Now this is much more like it. Temple of Doom, while good overall, was a disappointment after the unadulterated brilliance of Raiders of the Lost Ark, and as such the pressure was on to try and recapture the magic for the final film of the trilogy. Last Crusade is not the equal of Raiders. It does, however, come damned close, bringing back the light-heartedness and sense of fun from the first film, and containing some of the trilogy’s absolute best scenes. It’s a great film.
Beginning in 1912, we are treated to a sequence involving a young Indy (River Phoenix) trying to recover an ancient ornamental cross from robbers because It belongs in a museum! The prologue is an absolute delight, introducing us to pretty much every important part of Indiana Jones: the whip, the hat, the fear of snakes, and even the scar on his lip. It’s a wonderful beginning. The rest of the film involves Indy (Harrison Ford) trying to beat the Nazis to the Holy Grail, a quest which will take him through Venice, Germany, and ultimately the Canyon of the Crescent Moon where the Grail resides. And Dr. Jones Snr. (Sean Connery) comes along for the ride.
It’s a proper globe-trotting adventure with fun clearly being the primary goal, and in that regard Last Crusade succeeds admirably. It’s definitely the silliest of the trilogy, but that’s no bad thing, and silliness feels like a much more appropriate tone for a throwback to ’30s adventure serials than the grim darkness of Temple of Doom. There is a lot of comedy, not least from Sean Connery, who is a joy to watch and steals practically every scene he’s in. At first he seems like a stuffy, scatter-brained professor, the complete opposite of Indy, but as the film progresses they discover more and more in common, such as Jones Snr.’s surprising talent for bringing down Nazi fighter planes. The two Joneses’ relationship forms the emotional core of the film, gradually reconciling after many years apart “ but they also spend most of their time bickering, even when tied to a chair in the middle of a burning building. Connery and Ford have a great, easy chemistry and are an awful lot of fun whenever they share the screen.
But the emphasis on comedy doesn’t mean the rest of the film suffers; on the contrary, some of the series’ most exciting scenes are to be found here. There’s a boat chase, a motorbike chase, a dogfight, and, in Last Crusade‘s action centrepiece, Indy going up against a tank while riding a horse, featuring the kind of edge-of-your-seat stunt work (courtesy of legendary stuntman Vic Armstrong) that you just don’t really see in films any more now that CGI has made this kind of thing so easy. There’s just no substitute for a real person hanging off the side of a tank while the tank driver tries to crush him against a rock wall: the bits of chipped stone getting knocked off the wall and the expression on Indy’s face aren’t things you can easily replicate with green screen and a computer.
And I can’t go without mentioning the finale, the gauntlet through which Indy must pass in order to get to the Holy Grail. It’s possibly the best single sequence in the entire series, with ingenious death-traps, a death scene to rival Raiders’ face-melting, and, in the final Leap of Faith challenge, possibly my favourite visual effect of all time. All this combined with Ford’s usual ability to let us know exactly how his character is feeling without needing any words, and a huge emotional pay-off at the end, and it’s hard to imagine a better ending to the trilogy.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is a gem. It’s not as good as Raiders, but it’s about as close as it was realistically likely to get. It’s funny, exciting, and genuinely moving, and it ends with our heroes riding off into the sunset. A perfect end to the series.
Oh wait. There’s another one. Oh dear.