Sometimes we enjoy the latter films in a series simply because we like the characters and we’ve become invested in their lives. And I wondered if that was the case for The Last Crusade. Because it resembles Raiders of the Lost Ark. Perhaps in an attempt to right all of the wrongs from that movie.
And it does. It takes the first film and improves upon it immensely. Other than the iconic opening scene, Raiders of the Lost Ark drags and doesn’t hold up incredibly well. But Last Crusade is easy to follow and has some really well-constructed action sequences–including a fun scene on a tank that feels like something out of Mad Max.
At the start of the film we get a pseudo-origins story for Indiana Jones, which is pretty cool. Set in 1912, Young Indy is played by River Phoenix. It’s not terribly relevant to the rest of the film, but it’s definitely fun for fans.
Years later, in 1938, Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) finds out that his father, Henry Jones, Sr. (Sean Connery) has gone missing in pursuit of the Holy Grail. Now Indy must find him and get to the Grail before Hitler’s Nazis do.
The journey there is far better than the one to the Ark of the Covenant. It doesn’t give away the mystery right away, which keeps the audience along for the ride.
It’s more of a Western compared to the first two. It’s not dark like Temple of Doom. It’s pretty light. In fact, it borders on farce on a couple occasions–even poking fun at itself. It has some genuinely great comedic instincts, with Connery’s character providing good opportunities for humor.
He and Ford have solid chemistry, but the film doesn’t try to say too much about their characters’ relationship. Even though implications arise that they’re close, it’s unclear if this is even intentional, since these ideas are contradicted a few times. For most of the film, Henry, Sr. acts like a bumbling old man who hasn’t yet caught up with the changing times. But he never settles into that role convincingly enough. At first they have him acting like a strict and neglectful father, having us assume that Indy resents his dad. But that’s soon abandoned and forgotten about. There are some other more innocuous plot holes and convoluted details, but they all get fleshed out in the end.
The camerawork here is really impressive. I know the first two films have their fair share of iconic shots, but honestly, overall this movie might have even more well-deserving ones than the previous two.
Raiders of the Lost Ark has a memorable ending, but the ending in The Last Crusade is just really cool and mystical. In a way, representing the type of reward that Indiana Jones wishes to get out of all of his expeditions. We, as an audience, feel it too. A perfect way to wrap up the original trilogy.