Movie Review | Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
Movie summary: In 1935, Indiana Jones arrives in India, still part of the British Empire, and is asked to find a mystical stone. He then stumbles upon a secret cult committing enslavement and human sacrifices in the catacombs of an ancient palace. (IMDb)
When I was much, much younger, Temple of Doom occupied the same mental space as Empire Strikes Back - I really didn't like the 'dark' middle entry in what was otherwise a fun action trilogy. The difference is, as I grew older, I grew to love Empire Strikes Back.
That isn't to say that I still dislike Temple of Doom, but neither does it come anywhere close to the same level as Empire. It's just too far removed in tone and style from the other Indy films and, technically being a prequel, didn't really add anything to the continuing story.
It's fun seeing a younger, more aggressive Indiana Jones, but the harder edge also makes him feel less relatable than in the other films. There is still some humour, thanks mostly due to Short Round (Jonathan Ke Quan performing as Ke Huy Quan), but Indy himself is just lacking in that layer of warmth, coming across as mean rather than snarky.
Willie Scott, played by the future Mrs Spielberg, Kate Capshaw, doesn't help matters either, proving to be far more of an irritation than a character anyone will ever warm to. Hell, even Capshaw herself has admitted that she doesn't like Willie!
She's not dreadful, and probably has the most real-to-life reactions anyone in the series has to the insane adventures Dr Jones gets dragged into. And to be fair, it almost works thanks to the far darker tone of this film.
Temple of Doom probably veers a little too far into the supernatural at times to even think about saying it's anywhere close to realistic, but the central characters tend to act a little more like real people than movie characters - it just doesn't fit a pulpy retro character like Indiana Jones at all.
And that darkness really is the problem with Temple of Doom. Both Lucas and Spielberg were coming out of divorces at the time, and you can tell that both men were seriously struggling with some personal issues that made for some pretty bleak material.
Temple of Doom is violent, it's nasty and it's mean. Indy pretty much fits this perfectly as a character, with only the requirement for a typical 'Hollywood' ending to redeem the entire thing and bring a little sunshine into the movie.
This isn't really a criticism other than it not fitting the nature of the series, rather than as a single film in its own right. Personally, I really enjoyed watching this again just to see how far Indiana Jones could be taken away from how people usually view him, and it really does show how much he has grown by the time of his 'next' adventure in Raiders.
There is one glaring issue that I've skirted around until now and is the main thing that really does drag the film down, and that's the appalling racism on display. Indiana Jones might be a throwback to the pulp action heroes of the start of the twentieth century, but there wasn't any excuse for how India and its people are depicted here.
Even for the time it was made, it feels so woefully uninformed and out of touch that even Lucas and Spielberg's personal issues at the time don't come anywhere close to being an excuse. It feels like a story from a century or more earlier, where people could come back to the west from Asia and make up whatever they felt like because nobody knew any better.
The worst thing is that you can't even use the excuse of the villains being Indian and wanting to portray them as truly evil and villainous either - even the freaking Nazis weren't depicted as badly as Mola Ram (Amrish Puri) and his followers are here!
I do respect the decision to take an action film to a location that most don't go to, but Temple of Doom just completely botches the opportunity to do something different. Like I said, idiotic racism aside, it's not a bad film, but just one that completely stands out from the rest of the series like a sore thumb.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom isn't anywhere near as bad as its reputation would suggest, with the ridiculous racism the main negative rather than anything from a story or character standpoint. It definitely helps that it wasn't actually the first film in the series and had the goodwill of Raiders of the Lost Ark to stop Indy from sinking without a trace.