventh reason to bolster your argument: kick-ass tie-in arcade game. To this day, when I get flustered I have been known to make the quick “oy-oy-oy” exclamation the Thuggees utter after Indy whips them. Yes, I am a dork.

  3. Didn’t care for ToD, simply because it was just too dark. The first one was a great movie in the spirit of the serials that were shown in the theaters during the glory days of Hollywood. The second one just did not seem family appropriate for young kids.

    But the third was fantastic. And it spoke to the talent of both men that as a viewer, you could believe they were father and son. If you obsessed over that age issue Toto, that was your problem. Nobody else had that same problem.

  4. I agree with the author’s conclusion, although not all of the details. TOD and The Color Purple (released just a year-and-a-half after TOD) are Spielberg’s two most imaginatively directed films (note: I didn’t say best-directed). In both of these films, Spielberg constantly surprises you with where he will point his camera next (as well as what will come next); in this way, they show an artist at the height of one end of his powers.

    One interesting question to ask is why it is set as a prequel to Raiders. I’ve always thought (since the film’s initial release) that TOD is the story of how Indy came to believe in magic, the same belief that would lead him to close his eyes when the ark of the covenant was opened. TOD is the tale of a skeptic who becomes a believer, and I’ve always appreciated it as providing that needed background for Raiders.

    As for TLC, it’s too repetitive and too much like Return of the Jedi. Bringing back the Nazis is like a second Death Star, and we get another father/son reconciliation of sorts (although more humorous and better handled in TLC). We also get unwelcome humor, as Marcus Brody becomes a buffoon in TLC.

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