A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 469 – Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – June 12th, 2011

You know how the Star Trek movies have that thing where the odd numbered ones used to always be the bad (or relatively bad) ones and the even ones were good (until the reboot)? I think the Indiana Jones movies work the opposite way, with the odd numbered ones being good and the even numbered ones being unfortunate. Of course, I can’t say that for certain, having not seen the fourth one yet, but I remember thinking it the first time I saw this one. After all, even though I do enjoy the second one in places I will freely admit that it’s got some major problems and is vastly inferior to the first. It’s also vastly inferior to the third. So my theory holds true even without the fourth.

Part of what works so much better here is that while it is indeed formulaic, it’s gone back to the Christian relic + Nazi villains combination and brought back John Rhys-Davies and Denholm Elliott as minor characters who firmly ground the character of Indiana Jones. And then there are some twists to the formula, with Indy’s father and a female lead who isn’t at all like either of the others. I think this basic formula is fairly solid, but it’s also somewhat limited. Keeping the villains as an easily recognizable group that there are no questions about the nastiness of is a good move. And keeping the relic Indy is looking for as something known and easily identified is also a good move. It means less scrambling to explain the importance of the item and why so many people want it. It uses existing folklore. So I forgive the movie its formulaic construction, because instead of flailing around like the second one did, it gets right down to business. And that business is kicking Nazi ass.

I do also like that this movie makes fun of itself. By this point, even with just two movies, it was pretty obvious that Indiana Jones was a cultural icon. The hat, the coat, the whip, the stubble. The fear of snakes! And this movie starts out right from the beginning by giving us some background, showing a young Indiana Jones (played by River Phoenix) starting off with his “this should be in a museum” attitude, facing off against a be-stubbled man in a leather jacket and a fedora. He falls into a tank full of snakes. He gets his whip. It’s all so very pat, but I find I don’t much care. After all, if we go with this being an homage to serials I would expect the hero’s background to be set out in such a way, with everything pointing towards his present representation. I also like that the beginning of the movie, with the somewhat unrelated adventure and artifact quest segment, isn’t just showing Indy doing what he does. It’s giving us character background as well as introducing Indy’s father and his fascination with the Holy Grail. It’s far more elegantly done than the Shanghai action scene from last night.

The story follows Indiana Jones as he heads off to track down his missing father. Sure, he’s also looking for the Holy Grail, but he flat out states that his father is his real reason for being there. Of course, he does get caught up in the search. And I like that about his character. He finds the hunt exciting and interesting and he does get wrapped up in it, gleefully making rubbings and destroying the floors of ancient buildings. Okay, so that last part makes me wince (it’s in a library) but the rest? It’s some nice character building. It makes his character more three dimensional.

It also helps that his father is played by Sean Connery, who is so perfect in his role I can’t find words for him. I love everything about his character, from his flirting to his chiding of his son to his disbelief that this is what archaeology involves these days. He is the perfect foil to the hero and he doesn’t do it by flailing around. And Indy needs a foil. He needs someone to point out that he’s not perfect. Because he isn’t and that’s part of his charm. He messes up and he gets smacked around and he doesn’t always win. He goes up against impossible odds and sure, in the movies he wins, but they’re hard wins. And in a series where he’s won several times it would be easy to fall into a bit of a trap with him. It’s why I had some trouble with the Spider-Man movies. Give a hero too many wins and he gets cocky. And when Indy gets cocky he needs someone there to remind him he’s not invincible. And Sean Connery does that with relish, happily calling him Junior and solving problems without going to the lengths that Indy would have. And he’s also a dedicated researcher, determined to find the Grail. Which gives them a point of mutual interest – research and the hunt for something long lost – that keeps their relationship from total antipathy.

I think it was a smart move to put the elder Dr. Jones into the movie when they did. The movie takes a bit of time with it, giving Indy a femme fatale to deal with (Dr. Elsa Schneider – who initially seems to be helping him) and some action scenes in a crypt full of rats and a boat chase through Venice. And that’s just enough. Okay, I admit that the secret brotherhood that were trying to protect the location of the Grail and their convenient knowledge of where Indy’s father was being held is a little more than I’d care for, I do like that they’re good guys. And when the Nazis show up and Elsa turns on them we get the elder Dr. Jones to take up the role of Indy companion and keep things interesting.

The other thing I especially like about this movie is that the supernatural element is kept to the end, like in the first movie. This isn’t a movie about supernatural things happening. It’s a movie about a single item with supernatural properties. Which to me is far more interesting and works better with the action archaeology concept that the series is built on. I would far rather see fights on top of moving tanks and Indy figuring out puzzles than have him deal with people with magic powers. And this time they kept the deadly puzzle room sequence for the final scenes, making it an integral part of the plot.

And that’s what I mean about the twists. The formula is all there, but there are tweaks to how each part is presented and I enjoy that. Oh, it’s not as brilliantly done as the first one, but nothing could be. I’d very much have liked a female lead who is both independent and positive, but at least Elsa is intelligent and capable, even if she is a villain in the end. And she’s just as fascinated by the hunt and the artifact as the Doctors Jones. Overall it’s a bit too crisp in places. A bit too obvious. But it’s also a lot of fun and gets it right the vast majority of the time. And that’s really all I ask.

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June 12, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , ,

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