After Raiders of the Lost Ark came out and absolutely blew everyone away, the possibility of a sequel became inevitable. Audiences everywhere had fallen in love with Indiana Jones and his adventures, but for a sequel to work, not only would the stakes have to be higher, but the scope of both the story and the characters would have to be overhauled and developed even further than they ever were before.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, though far from a perfect film, actually succeeds in doing most of these things. It’s a bit strange in its delivery, but even with its missteps The Temple of Doom is still an absolute thrill ride, and much like its predecessor, holds up very, very well, even after exactly thirty-years.
Perhaps one of the the most important, and yet the least well known, aspects of The Temple of Doom is that it is actually a prequel to Raiders of the Lost Ark. This movie presents us with a younger, more arrogant Indiana Jones who is only in it for himself. He’s cocky, perhaps overly so, and seems to be addicted to the constant state of panic and danger he so often finds himself in.
However, the movie does a very poor job of clarifying that this is, indeed, a prequel. There’s no explanation, not in the plot summary or in the trailers, that explains where The Temple of Doom falls in the Indiana Jones timeline. This is an unfortunate, and even frustrating, misstep on the film’s part that stands out like a sore thumb amidst all the attention that went into every other aspect of the movie.
With that said, The Temple of Doom is still a fun, intense, and rewarding adventure that I think gets a little too much criticism. Taking place several years before the first movie, The Temple of Doom is an exciting and globe-trotting trip that, perhaps even more so than Raiders, never fails to keep the audience entirely entranced by colorful landscapes and strange, mysterious characters.
The plot moves at a decent pace, and actually manages to incorporate quite a few different themes into the movie that expands the world of Indiana Jones in a unique and fun way. Even the odd James Bond style opening ends up being a lot of fun, and sets the stage for what quickly becomes a bizarre adventure really well. If there’s anything the plot does wrong, however, it’s that it never quite knows what it’s trying to do.
The Temple of Doom is infamous for actually being the cause of the PG-13 movie rating, simply because families everywhere were so shocked at just how much brutal and disturbing the violence and villains were in the movie. For me, however, I think the darker qualities of the film actually work, and do exactly what a sequel should, make it feel different than its predecessor.
However, the movie never fully commits to the darker tone, and continually tries to be funny and frightening, sometimes in the exact same scene! One minute Indy is watching an innocent man have his heart brutally torn out of his chest, and the next the helpless singer Willie Scott is falling off an elephant in a desperate attempt at physical humor. Sometimes this dichotomy works, and succeeds in alleviating the tension; but more often than not it just falls flat.
While some blame Short Round for this, I don’t think it’s entirely his fault. For all his annoying antics, there’s still something oddly endearing about his character, and I think the dynamic between him and Indy is actually pretty fun, and shows us a side of Indy that we haven’t been able to see before. For me, most of the blame falls on Indy’s new romantic interest Wille Scott.
Willie is, quite simply, irritating. While Marion was a strong and powerful female lead, Willie spends every moment on screen either screaming in fear, complaining, or chasing after Indy with hearts in her eyes. She’s a sadly one dimensional character, and I really wish actress Kate Capshaw had been given better material to work with, because she definitely shows the potential to have been so much more.
I know it seems like I have a lot of negative things to say about The Temple of Doom, but I still enjoy it for what it is. The action set pieces are simply amazing, and even rival Raiders of the Lost Ark in terms of spectacle, and the environments and special effects are spectacular and beautiful even today.
John Williams’ soundtrack once again imbues each and every scene with an air of tension and excitement that can make even a seemingly boring dinner scene into an enjoyable, suspenseful moment. Williams never fails to prove that that he is an absolute master of his craft, and The Temple of Doom is at its absolute best whenever Williams’ iconic theme starts playing in the background.
Once The Temple of Doom starts the excitement, it never lets up and is able to move past its flaws with brilliant action scenes that never feel generic or overdone. They’re consistently different from everything that we saw in Raiders, and vary enough throughout the film itself that the audience remains firmly glued to the edge of their seats all the way until the riveting climax just blows them all away.
The climax itself is brilliant for so many reasons that I struggle to list them all here. The phenomenal build-up, the ever rising sense of tension, the rousing score, and the flawless presentation all work together in perfect harmony to create a final act that is ruthless in its action and will leave you absolutely breathless by the time it finally comes to a close. And it all comes to a point in the film’s single most iconic scene.
Yes, I’m talking about the bridge scene. If you’ve seen the film you know exactly what I’m talking about, and in my opinion, it’s one of the single most breathtaking moments in the entire Indiana Jones series. The tension that climbs its way up your spine is undeniable, and the payoff is so satisfying and breathtaking that it succeeds in concluding the movie in the best way it possibly could.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is not a perfect movie, and it has more than its fair share of problems and missteps, but at its core it still remains as an exciting and beautiful adventure flick that holds up extraordinarily well. You could pick this movie apart if you wanted to, but for me, it’s hard to focus on the negatives when you’re having so much fun just watching Indy star in another movie.
In terms of its action, it goes above and beyond anything I could’ve hoped for, and proves yet again that the Indiana Jones series is one of the best action movies out there. I might not revisit nearly as much as I do Raiders of the Lost Ark, but yet every time I find The Temple of Doom on TV, I can’t help but sit down, pop some popcorn, and just enjoy the ride.