Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
Release Date: May 23rd, 1984 MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Steven Spielberg Actors: Harrison Ford, Kate Capshaw, Ke Huy Quan, Amrish Puri, Philip Stone, Dan Akyroyd
here “Raiders of the Lost Ark” got everything right, the sequel (which actually takes place a year before the events of the former film) “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” gets everything wrong. With the daredevil role of Jones already established, all of the adventure in this film is piled on not for the sake of an interesting storyline, but merely to place the character into as much action as possible. Resultantly, the plot is largely formulaic, the supporting characters borderline annoying, and the impact fleeting. Although it’s no secret that director Steven Spielberg was intentionally paying homage to the classic B-movies, serials, and pulp cinema that inspired the now famous adventurer, the laughable title doesn’t help audiences take Jones more seriously, either.
Renowned archeologist Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) appears in Shanghai in 1935 (a year before the events of “Raiders of the Lost Ark”) to trade with a nefarious Asian gangster, Lao Che (Roy Chiao), for a priceless diamond. When their dealings in a nightclub end in death and destruction, Indy escapes with one of the singers, Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw), and boards a plane that unknowingly belongs to Che. During their flight, the pilots abandon the aircraft, leaving Indy, Willie, and their getaway cab driver sidekick Short Round (Ke Huy Quan) to emergency-land in India via an inflatable raft and a perilous waterfall.
The trio is taken to a village that suffers from drought and famine due to a sacred stone having been stolen by a secretive cult. From there, they journey to Pankot Palace to discover the mysteries behind the once-extinct cult that revels in human sacrifice and child slavery. In order to save the day, Indiana Jones must fight the likes of the diabolical Mola Ram (Amrish Puri) and his minions, win the heart of the girl (by rescuing her repeatedly), and restore the orphic artifacts of a dying civilization.
“Roller-coaster” adventure is a literal compliment, as one of the lengthier stunt sequences finds Indy in a high-speed chase through mine tunnels aboard a cart on a ridiculously hazardous track. But this second episode makes the mistake of basing nearly every scene around the action. While the first film sustained itself with a unique story, witty dialogue, and frightening villains – and then applied wondrous action sequences around that – “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” is instead designed as a string of set pieces with bits of story tossed about to fill in the cracks.
And with that heavy focus on unique locales and perilous pitfalls comes blithe dialogue, obnoxious characters, and a level of disbelief that challenges even that of the supernatural powers of the biblical Ark. Falling out of an airplane in a raft, tumbling down a waterfall, tearing out a human heart with bare hands, and careening around the sharp curves of mine tracks are not only ludicrous concepts, but they also present more questions about realism than the many spiritual and religious aspects in the previous film and in the follow-up, “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” Even if these outrageous orchestrations were trivialities, the supremely irritating Willie Scott, who is intended to be sexy and comedic but behaves in an overbearingly pesky fashion, is always there to incite further predicaments. She’s aided by Indy’s less than noble pursuit of fortune and glory, an awkward opening dance number, and generally atrocious wisecracks, which are regularly inserted just to get a laugh. Though the signature physical comedy, memorable hierarchy of thugs, yucky bugs and PG-13-inspiring violence, and riveting theme music (by John Williams, who would receive his second Oscar nomination for the score) all return for this highly anticipated sequel, the film as a whole feels like an insignificant episode in Indy’s life, instead of an overwhelmingly influential chapter in the evolution of the action genre.
– Mike Massie