Remember how lighthearted and fun Raiders of the Lost Ark was? Even when lives were on the line, everyone was still smiling, knowing that their skill and perhaps a little bit of luck would allow them to escape relatively unharmed. The bad guys would get shot up a touch, the good guys would be mostly okay, and everyone would be able to go about their merry way. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is not like this. It has the humor but none of the charm, and it has a few scenes that are darker than anything you’ll find in Raiders.
This is a prequel to the film that introduced us to Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford), the professor and archaeologist who so competently provided us two hours of thrills, all while keeping a smile on his face. This movie takes place only a couple of years prior to Raiders, and in the opening sequence, we see that Indiana is still the dashing fellow he becomes slightly later in life. He manages to escape from some Chinese businessmen, negate the poison that he ingested while dealing with them, and save two other people from a plane that was about to crash. And that’s just for starters.
The people with him are the love interest, a singer name Willie (Kate Capshaw), and a small child suitably named Short Round (Jonathan Ke Quan), an orphan that Indy takes with him on his adventures. After escaping from the plane, the trio finds themselves in India, at a small village that claims a magical stone was stolen, and that its theft has caused them to starve. Crops are dying, the well dried up, and so on. Indy, reluctantly, at first, decides that getting the stone back would be a good idea.
So, we’re on another adventure. Unlike the last film, which took place in a great many locations, this one focuses on a palace, which holds unspeakable secrets. Once inside, there are a great many dangers for Indy and crew to face, and it’s here where most of the excitement comes in. There are some seriously dark moments in Temple of Doom, and I was surprised by some of the places that it went to.
I can see what the filmmakers were trying to do. The first film had Nazis as the villain, and in order to not use them again, the film is set a bit earlier, before Jones had any reason to deal with them. The first movie was lighter in tone, so in order to contrast that, this one had to be darker. It helps keep things fresh, which I was happy with, although it lost some of the charm when that tonal change was made. How can something be charming when inside it you see a heart being ripped from someone’s chest — and then the person whose heart is no longer attached to the body gets burned alive?
Okay, so that’s as dark as it gets, but in comparison to the first film, that’s pretty bad. I didn’t mind this direction, in large part because it allows the film to go in different ways — and because the humor was kept, ensuring that I still laughed even when the darkness came — but I can see it turning away some people who just wanted a light, enjoyable action-adventure movie. This is not that.
There is less action this time around, although once it starts, it takes a while to dial back down. Some of the film actually — and if you saw the first film, you might not believe this — talking and sitting around a table. And spying. Spying! Can you imagine that? Instead of recklessly charging into action, Indy and the gang wait until people have left in order to steal the magical stone. And they actually directly impact the ending this time around, which is always a plus.
The ending is what I disliked about Raiders. This time, my complaint is with the cast. Kate Capshaw’s Willie is not as strong of a character as Karen Allen’s Marion. Willie is more of an annoyance, rarely helping and always shrieking. Short Round, while a cut kid, also doesn’t help all that much. Ke quan and Ford do have a strong chemistry, though, and if they didn’t get separated so often, that could have really been made into something. Caphsaw and Ford’s relationship, on the other hand, feels weak, especially when compared to the one in the previous film.
Temple of Doom is still quite inventive, and I enjoyed the few action scenes that we did get. The stakes feel high, although the characters are still occasionally joking, and they’re always exciting. The opening is possibly even better than the one in the first movie, and the scene with bugs and spikes is so well-done that I found myself genuinely worried about Indy and his kid sidekick. It’s a thrilling actioner, even if it is a bit darker and contains a bit less action than its predecessor.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is a darker Indiana Jones film than the one that preceded it, but it’s still a lot of fun and contains some very exciting moments. What didn’t work as well was the love interest — in part because the character is written to be weaker than Marion, and also because Capshaw’s chemistry with Ford wasn’t as strong — and the kid sidekick — which didn’t work because it wasn’t given a whole lot of time to develop. But if you’re up for a slightly darker movie still starring the capable man with a whip and fedora, this is one you’ll want to watch.