Biting off more than you can chew is common in filmmaking. We have seen and heard it all before. Those ambitious souls who wish to combine origin story with the representation of new characters, a punch down of a vehement group, all under the guise of adventure and family ties. Perhaps that is rather specific, but it is a wide enough collation of themes and ideas to raise an eyebrow or two. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade should have more than a handful of problems, yet circumvents them with such intense devotion to its new characters, returning familiarities and the only role Harrison Ford has any passion left for. It seems he is putting that passion to good use.
Pairing Ford with the father figure and immense talent of Sean Connery is a winning hand any time. Here, the focus on their relationship and estrangement is sowed rather early and reaped with many rewards. It is the rekindling of family, and the sudden desire to hold onto this for as long as possible, that evokes the strongest moments not just in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, but the series as a whole. It is their dynamic and chemistry, alongside Denholm Elliot and John Rhys-Davies, that makes the third entry into the series so engaging. The four offer some marvellous quips, emotive performances and a general camaraderie that excels both the story and their performances.
Elevating the quest to seek out the Holy Grail to new levels, Ford, Connery and company make for ample torchbearers. What made Raiders of the Lost Ark hit the heights of brilliance was the blur of real, hard-hitting dialogue between characters we can love and hate in equal measure. Steven Spielberg gets the balance right again here. He missed a trick with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, but that is because he shredded the old, reliable characters. With no Elliot or Rhys-Davies to back his story up, Spielberg and Ford were depending on new, annoying supporting players. Now they’re back, and so too are all the quips, sight gags and grand generalisations of the first film. Rather than branching out into something new and fascinating, the Nazis, swooning students and whip-slinging action are planted firmly.
There is something to be said then of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’s lack of innovation. It is not barrelling towards pastures new as Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom did, but at least it returns to familiar ground. It is rather odd that the best of the films in this series are those that depict the uncovering of Christian artefacts, but I’m sure that is happenstance. For what it’s worth, this is the best of the bunch. It is a finely-tuned exploration of all the themes from the first, paired with the freewheeling adventure of the second. It manages to remove the driftwood and deadweight of those that came before it, and in doing so, realised that there was only one choice for filling such a gap. Connery. It takes this piece to new heights and provides the bombastic, blockbuster entertainment the series had been grasping at.