The sequel to Raiders of the Lost Ark is really a prequel, and it makes Raiders look like Barry Lyndon by comparison. I haven’t actually yet seen Barry Lyndon, but I heard it’s a very slow movie.
In Raiders, while there was some pretty unbelievable action, the film showed the consequences and toll it took on Indy’s body. He was beaten down, at times sluggish and a bit frightened of the stuff he had to face. The story made it seem like, despite a history of crazy adventures, this was going to be the craziest. After all he was fighting Nazis.
But Temple of Doom is even crazier, and it takes place a year before Raiders. Every time something insane happened in Raiders or every time Indy had some daunting challenge ahead of him, you’d think he would have said “this is crazy, but I just did something crazier last year when I was searching for this rock and freeing a bunch of child slaves.”
Also, the original idea of Indiana Jones was to make something like a James Bond character. In Raiders, they simplify the character a little more. He’s a scientist, professor, he’s a bit of a lone wolf, and he has an ex-wife. Temple of Doom begins with a large setpiece that feels like it was written for James Bond before the scene was tossed to the cutting room floor. Then Spielberg/Lucas swooped in and adapted it to fit Indiana Jones.
The scene and the film begin with a big, elaborate dance number as the movie title, in big, bold font fills the screen. The image is grand, and I think it’s telling you more about what this film is going to try to do rather than what it does.
It’s just a big movie, really. The action tries to one up itself, and while it’s not a bad movie, it ends up feeling a little more bland than Raiders. In other words, Raiders felt like it needed Indiana Jones’ personality, his quirks, his cocky attitude, his hat and his whip. But Temple of Doom felt like a story Indy just dropped into. I mean, that’s often what a sequel is. There was no elaboration on Indiana Jones’ character, and that’s partially because it’s a prequel, meaning we don’t see his relationship with Marion (which is at the end of the day what Raiders was all about). Instead we hit the reset button and are introduced to a new love interest, Willie (Kate Capshaw, Spielberg’s future wife) and a surrogate son for Indy, Short Rount (Jonathan Ke Quan) a fast-talking, adventurous 10-ish year old kid.
So what do we learn about Indy in this film? I’ll get to the story, there’s both a lot to recap and not much to say.
Indiana Jones is less defined in this movie. He has more shirtless scenes, as if they knew that would help sell tickets, and he has his quips, but he feels like an Indiana Jones knockoff, or like something out of Indiana Jones fan fiction.
There’s even a sequence of the film where Indy is brainwashed and in control of the enemy. So for that stretch of time, he’s just a lobotomized Harrison Ford stumbling around the soundstage. That’s fine, I suppose, it’s just symbolic of his character in the film as a whole.
Okay, this is sounding negative, but I don’t mean to be so negative. The film has its bright spots, more great action and some nice character moments, but it’s just a step below Raiders and whether or not they were comparing this to the Raiders, they should have hoped to exceed it.
Raiders had a similar formula. There was a thing that Indy needed to get from a group of foreign, violent individuals, and he was going to do so along a woman he playfully banters and fights with as well as a sidekick. In Raiders that was Marion and Indy’s friend, Sallah. In Temple of Doom it’s Willie and the kid, Short Round.
Marion worked because she was an ex-wife, so it made some sense for that bickering between them. They were also in a similar line of work, so she presumably had something of value to add to Indy’s quest. Having been once married, it was also plausible that they would recognize the thing that brought them together in the first place, bringing them together in the end again. Lastly, Marion was a strong character, a strong presence. She was fully capable of defending herself (though not always), as evidenced by her drinking ability and flirting to facilitate a possible escape from danger. Basically, she was a fun character, presumably a fun character to write for too. Indiana Jones is a strong character, and she held her own alongside him.
But Willie, the love interest here, is a bit grating. Indy meets her in Hong Kong at a night club, more on that in a second, and we just know that she’s flirty for the sake of being flirty, she likes to dress up and go out to parties… and that’s it. She’s only on this journey because she ended up stuck with Indy after their nightclub escape. In that scene, which I should have described already but again I’ll get to, Indy is fighting for his life and she’s crawling on the floor looking for a fancy diamond.
On their journey together, she does a double take when someone mentions the word “diamond,” she complains about bugs (which I suppose is understandable), she wonders if the leader of the community they visit is looking for a wife (until she realizes he’s just a child), and that’s probably about it. She also tries to seduce Indy and gets mad when he doesn’t come over (though that’s because he’s being strangled by an assassin).
She’s not a horrible character, but she just doesn’t really fit in the story. Short Round is cool, though, if not just a little too talkative. I get it, he’s a cocky little kid, but when he points at Willie after she falls off the elephant and laughs, saying how funny it is, it feels a little contrived. Like Spielberg thought just the concept of a boy laughing at an adult would be funny, or something. I’m not sure, maybe it’s not that bad. I just know it’s become a cliche in comedies now for the protagonist to encounter a small kid who is “surprisingly” crass and rude, so that the audience is supposed to laugh at the absurdity of a 9 year old saying “screw you” or something. But that’s been done so many times in certain types of movies that it’s just irritating, and it feels like lazy writing because I’ve never met a 9 year old who wasn’t anything but nice. Well, I haven’t met many 9 year olds recently I guess, mostly just when I was 9. But you get it, I hope.
Anyways, the story is fine, but, as the title tells you, this is an INDIANA JONES movie. It’s not just called Temple of Doom, like Raiders of the Lost Ark, instead it’s INDIANA JONES and the Temple of Doom. The movie is built around Indy, which is fine in theory, but they pump him full of steroids and go full James Bond. It makes the rest of the story a little less engaging, though the action is well-choreographed and exciting.
The opening scene, the nightclub, shows Indy at a table with some Chinese businessmen. Indy wears a dapper suit, hair neatly combed, looking like Indiana Bond. There’s no indication that this is the same Indy from before, with the sweat-stained brown pants, boots, hat, etc. In this scene, Indy makes an exchange (at gunpoint), and then to celebrate his believed success, he drinks something the businessmen gave to him. Maybe it’s because I’ve been conditioned by so many modern movies, but it was obvious that drink was poisoned. It seemed wrong that Indy would take a swig, because he’s a smart guy, he knew these businessmen were his adversaries, and they already threatened to shoot him. He should be more on his toes.
Well a fight breaks out, like something of a cross between a scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark and the dance battle from 1941. Again, it’s well-constructed and engaging, but it’s very long. Indy searches for the antidote, chasing it around the dance floor while Willie does the same for the diamond. Then they jump into a car driven by Short Round, and a car chase follows.
Eventually they get to a plane, expecting safe passage to New Delhi, but instead the plane is owned by the man who just poisoned Indy. While asleep, the two pilots parachute out of the plane, leaving Indy, Willie and Short Round to figure out how to escape a sinking plane. What they do, as one does, is inflate a raft and jump into it, riding it down to the snow-packed ground. Then they start sliding down a mountain before plunging into a river and making it safely to shore. It’s wild.
The movie’s main story then begins. Somewhere in India, a tribe welcomes the three adrenaline-depleted travelers, believing them to have been sent by the Hindu God Shiva. They tell them about how their village is suffering because the river dried up and nothing grows. This happened when the powerful Sivalinga was stolen by a group of people from the Pankot Palace. Oh yeah, and those people also stole all their children, making them slaves.
The three heroes then make their way to that Palace, and before they get their, their guides leave them, fleeing in fear. Everything seems nice in the Palace, though. They are welcomed, fed (a very odd dinner), and given rooms for the night. But then Indy is attacked by an assassin, and it’s clear something’s going on.
In Willie’s room, Indy finds a secret passageway. Once inside, he and Short Round are trapped in a room with the ceiling closing in and spikes sticking out of the ceiling and the ground. Willie saves them, though, at the last second, following Indy’s instructions. Then they witness a human sacrifice that involves three stones, one of which belongs to the village.
Indy gets the stone, but then he hears cries, and it’s unclear what it is. He goes to investigate and finds all the slave children. Indy is captured, along with Willie and Short Round who is instantly enslaved although, surprisingly, they let him continue to wear his Yankees cap.
Indy is then forced to drink the blood that temporarily lobotomizes him, and they hold another human sacrifice, very shortly after the first one. The people in attendance must have been thrilled, it’s not often you get a human sacrifice double header. The sacrifice, though, is Willie. Indy helps aid her oncoming death, but then Short Round, who escaped and revitalized the broken onlooking child slaves, snaps Indy out of it. Indy saves Willie as he fights her (and his captors), killing a bunch of them.
The three of them then go down to the mines to free the children. A mine cart chase then follows, inspiring the Disney ride.
They end up at a drawbridge, Indy cuts it in two, and an army (British Riflemen) arrives to save them. Indy, Willie and Short Round return to the village with the stone and the rescued children.
So yeah, crazy stuff. The chase scenes are impressive, particularly the mine cart chase, and the action lasts for a while, which is nice and entertaining and the whole point of this kind of movie.
EDIT: I thought I had finished this post, but I hadn’t so when I’m not sure how unfinished this writing is. Either way, it’s almost 2,000 words and I’m ready to talk about other Spielberg films, so now it’s finished.