I know most people tend to prefer Raiders of the Lost Ark, but for me Last Crusade is that rare threequel that surpasses the original. It borrows the best elements from Raiders: a Biblical MacGuffin, a booby-trapped temple, Nazis as the villains, Sallah and Marcus Brody, and a gruesome (though not as gruesome) death for the villain.
What puts Last Crusade over its predecessor, though, can be summed up in two words: Sean Connery. Harrison Ford is always a blast as the famous title character, but to make his father a mild-mannered James Bond ups both the heart and the humor. Rather than being the unflappable hero of the first film, Indy has a mental match in his estranged father, who may lack the level-headed physicality but is more like his son than either recognize. Henry Jones, Sr.’s dedication to his work made him a distant, poor father, but his son clearly inherited a similar commitment, not to mention his womanizing tendencies. Putting them together allows for some humorously contentious dialogue and some realistic father/son moments ranging from disapproval to grief to shared devotion.
Of course, this wouldn’t be an Indiana Jones film without some outstanding action sequences, and it doesn’t disappoint. While nothing quite matches the truck chase in Raiders, the film as a whole is a nonstop thrill ride, with ancient flammable crypts, speedboat chases, motorcycle chases, airplane chases, tank chases, and some clever booby traps to match the beginning of the first film. The opening sequence is a stroke of genius too; while not directly connected to the main plot, as are the beginnings of the other films, it gives an unexpected glimpse of Jones in his youth. River Phoenix pulls it off, with a comic-book-style train chase that offers action and some answers about Jones himself.
While the film may just seem like a series of chase scenes, it offers all the humor and twists of the original, just in a slightly more family friendly package. I especially like the scene in which the sole profanity is chastised by the elder Jones as blasphemy, one of the few instances in modern-day films where it is called out and condemned, allowing for a telling illustration of the differences between father and son. The final resolution of the quest not only confirms the authenticity of the sacred artifact in question (and the myths surrounding it) but contrasts the blind ambition of Elsa with the wiser discernment of the Joneses. Plus, it ends on the most perfect of perfect notes, a final ride into the sunset, a fantastic wrap-up for the franchise…oh, wait, yeah, there was that fourth movie. Still, this could have been an unparalleled conclusion.
Decidedly better than Temple of Doom and Crystal Skull and just a little better than Raiders, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is one of the most enjoyable actioners ever made. While not quite as iconic as Raiders, it still remains influential, even for Spielberg himself, who used a similar motorcycle chase in his Adventures of Tintin. Though my VC pointed out that Last Crusade made a helpless tagalong out of Marcus Brody, who had more dignity in the first film, it doesn’t get much better than the dual star power of Ford and Connery.
Best line: (the butler) “This is a castle, and we have many tapestries, but if you are a Scottish lord, then I am Mickey Mouse!” (Indy to Elsa, with Scottish accent) “How dare he!” [punches his lights out]
VC’s best line: (Nazi leader) “Dr. Jones?” (Indy and Henry, simultaneously) “Yes?”Rank: 60 out of 60
© 2015 S. G. Liput
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