Thanks the rebel crushing and son maiming efforts of The Empire Strikes Back, it’s always been accepted that the follow up should always endeavour to “go darker” than their originals by heightening the threat and maturity of the story in question but when it came time for Steven Spielberg and George Lucas to bring back swaggering, Nazi punching archeologist Indiana Jones, no one would foresee how dark they’d go…
Both were going through massive upheavals in their personal lives at the time (Spielberg had broke up with his girlfriend while Lucas was getting divorced) and seemingly decided the only healthy way to process their collective feelings was to take it out on an entire generation of kids with a family film so violent a whole new rating had to be created for it… It was spiteful, it was nasty and it was as brutal the Hell it puts it’s characters though…
It was Temple Of Doom.
Set roughly a year before Raiders Of The Lost Ark (look it up: Raiders is set in 1936 whereas Temple take place in 1935 – which makes some of the call backs kind of confusing considering they happened later…) we find our rumpled hero getting up to his usual scrapes in a nightclub in Shanghai when a trade with Chinese gangsters goes impressively south. After a fracas that involves a Bob Fosse dance routine twinned with a man getting stabbed through the chest with a flaming barbecue skewer, Indy escapes on a freight plane with aggressive kid sidekick Short Round and screamy club singer Willie Scott in tow, only to crash land in India much to everyone’s dismay.
Almost immediately the mismatched group are dragged into the misfortunes of a poor village who have not only had their sacred stone stolen and all their crops dry up but also have had their kids swiped by a long dead cult called the Thuggee who apparently have ties to the Maharaja of the region. Heading off to the palace to investigate (although hardly for altruistic reasons as Indy believes the sacred Shankara stone will nab him fortune and glory) the trio find themselves uncovering a plot involving such kid friendly topics as child slavery ritual sacrifices, mind control and what happens when a squishy human body is fed, screaming, into a rock crusher; but yet worse indignities lay in wait as the Thuggee’s heart-ripping head priest Mola Ram manages to corrupt Jones into becoming a murderous acolyte to the bloodthirsty cult which has it’s sights on nothing less than world domination.
While you could hardly describe Raiders Of The Lost Ark as being obsessed with utter realism there was a sense that, despite all the elaborate traps, stunts and Nazi melting religious hocus pocus, Jones’ first outing still remotely had it’s two feet on the ground, however; eschewing that virtually completely in favour of becoming a nightmarish, hell-for-leather, rollercoaster ride (literally in the case of the legendary mine cart sequence) Temple hurls what little restraint Raiders had into a broiling lava pit and just goes nuts.
No discussion of Temple Of Doom can be able to ignore the truly jaw-dropping levels of violence and gore on display here that could’ve easily filled at least 3 Friday The 13th movies (which, in a display of ironic hypocrisy, were being heavily censored in the US while Spielberg enjoyed immunity) and it’s worryingly impressive that Lucas and co. thought such stuff was suitable for children and that they actually got away with it. Severed fingers hanging on a statue, bricked up corpses exploding out of a wall, a dude accidentally hangs himself on a ceiling fan with Indy’s whip, a tiny child being beaten with a whip by a hulking slave master easily three times his size – Doom stubbornly refuses to hold back ANYTHING that might freak out the wide-eyed rugrats in the audience and that include some eyebrow raising sexual politics between Indy and Willie Scott who, when not getting attacked by jungle creatures our almost getting sacrificed spend a lot of the time being really, REALLY horny. There’s even a scene where the two actually time each other to see who will break first and burst into the other one’s room just so they can fuck – cue a perplexed child in a cinema in 1984 looking at their nervous looking parents to explain…
Another avenue the filmmakers enthusiastically explore in order to get the maximum recoil from their audience is the astonishingly spiteful treatment of Kate Capshaw’s notoriously squeamish lead. Essentially strapping herself in for a near unbroken two hours of screaming, the woman endures being nearly boiled alive, coated in waves of bugs and, most infamously of all, treated to some outlandish, upper class Indian cuisine such as eyeball soup and chilled monkey brains served right out of the scalp of the simian’s severed head. Let’s see Guy Fieri give THAT a good review.
If my descriptions of Temple Of Doom’s frequent bursts of fantastical brutality and phobia baiting sound like I’m frowning at them, I can assure you I am not, but the movie’s gleeful lack of respect for human life does mean it feels a little more adolescent than the more carefully balanced orginal.
There’s also the problem of the movie stereotyping of some of it’s characters, even going as far as employing brown face to realise the notoriously caucasian wrestler Pat Roach as the Thuggee’s hulking slave master who engages Jones in a magnificently nasty brawl. Plus the characters of Willie and Short Round are hardly what you’d call subtle, with the former’s more “delicate” nature falling short of Raiders’ scrappier Marion Ravenwood and the latter falling foul of Hollywood’s obsession of give every Asian character in movie’s a knowledge of kung-fu.
That being said, the leads are all insanely on form with Ford continuing to bring that world weary nobility to arguably his greatest role, relishing making his notoriously grumpy hero even more of a dick than he was before as his treatment of Willie borders frequently on contempt. Capshaw, in comparison, turns out to be a remarkably good sport and although her wall to wall screeching frequently grates, she makes up for it by having extremely good comic timing and for her troubles she eventually went on to become Mrs Steven Spielberg (maybe all the shit she has to go through was the director’s way of telling her he liked her…).
Spielberg’s direction is, of course, on point and his flare for imaginative action is further proved by some wildly outlandish, yet legitimately tense set pieces that – even for an Indiana Jones film – sometimes come too close to being totally preposterous bollocks for comfort (you know I’m looking at you, ridiculous mine car jump).
Somewhat uneven, yet full of the explosive energy usually found in sugar addicted toddlers, Temple Of Doom may not stack up to the near perfection of it’s predecessor and frequently raises unanswerable questions (if it’s a prequel, what the Hell happened to Short Round, did Indy just turf him back onto the streets just to resume his teaching position? Why does no one mention the world war that’s going on? Why after seeing the Sankara stones at work is Jones an utter sceptic about the power of the Ark?) but as 80’s action adventure goes, it’s rollicking and nastily mischievous good fun for those Jonesing for more swash in their buckle.