Our small band of Gunters here in The DreamCage universe are reviewing every film mentioned in Ernest Cline's Ready Player One. This week, Steve Taylor-Bryant heads for another Indiana Jones film...
The second instalment of the Indiana Jones films was going to be a tough ask. You had to move the story on a bit, do something different, and you had to top what had gone before, a task Spielberg pulls off... kind of. Watching the films as a series shows Temple of Doom to be a bit messy, flawed even, and it just about keeps its head above the water that Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is drowning in. However I discovered that watching it on its own as I've done for this article makes it a different film. It's not Raiders and never will be, it's not as good as The Last Crusade, by far my favourite of the films but, as a standalone adventure flick, it has an endearing quality.
Set in 1935, making it a prequel to Raiders of the Lost Ark, professor, archaeologist and all-round legendary hero Indiana Jones gets more than he bargains for after a Shanghai nightclub deal with the local Chinese crime boss, Lao Che, goes wrong, resulting in him being poisoned. In the ensuing chaos he still manages to sweep a girl, night club singer named Wilhelmina "Willie" Scott, off her feet and they escape in a car driven by a twelve-year-old boy named Short Round. They all get out of Shanghai by jumping on a cargo plane (incidentally owned by said Chinese crime boss) and end up, via more lines on a map and a plane crash, in an Indian village, where the distressed people believe that evil spirits have taken all their children away after a sacred artefact was stolen. Agreeing to assist the village, Indy, Willie and Short Round make their way to nearby Pankot where the prime minister invites them to spend the night in the palace. After a memorable meal, the three discover a secret passage (spiders this time, not snakes) into a temple and stumble onto something Indy thought was long extinct. It seems the age old cult of Thuggee, worshippers of Shiva, is attempting to rise once more, believing that with the power of the five Sankara stones, like the one stolen from the village, they can rule the world.....
All the Indy tropes are there. It has action, it has the girl, it has heart sacrifice ceremonies... it's so completely different to Raiders and to its follow up that of course it seems out of place. It's mystical not mythical. It's about magic not Nazi's. It has Short Round. The casting of Ke Huy Quan as sidekick was a master stroke. To stand out in an Indiana Jones film you have to be able to match Harrison Ford on every level and Quan does just that. He's in the action, he's clever, he delivers a one liner like he's just graduated the Harrison Ford College of Jokes. He's highly watchable and I even prefer his Short Round to Data, his character in The Goonies the following year.
The Last Crusade would take us back to Nazi domination and biblical mythology which, if I'm honest, is what makes Indiana Jones work well (it's like a superhero film with no capes) but The Temple of Doom was a breath of fresh air in adventure films outside of the Jones quadrilogy. My only complaint is Kate Capshaw as Willie. An actress of real ability playing an annoying airhead after the strength we'd seen previously in Karen Allen seemed like a backwards step.
Nowhere near a perfect film, The Temple of Doom is third in my list of Indiana Jones films, but hold onto your potato as I'm taking The Last Crusade next.
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Image - Amazon