Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom Reviews
COMPLAINT #1: "The film is too violent and dark." WHY THIS IS A STRENGTH: While Raiders and Last Crusade (with discretion) can be enjoyed by the whole family, Temple of Doom is much more scary and intense. This is part of why I didn't like it as a child but do now that I'm older. I've always thought that heroes are so much more heroic when they're facing greater menace (like the Aragorn facing the horrific Uru-Kai in Fellowship of the Ring). True, in the other movies Indy is fighting the Nazis (officially as evil as it gets) but those "movie Nazis" didn't possess the menace of the real ones. We never see them do anything truly terrible. The Thuggee cult, however, is shown engaging in human sacrifice, enslaving and whipping children (this isn't dwelt on, but it happens), using voodoo dolls, and other creepy things. Some say this is too dark, but I say that darkness, when used to contrast the light, makes the light shine brighter. Plus, the dark and harsh portion of the movie only lasts 20 minutes of the films' 120 minute running time!
For the first hour, before entering the temple of doom, there's action, fun, creepy critters, booby traps, close escapes... everything you want in an Indy film. Then the humor and sense of fun disappears for 20 minutes as the film descends into hell. It never loses its sense of compassion for the enslaved children, or its notion that the cults' practices are horrific and wrong, but for 20 minutes the audience is treated to a nightmare that led to the creation of the PG-13 rating. Why is this a good thing? Because it sets up what is, in my opinion, Indy's finest hour.
Remember, this is a prequel that takes place before Raiders of the Lost Ark. At the beginning of this film Indiana Jones is a self-serving treasure hunter. "Fortune and glory!" is the motto he specifically lives by. It is the horrors of the Temple of Doom that awaken Indy's compassion, altruism, and heroism. The audience feels for the enslaved children, and may get the chills at this exchange:
Willie: Indy, let's get out of here.
Indiana Jones: "Right...all of us!"
The next shot is of a slave-master throwing a child to the ground, about to raise the whip, then looking up to see the silhouette of JUSTICE!
In that moment you know that the terror is over, and Indiana Jones is going to be kicking a** and taking names for the wrongs done deep underground. It's a truly fist-pumping moment, earned because of the 20 minutes of terror that precede it. This kicks off one of the great stretches of nonstop action in the history of cinema, as Indy fights to free the children and escape with Short Round and Willie. It's a breathtaking 30 minute crescendo of one amazing set piece on top of another. Cap that off with a happy ending, and you have a literal thrill ride that has successfully taken you from exhilaration to terror and back to the top again.
COMPLAINT 2: "It's too radically different from the other movies, and the action is over the top." WHY THIS IS A STRENGTH: As I get older I realize that, in terms of plot, Last Crusade is merely a rehash of Raiders, with a twist. Temple of Doom is bold, trying something radically new. If Raiders' tone is a tribute to the cliffhanger serials of the 1930's, Temple of Doom is a tribute to the horror films of the same era (Frankenstein, Dracula), where the evil villains are over the top and do that crazy villain laugh which is only parodied these days. While Raiders is a smart, plot-driven movie, Temple of Doom was only ever meant to be a roller-coaster. It's dumb fun, but that's what it's going for. The action is over-the-top, but that's part of the fantasy. Plus, while the other Indy movies are all about him preventing world domination and traveling across the globe, this has him engaged in a rescue mission, stopping an evil that is already occurring, and takes place mostly in the same location. It's a fun departure from formula.
COMPLAINT 3: "The comedy is too broad, and Kate Capshaw is too...screamy." WHY THIS IS A STRENGTH: If you look at the film as a self-aware, campy horror movie with an action hero dropped into the mix, Kate Capshaw's screaming actually fits right in. Some find it annoying when comparing it to Marion's toughness in the first movie, but if you take Temple of Doom on its own terms (as a tongue-in-cheek homage to classic horror, not a tonal sequel to Raiders), it works fine. Also, now that I'm older, I find Kate Capeshaw's performance to be quite funny. She seems to be channeling Lucille Ball a bit. And yes, the comedy is not as witty as Raiders or Last Crusade. It's a bit more campy and silly, but that plays to the film's tone. Like Tremors or Brendan Fraser's The Mummy, Temple of Doom has a charming, self-aware, tongue-in-cheek silliness to it. As was the case of those two movies, it's a type of humor that seemed cheesy when I was younger, but is now funny because I realize that the camp is intentional. Plus, the comedic style helps to balance out the scares because it suggests to the audience that none of this is to be taken too seriously.
In short, Temple of Doom is daring, inventive, and the most thrilling in the series. A movie that opens with a Rogers and Hammerstein-style musical number called "Anything Goes" lives up to that motto, as the film is enjoyably unpredictable. Like a good roller-coaster, you never know what's just around the corner. It successfully mixes romance, tender friendship, horror, broad comedy, and truly crazy stuntwork. While the other Indy films are popcorn movies with smarts and substance, this is proudly just a popcorn movie, through and through. But what a ride! * * * * (out of five).
Sure Raiders had its frightening moments but it never felt excessive. This time, the darker moments linger for a much longer amount of time. Even more unnerving is that the lighter moments feel too light. Now we have a wacky kid sidekick and an annoyingly shrill love interest (Short Round and Willie Scott respectively) to serve as our comic relief. The tonal shifts are so extreme that it becomes very jarring.
The personal problems that Steven Spielberg and George Lucas endured during production have noticeably seeped into the final product, making it somewhat of a cynical and unpleasant experience.
It sounds like I hate this movie but in truth this is still very entertaining in many ways. There are some great set pieces, excellent action scenes, and another compelling performance from Harrison Ford. If you're curious, then I would suggest checking it out even though it's very flawed.
Upping the stakes without backing down on the story, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is one of the rare sequels that manage to (mostly) live up to the original.