Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade goes back to the basics. After Temple of Doom took things too far in a different direction, Steven Spielberg knew they needed to go back to what made Raiders of the Lost Ark work. Intending it to be a sort of apology. That also meant toning down the dark imagery. That being said, Last Crusade still managed to become the first movie in the trilogy to retain a PG-13 rating. Although the other two movies would definitely be PG-13 if released today. Just like the Star Wars trilogy, I enjoyed watching the Indiana Jones trilogy as a kid. The third installment left me feeling a little indifferent.
Last Crusade is a lot more like Raiders of the Lost Ark for several reasons. The university is seen again, characters like Sallah and Marcus Brody return, and it once again uses a Christian artifact as a MacGuffin and Nazis as the villains. The script went through several unusual drafts until Spielberg finally went with George Lucas’ idea to use the Holy Grail. The idea to focus on Indy’s relationship with his father was added to make the search more meaningful. Despite being 12 years older than Harrison Ford, Sean Connery was the perfect choice to play him. Since James Bond is in a way the father of Indiana Jones…
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade opens with the Paramount logo turning into a rock formation. It’s here in 1912 Utah that we’re treated to the origin of Indiana Jones. River Phoenix plays Indy as a boy scout that discovers a band of grave robbers recovering a golden crucifix. He fearlessly takes the artifact with the intention of getting it to a museum. The chase brings him to a circus train where he develops a fear of snakes and uses a bullwhip against a lion (resulting in a chin scar). Unsuccessful at first, Indy nevertheless dedicates his life to archaeology when the robber dressed in a leather jacket and fedora gives him his hat.
In 1938 Portugal, Indy finally gets the crucifix back from the man in a Panama Hat. He’s then informed by Walter Donovan that his father Henry Jones Sr. is missing after searching for the Holy Grail. Something he’s been journaling for most of his life. While searching for his father, Indy teams up with fellow professor Dr. Elsa Schneider. She’d be a good match for him if not for one small detail. In Venice they discover the rat infested catacombs beneath a library that leads them even closer to the Grail. After a life threatening boat chase, Indy (using the name Mickey Mouse) and Elsa find Henry in a Nazi infested castle. It’s there we discover Elsa and Donovan are actually working for the Nazis. Indy’s relationship with his father is strained due to his distant nature and for calling his son Junior. Indy’s real name is Henry Jones Jr. Like in real life Indiana is the name of his childhood dog.
Together they hilariously escape a burning room while tied up. Then they engage in a thrilling motorcycle chase, fly on a blimp (“No ticket!”), dogfight, and fight a tank in an impressive sequence. Indy even awkwardly runs into Hitler. Their relationship is put to the ultimate test when Indy has to lead Elsa and Donovan through the temple containing the Holy Grail. Since it contains healing properties for the wounded Jones Sr. Indy must face a series of faith based obstacles were he has to kneel before God, spell out the name of Jesus, and take a literal leap of faith. They encounter the immortal Grail Knight who gives them a test to find the real Grail. Donovon chooses poorly and disintegrates. While Indy chooses the cup of a carpenter and survives. It’s only when the Grail is lost that Indy realizes his father is more important than any artifact. Ending with Indiana Jones, his father, Marcus, and Sallah riding off into the sunset. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade bookends the trilogy with a deeper understanding of what adventure is all about.
Preceded by: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom & Followed by: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull