PG! I have, for years, been telling people that Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was the first PG-13 movie. Where did I possibly hear that? How was I spreading lies back and forth like I have? I mean, it is the perfect candidate for PG-13. A guy gets his heart ripped out. It's got all kinds of gross stuff, usually resulting from an odd xenophobia that follows this movie. That dinner sequence alone is horribly gross. If you don't like bugs, then there's all kinds of scary stuff. Kids are constantly in danger in this movie. There's blood, torture, violence towards kids, casual racism! The works! PG.
DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg
It's the one that everyone hates. Okay, it was the one that everyone hated, until Kingdom of the Crystal Skull showed up. That changed everything. Now, it's the one that's not as good as parts 1 and 3. To me, this one was ALWAYS the one that wasn't as good as parts 1 and 3. That doesn't seem like a ringing endorsement, but I really liked the Indiana Jones trilogy once upon a time. I still really like them still, but now I'm apparently way more woke. (I'm working. That's what woke really is. It's trying to be woke.) The Indiana Jones series is possibly one of the more trying pieces of my childhood to stand next to. It's going to be weird for my kids to see Indiana Jones movies. I might be able to scrape by and still enjoy them as fun movies. But Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom reminded me, more than the other movies in the series, how closeminded Americans think indigenous people are. I might comment on this concept throughout my analysis, so please bear with me. But I also want to look at how Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom dares me to have fun despite having some really backwards idea about culture.
I'm going to start off safe. The beginning of Temple of Doom is one of my favorite opening sequences ever. Some people go with the Kali-Da sequence with the heart ripping. Nope. When I think of Temple of Doom, I think of Club Obi-Wan and "Anything Goes". It's such a nice departure from Raiders to establish that Indy isn't always going to be one thing. We know he's going to be steeped in the '30s, but it isn't always Indy v. the Nazis. It's not always the desert and torches. Sometimes, it's Shanghai and nightclubs. It's why Bond works so well. He has a main bad guy, but it always kind of looks different. And the beginning of Temple of Doom is remarkably entertaining. Aesthetically, it makes me happy. The dance number calling back to the Busby Berkeley days requires no warm up. Tonally, "Anything Goes" shouldn't work for Indiana Jones. The protagonist almost dies in the first five minutes of the movie and we have to launch into this with "Anything Goes"? It's gutsy, but it pays off harder than I think any other moment in the Indy series does. It is the most risky. There are better sequences, but they are all safe bets. To start the sequel with something so tonally different from what is expected out of Indiana Jones is phenomenal. Yeah, I like the whole film, but once the Lao Che's airplane takes off, I settle in for scenes that never transcend the fight in Club Obi-Wan. It's odd to think of Indy dying in that sequence. There's balloons falling from the ceiling. I think everyone's big problem with Temple of Doom, from a non-anthropological perspective, is Willie Scott. I was going to save this for later, but I need to discuss her involvement with the opening scene. Willie Scott is supposed to suck. You hate her? Good! Kate Capshaw did her job. We're supposed to be rooting for Marion. If you are too attached to Willie Scott, then their relationship looks really bad and Indiana Jones is even worse as a toxically masculine character than he was before. I keep coming back to James Bond. But James Bond is a broken character. You are kind of meant to pity and hate James Bond. Indiana Jones was the hero of these series. He smiles. He isn't a drunk or a killer. He kills, but he gets no satisfaction out of killing. To make him a guy who is in love with Willie only to move onto Marion makes him pretty despicable. So Willie had to kind of be the worst. (I'm really not trying to justify this, but it ended up coming out that way. Sorry.) But Kate Capshaw in the opening sequence crushes. We get that's she's a major star in her own little world. She is used to having her way because she's talented and stunning. Then interposing her into this world where she is standing between Indiana Jones and the antidote works so well. This trope has happened before and since, but I don't think it works better than Willie going after the diamond while Jones goes after the antidote.
But you really have to understand that every choice that Willie makes is on purpose. We can't have Marion twice. I've seen annoying characters that don't work. Willie does work as an annoying character. The fish out of water sequence is such a contrast to Marion. Marion wasn't quite the equal for Indiana Jones, but she is able to handle herself when its necessary. Willie, on the other hand, causes more problems than she solves. Also, let's call a spade a spade. Willie is us. You can hate her all you want. That's completely reasonable. But we would act like Willie for most of the movie. Okay, you may not be looking for riches and luxury. But you also wouldn't want to eat any of the food. Also, Willie gets more points for going through the bugs situation than I could. I probably wouldn't have gotten that close to the hole, let alone reach my hand in it. Keep that in mind. Raiders really never had the avatar for the audience. Sure, Willie is pretty unflattering considering that she represents us. We all want to be Marion or Sallah. I also want to remind you that Temple of Doom has Short Round. I don't really get why his name is Short Round. It kind of hearkens back to Will Eisner's The Spirit for me, which might not be a woke comparison. But Short Round is one of the few really successful kid sidekicks. I'm not saying that they don't exist, but on film, they tend to be lame. But Ke-Huy Quan is amazing in this movie. Okay, it's '80s amazing, but he's still pretty great. Quan's performance is so odd in this movie, but it is captivating. I looked up his IMDB page because I want to know what's up with him today. He was such a joy in both movies I know him from and then he kind of fell off the Earth. I honestly wish him well because he's fun in this. It's so interesting what Short Round's skill set actually entails. He seems to either be completely inept or he can just kill everybody. It oddly works for the movie. But "No time for love, Dr. Jones"? That line exists. That is a treat for everyone. You can complain about WIllie Scott all day long, but you have Short Round to savagely roast her whenever you need that.
Yeah, I don't love how they treat India. The beginning of Raiders has this treatment of the natives as savages. But India in this one focuses on the savagery of India. There are two Indias in Temple of Doom. There's the India that is of the monarchy and the upper crust. They are seen as distant and cold, eating things that are inedible. They are about excess while their people starve. Oddly enough, the British overseers are kind of seen as the heroes, taming the simplistic backyard that they reign over. It's really odd seeing this dynamic in film today. I thought we all understood that the monarchy wasn't awesome, but that's infinitely better than the cult of Kali. Yeah, their bad guys because they are worshiping an evil god who wants to torture kids. This isn't all of India. But even the noble Indians are considered a superstitious lot who has no sense of logic or reason. They are all about the Shankar (I think) Stones. They are seen as impoverished. I'm not saying that the poor don't exist in India. They totally do. But this is our only view of India. You are either poor and simple or rich and greedy. There's a silver lining to all of this when the maharajah comes out of his possessed state. He seems like a pretty nice kid then. But it kind of has the message of the Western hero. I don't love this altogether. But then again, this movie is fun. It's 1984. It's odd to think of my childhood as a time of burying our heads in the sand, but that was the narrative we were spreading. From an action perspective, the movie is actually pretty great. I really like Temple of Doom. What's weird is that the middle almost doesn't make sense. From a storytelling perspective, the narrative is almost criminally simple. Indiana Jones, for being so good at being an archaeologist, just stumbles into the plot. He keeps just happening upon the next step towards finding the kids. The more I think about it, there's no way that Indy would have just found the kids the way he did. He got put in a room and found a gust of air. What are the odds that the gust of air would have taken him to the exact place that the kids were kidnapped? It is lightly explained away by the poor man in the village, saying that they were destined to arrive there. If Indiana Jones is the agent of destiny, I suppose that there was nothing to fear the entire time. But regardless, it is fun. While thinking about this, we know criminally little about the cult leader in this movie. He's scary looking, which is great. But that's about as far as I can take it.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom may not have aged well, but it is still phenomenally fun. It's even better knowing how much of a stinker Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is. I wish it wasn't so regressive. But from an action movie perspective, it is still very much good Indiana Jones.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.