Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade digs itself out of the dark, subterranean depths of Temple of Doom and trades the exponentially grimmer narrative for something more nimble and comedic. In some ways, it’s a remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark, although that in itself shortchanges the compelling story. It’s more accurate to look at the third installment in the Indiana Jones franchise as a retooling of sorts, complete with all the elements that won us over in the first place: dynamic anchors, thrilling setpieces, and a storyline predicated on Nazis getting their asses kicked one more.
The Last Crusade begins with a prologue, set in 1912, where Young Indy (played by River Phoenix — who leaves one to wonder what could’ve been had he taken on the titular role in The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, which ran in the early-1990s) attempts to steal the golden crucifix to ensure its placement in a museum. It’s a cute origins story that informs us where Indy got his stoicism, coupled with his do-right sensibilities, and answers (at this point in time) reoccurring questions as to how he got the scar on his chin and developed his fear of snakes.
From there, the film takes place in 1938, where adult Indy (Harrison Ford) is on a quest for his missing father, Professor Henry Jones (Sean Connery). Jones Sr. is believed to have discovered clues to the location of the Holy Grail, which was used to collect Jesus’ blood and harbor the gift of eternal life. Bankrolling Indy’s latest globe-trotting excursion is Walter Donovan (Julian Glover), a wealthy banker, who also helps get him in touch with Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliot), an old companion, when our hero touches down in Venice. In Venice, Indy meets Dr. Elsa Schneider (Alison Doody), an Austrian woman with connections to his father. Such was the case with Raiders of the Lost Ark, Nazis are the villain here, but it beats the Thugee cult and their propensity for child enslavement. At least the Nazis are presented more palatably as foes stripped from classic serials.
Even with the return of Indy’s colleague, Sallah (John Rhys-Davies), and the presence of a new, albeit slightly underdeveloped love interest in Elsa, The Last Crusade is significantly elevated by Connery, playing the elder Indy with a welcomed dose of comic relief. He’s less a parental figure and more of an older, weathered ally, and sprinklings of dialog suggesting that Henry neglected his son in favor of his work throughout our hero’s childhood pepper the screenplay (written by the late, great Jeffrey Boam). Connery takes great joy in being both a sidekick and a mentor, and his comedy is made better by his often perfect line delivery: “I should’ve sent it [my journal] to the Marx brothers!”
It’s not simply the inclusion of this father/son dynamic that makes The Last Crusade a worthy sequel. It’s how the trope is included. From the beginning, Indiana Jones was presented as a hero occasionally too cocky and lucky for his own good, as skilled as he obviously was. Connery’s Henry humbles him at times; at others, the two harbor contempt and malice towards one another that drives home the bitter resentment they’ve held all these years. Boam’s script doubles down on Raiders‘ approach of making Indy feel mortal; Temple of Doom sometimes veered too far in the other direction.
Steven Spielberg once more proves he can direct the hell out of any and every sequence involving heightened suspense and kinetic movements. He impresses for this third-go-round many times, including his depiction of rat-infested catacombs, Venice sewers, and a foot-chase atop a moving train filled with circus animals. The magic of this franchise can never quite feel new again, but The Last Crusade finds ways to replenish the energy levels and keep them running high.
Above all else, it’s good to see Elliot and John Rhys-Davies’ Sallah again. Raiders got us so well-acquainted to their characters that taking them away from us felt like the biggest fast-one a follow-up could pull. Karen Allen’s Marion has yet to be replaced, disappointingly so, and failure to do so is one of the only long-standing blackmarks on these sequels as a whole. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade successfully writes the ship, and assures that you can view this series as a strong trilogy worthy of being held as one of the finest in the adventure genre.
NOTE: As of this writing, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is streaming on Paramount+.
My review of Raiders of the Lost Ark
My review of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
My review of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
My review of Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (coming in June 2023)
Starring: Harrison Ford, Sean Connery, Alison Doody, Denholm Elliott, John Rhys-Davies, and Julian Glover. Directed by: Steven Spielberg.
Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!