I haven’t taken a formal poll or anything, but I’m pretty sure this is the most controversial entry in the Indiana Jones trilogy. As mentioned before, Raiders is almost universally beloved. While I’ve met people who adore The Temple of Doom and consider it their favorite, I think the vast majority of fans and critics agree that the film is thinly plotted and rushed and/or too screaming-Kate-Capshaw-heavy and/or ethnically insensitive. The third film, on the gripping hand, seems to have dedicated fans and detractors.
I’m firmly in the fan category. I can understand the critique that the film goes too far down the road of self-parody, but I think, due to the character’s pulpy roots, the self-parody has already begun early in Raiders, and The Last Crusade nicely continues the tradition without getting too silly. I mean, it’s not like Harrison Ford survives a plane crash with an inflatable raft or a nuclear explosion in a refrigerator. No one swings through trees on a vine while yodeling like Tarzan in this one.
The film begins with a young Indiana Jones (River Phoenix), and we get to see an early adventure and his neglectful, Holy Grail-obsessed father. Then, we flit back to the 1930s, where Harrison Ford’s Indiana learns that his father has gone missing while on the trail of the Grail. Indiana must journey to Italy to follow the same clues, then rescue his father from the Nazis while discovering even more clues. Most of the film is actually a chase full of humor and action. In the end, the Joneses must compete with the Nazis through an excellent set of booby traps in an old Crusader fort (which looks suspiciously like a famous Jordanian archaeological site).
The main reason this film is so great comes down to two words: Sean Connery. Connery plays the older Henry Jones with his usual charm and derring-do, but he also adds a less common academic awkwardness. It probably wouldn’t be much of a stretch for most actors, but Connery had been cool personified for so much of his career that it really is a noticeable shift. I think this is his greatest performance, and that’s saying quite a bit.
This is the third and final Indiana Jones film (don’t let anyone tell you different), and the series ends on a high note.