Tuesday, December 26, 2017

INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE (1989) - ****1/2



Rated PG-13
Running time: 127 min.
Release date: May 24, 1989



The Holy Grail is the object of pursuit by Indiana Jones in this third (and final, at the time) entry in the trilogy. This time, Indy is followed in his pursuit by some familiar faces as well as some new ones, including that of his father, played by Sean Connery. Once again, Indy has to go around the world in search of clues to the location of his prize while being pursued by Nazis, who wish to obtain it. While it may sound similar to Raiders of the Lost Ark, there are still plenty of reasons why this film can stand alone on its own merits. Where Raiders set the bar for the entire series and adventure films in general, The Last Crusade comes damn near close to matching it. 

An example of the great storytelling is the opening segment that features a teenage Indiana Jones as a Boy Scout on an outing with his fellow troops in Utah in 1912. While going through caves, young Indy finds a group of men who have discovered the coveted cross of Coronado, an item which he insists belongs in a museum. After snagging the item, a chase ensues; one which is as exciting as the chases the future Indy will experience. We get plenty of backstory to the Indy character, like how he got the scar on his chin (cleverly working in a facial feature of Harrison Ford himself) and a peek into the dynamic between young Indy and his father (not completely revealed in the opening). We flash forward to 1938, and American businessman Walter Donovan (Julian Glover) has requested the assistance of Indy in locating the Holy Grail, the cup that Jesus Christ drank from during the Last Supper. Anyone who drinks from the cup is apparently granted eternal life. Apparently, Indy's father, Henry Jones, was on the trail of the cup when he vanished. Indy is joined by his father's Austrian colleague, Elsa Schnieder (Alison Doody) as they make a discovery in the catacombs beneath Venice. They are chased by members of a secret society who are sworn to protect the Grail, as our intrepid hero finds himself dodging rats and getting chased by speedboat through the canals of Venice. Soon, Indy is reunited with his father in a Nazi stronghold as we are treated to some great chemistry between Ford and Connery. We get more narrow escapes from Nazis by motorcycle, airplane and even zeppelin. Eventually, things boil down to a climax that involves the Grail and various booby traps that Indy must navigate, because of course he does. The plot has a few recalls to the original adventure in Raiders, and there is still plenty of witty and wild moments. There are the chases and explosions that always thrill but there is something a little deeper here. The relationship between Indy and his dad is the underlying theme to the whole story, giving it a sweeter quality than the original. 

Steven Spielberg set out to make an apology to fans for whatever missteps he took in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (not yet reviewed by your favorite blogger, ie. ME). After the dark tone of that middle entry of the trilogy, Spielberg brings it all back to the spirit and tone of the original. We get more Nazis and desert chases, but there is still a sense of fun throughout and none of the action really seems to be rehashed, especially a thrilling sequence on board a moving tank. Screenwriter Jeffrey Boam has actually added some depth to the Indiana Jones character by putting focus on his past as well as the relationship with his father, which adds an element to the series that was previously undeveloped. The production design and sets all have the look and feel of movie serials from the 1940s but also the pulpy boys magazines that told similar stories about globe-trotting adventurers and hidden treasures. 

The cast is almost pitch perfect. Harrison Ford will always be the embodiment of the Indiana Jones character; there couldn't possibly have been anyone else to play him. Sean Connery hits all the right notes in playing the senior Jones. In scenes where Indy appears to be enjoying his own escapades, only to turn around and see the disapproving look of his father, the dynamic between Ford and Connery appears to be natural. The return of John Rhys-Davies as Sallah is a welcome sight, and Denholm Elliott as Marcus Brody added an unexpected comedic flavor to the story. If there is a complaint in the casting, it comes from the secondary characters. Alison Doody lacks the spark of a Karen Allen while Julian Glover struggles at times to not sound like a mechanical component of the film. However, Michael Byrne as the evil Nazi Col. Vogel is a blast and it's unfortunate that he was not the main villain.

Ultimately, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is a terrific film with gobs of action set pieces and witty dialogue, as is expected in this series. It can definitely stand on its own as a great film, but the bar was set way too high by Raiders for Last Crusade to surpass. Steven Spielberg mostly succeeds in keeping the material fresh and avoids falling into the trap of copying his own film. Harrison Ford and Sean Connery bring their A-game, while the rest of the cast fall to the wayside for the most part. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade brings the trilogy full circle and goes out with our beloved hero literally riding off into the sunset, which is how this series should have gone out.


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