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Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom Review

Nostalgia does well to comfort viewers and keep them distracted from the singularity, or even the simplicity, of poorer movies. Whether it is realising middling 1980s movies are par for the course or seeing through the weightless and weird of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, the penny drops. At least there is fun to be had with the Harrison Ford follow-up, although what fun there is to be had with the 1920s feeling found in the opening drinks, the lack of placement for deep character exploration or even the fascination of adventure beyond understanding, is a shame. Still, it is Ford and Steven Spielberg, to complain is to enrage and to enrage is to feel the pangs of what little mental health remains to ebb away under the mighty tumult. 

Well worth it to call out the lack of real flavour found in Temple of Doom though. For the melted faces pouring into the Ark of the Covenant and Christ’s Holy Grail to bookend a feature which sees Indy drop dead for a brief period and rescue some Shiva goods, it feels like a low ebb to build toward a massive blowout. Maybe that comes from supporting players Kate Capshaw and Ke Huy Quan. Ditching Marion (Karen Allen) for the lesser and somewhat unlikeable Willie Scott is a shame, but she plays up the role as best she can. Undeservedly hated but still a step-down. What else can you do? Quan appears also and plays up his characteristics from The Goonies with little effect. Why have one supporting character when you can have two? It continues on with Indy at the core, riffing on characters who do not quite have the charm of those in the first. 

Lessons were learned and back those characters came, while Short Round and Willie were dumped at the side of the road. Retired or found dead in Miami, either or. It takes darker turns does Temple of Doom and does not really know how to adapt to these twists. Child slavery being used as the crutch for a push to return old relics to a village is quite the power play by Spielberg, who makes little note of the truthful impact. Back to eating monkey brains and riding elephants, no time to stop off this minecart ride. Keep on pushing. Something within Temple of Doom feels a tad lifeless, as though the worldbuilding is temporary, as though Spielberg had not made up his mind.  

There it is then, another trailblazing adventure which begins to cement some half-hearted new concepts forgotten about in the instalment afterwards. It is never easy to open and close on an open-ended idea, but Raiders of the Lost Ark managed it well enough. A dark horse of a feature in hindsight, one which never quite matches pace but still holds enough of those iconic nostalgia tricks to make it rest on the mind. Through osmosis alone, Temple of Doom can be watched time and again, but it never feels as though it is a necessary step into The Last Crusade. Where Raiders of the Lost Ark does have this connectivity through more than just character, Temple of Doom feels a tad half-baked, an underwhelmed adventure which, to its credit, is independent of the goings on of other bits and pieces. They all were, though, but through intense flow they made connections matter. 

Ewan Gleadow
Ewan Gleadow
Editor in Chief at Cult Following | News and culture journalist at Clapper, Daily Star, NewcastleWorld, Daily Mirror | Podcast host of (Don't) Listen to This | Disaster magnet

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