86. EMPIRE MAGAZINE GREATEST: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

February 20, 2018

Director: Steven Spielberg
Screenplay: Jeffrey Boam
Starring: Harrison Ford, Denholm Elliott, Alison Doody, John Rhys-Davies, Julian Glover, Sean Connery
Runtime: 128 Minutes


Original UK Release: 1989




The intended final instalment of the Indiana Jones Trilogy, the cast and crew are back after the moderate criticism of the previous film for being too dark and insensitive given its subject matter. Although trying to tackle a more serious subject matter and more frightening antagonist, The Last Crusade feels like a return to the B movie roots of the original film. Incredibly, considering that this was to be Spielberg’s James Bond equivalent, they even got a James Bond to star in it.


The film opens with a flashback to Indy’s childhood, played with much gusto by River Phoenix, establishing many of the iconic tropes that he had built up for himself, and it’s an enjoyably economical way of setting up a character quickly through shorthand. Jumping to the present of 1938 via one of the series more creative visual cuts at the tip of a hat, Indiana’s (Harrison Ford) adventure this time involves a quest for yet another supposedly cursed, mythological object; The Holy Grail.


The film's narrative unfolds in a similar manner to the original, as Indy collaborates up with a tough young dame Elsa Schneider (Alison Doody) to fight off the competing Nazis on their trail. In fact, one of the only true criticisms of this instalment is that it follows the structure of the original film a little too closely for its own good, terrified to verge too far from the formula as Temple of Doom did in fear of frightening off the core audience again. But it’s a great foundation to work from by simply changing up the setting, context and set pieces enough while the familiar routine plays out.


The new settings and path of adventure lead to yet more exciting exploits in exotic and memorable locations, all shot and executed with the same liveliness and versatility of Raiders of the Lost Ark, that Temple of Doom severely lacked. Baring a limited use of visual trickery, everything feels heavy and practical with a sense of danger and brutality to its execution. From a thrilling boat chase through Venice in which boars are crushed and torn up by large propeller blades, to a gripping set piece situated both inside and on top of a large moving tank across the desert. For the longest of the original instalments this a feature that moves rather fast.


But the story carries a more personal engagement than before, in the form of Sean Connery as a bewildered but intelligent Henry Jones, Sr. tagging along for the ride, and the chemistry that the two share is the stuff of fantasy.


The father and son themes fall in line with many of Spielberg’s greater pictures, inviting the audience to understand what makes Indiana Jones the man that he is, and it’s equated by a strong screenplay. They bounce off one another effortlessly, and even the tagging along of Denholm Elliott as Indiana's bumbling English colleague Dr Marcus Brody gets to lighten the mood.


The casting of Alison Doody as the love interest with a twist in the tale feels immediately more responsive and likeable than Kate Capshaw's "Willie" Scott, certainly offering more than a just a character dynamic to the film’s plot. It also helps to have Julian Glover as villain Walter Donovan, who screams antagonist the moment he walks on screen. Although they do wheel out the Nazi’s as antagonists again, they still serve their purpose as an exaggerative form of uncomplicated antipathy, though a scene in which Indiana literally bumps into Adolf Hitler is as bewildering in placement and intent as it is entertaining.


The Last Crusade lives up to its promise as a genuinely entertaining adventure romp and a redeemer of the darkness of the previous film, that that allows both the series and the character to (at least temporarily) bow out on a high note as they ride into the sunset.

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