Our Indiana Jones week continues with a review of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. This review was originally posted as part of Movie Rob’s Genre Grandeur showcasing Adventure Films. Head over to read the review and all the rest of this month’s reviews. NOTE: I changed the rating from the original rating I wrote on Movie Rob’s review.
Sequels come in many different forms. Some directly continue the story of the original (like the Star Wars or Lord of the Rings sequels) while others take their characters into new and distinct scenarios. The latter setup tends to work well for adventure, horror, or action genres and fits perfectly for Indiana Jones since he lives his life jumping from one adventure to the next anyway.
With this set-up sequels become a game of substitutions. Indy stays his usual self while the people and plots around him shift. The Nazi villains from Raiders of the Lost Ark are swapped out primarily for a Thuggee cult in India plus a few other minor villains along the way. As in the first movie (which actually takes place chronologically after this second movie), Indy chases down a sacred object prized by the villain. The structure feels appropriately familiar plus we get some callbacks to the original like the swordsman scene and the boulder scene (here Indy is chased down a tunnel by a torrenting wave not a rolling boulder).
Somehow this film feels a lot less fun than the original. I put most of that blame on the substandard substitutions. Nazi villains may be cliche but they’re perfect in Raiders. The cult in Temple of Doom feels even more one-dimensional and poorly written than the Nazis who are the ultimate one-dimensional evil stereotype.
The supporting characters suffer just as much. Without a doubt, the loss of the Rene Belloq character hurts the sequel as he is never replaced. The swap of Marion Ravenwood from Raiders for Willie Scott might be worse. Willie never lifts much past the damsel-in-distress archetype while Marion stood on her own against Indy. She was just as tough and interesting as Indy while Willie mostly screams and annoys. Maybe that schtick worked in 1984 (I’m not sure that it did) but it doesn’t age well. Short Round, Indy’s real sidekick in the movie, is a great addition and almost makes up for Willie’s obnoxiousness but the eleven-year-old can’t stop the Indy-Willie romance and we’re left covering our eyes like he does when the pair kiss in the finale.
Not only are the characters less inspiring but the plot itself feels smaller. Raiders (which is an absolute classic) takes Indy over multiple settings and situations from Peruvian jungles, to Marion’s Himalayan bar, and Egyptian dig sites. We may see almost as many locales in Temple of Doom but it still feels like less of a movie with fewer meaningful characters and less substance. It’s not a bad film overall. But it’s a shadow of its predecessor (and of its successor Last Crusade as well).