You win, Steven Spielberg. You finally impressed me with an Indiana Jones movie. It took three tries, but thrice is a charm and all that, I guess.
I've gone from indifference towards Raiders of the Lost Ark to outright loathing for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, but it looks like Spielberg found the sweet spot between lighthearted, witty action and real stakes with The Last Crusade. It's more similar to Raiders than it is to Temple (thank God), but it has the added benefit of the presence of Sean Connery, who is such a terrific foil against Harrison Ford that the movie fires on all cylinders pretty much the entire run time. I really enjoyed this one.
We open in 1912, where a young Indiana Jones (River Phoenix, sporting incongruously 80s teen long hair at the turn of the century) stumbles across a group of men attempting to plunder a priceless Christian totem that, as he repeats often, "belongs in a museum." Young Indy nearly foils their plan, only to be disappointed by the machinations of an incredibly wealthy conniver, who seizes the artifact by means of a corrupt policeman. A dashing tomb raider, who had led the expedition, takes a liking to the plucky would-be adventurer, and places his jaunty fedora on Indy's head.
Cut to 1938, and Indiana is getting punched in the face, the first hilarious sight gag in a movie filled with them. He has managed to track down the rich crook and taken back the artifact, returning it to a man named Donovan (Julian Glover), who tells Indiana that his aloof, Holy Grail-obsessed father, Dr. Henry Jones (Connery), has disappeared while on the trail of said super-important MacGuffin object. With the help of Dr. Elsa Schneider (Alison Doody, yuck yuck), Indy sets out to find his pops in a globe-trotting journey that will take them from the canals of Venice to the dusty streets of a Turkish city, and hopefully to the Holy Grail itself.
Temple of Doom is revered for its breakneck pace and near-constant action, a trait of the film that I found to be exhausting and unrewarding. Crusade moderates that by including plenty of character moments, like when we find out that Dr. Jones is afraid of spiders, in a callout to Indy's own fear of snakes (the genesis of which we also find out in the prologue). In true Spielbergian fashion, it turns out that Indy and his dad have some baggage with one another, where Dr. Jones always seemed more interested in his professional pursuits than his own son, who is also a scientist but has a taste for gadding about that his father lacks. The scenes between Ford and Connery are genius, excellently written and acted by the pair, particularly Connery, who is about as likable as he's ever been in film. Connery's rakish expression when the duo realizes they slept with the same woman is delightful.
Crusade is not entirely without problems: its finale jumps headfirst into Koo-Koo Banana Pants Land after a relatively grounded lead-up. Also, Ms. Doody (OMG u guys, so funny) is a step up from the psyche-shattering marathon of unpleasantness from Kate Capshaw in the previous film, but she's still sort of a non-entity, despite the script's weak attempts to characterize her. She is ludicrously, Veronica Lake-level beautiful, in a way that Hitchcock would have been frothing at the mouth, but she's also about as quality an actress as some of Hitch's lesser muses.
I'm glad that I stuck through to this part of the series: I liked Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade so much that I may have to give Raiders another chance. Temple of Doom can still eat shit, though.