Back in the day, before part 4’s, 5’s and 6’s started bloating out virtually every long running franchise out there – there was something comforting about the good old movie trilogy. Before the times of Fast & Furious and Jurassic World expanding their follow ups exponentially, chances are if you fired out more than three movies in your franchise you were either a Star Trek movie, a slasher flick or Sylvester Stallone was insisting on force feeding you more Rocky but there was always something satisfying about an honest to god ENDING that allowed you to send of these characters you loved with the dignity they deserved.
Of course now things are different with many perfect trifectas going beyond the three film hat trick with Star Wars, Lord Of The Rings, Toy Story and – yes – Indiana Jones all succumbing to the forth movie fad with varying results; but surely one of the best trilogy cappers of all time (at least until it was scuppered by a certain Kingdom of a certain Crystal Skull – not to mention any names) is Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade.
After a hugely rousing flashback where we see a young Jones find himself in a mad scramble concerning a valuable cross that scores him his chin scar, his fedora, his first taste for a bullwhip AND his fear of snakes all in a space of twenty minutes, we rejoin him about to embark on another mission to locate another holy relic before those pesky Nazis get their gloved mitts on it. This time Henry Jones Jr. is after the Holy Grail, the obsession of his estranged father who has suspiciously gone missing while looking for it. Starting off in Venice with Elsa, his father’s assistant, and negotiating rat infested tombs and boat chases with a shadowy secret society, Indy has to learn to trust nobody and manages to locate his father who is being held firmly by the krauts (ouch). However, upon rescuing him, it becomes immediately apparent that the fussy and oblivious Henry Jones Sr. is not exactly cut out for the life of life or death adventuring and our hero desperately struggles to haul his dear old dad from one near explosive encounter to the next. As friends reveal themselves to be foes and the race to obtain the cup of Christ reaches a showdown in Turkey the Jones boys, joined by permanently befuddled colleague Marcus Brody and ernest friend Sallah have to traverse the typical and treacherous terrain of Nazi’s and booby traps to accomplish their goal, but is the Holy Grail really what Indy is truly searching for in this so-called last crusade?
While Steven Spielberg and George Lucas’ previous Indy adventure focused more on the kiddie friendly torment and gore you’d expect to find in a PG-13 torture porn movie, here it seems that they’ve worked through their issues and here present a tone that’s far lighter while still giving us all the phobic trauma (this time rats) and graphic Nazi bodycount we’ve come to love and expect from cinema’s greatest adventurer. After a stonking prologue that casts a suitably belligerent River Phoenix as young Indy as he eludes tomb robbers on a circus train while simultaneously finding the path of adventure he’d follow for the rest if his life, the film pulls a deceptively genius slight of hand. For it’s first third it merely chugs along as a perky but hardly standout adventure, satisfied to break out impressive set pieces like a flaming tomb escape featuring more rodents than a James Herbert retrospective and a breakneck boat chase through the Venice canals, all the while never fully committing to moving the story along. However, the very instant Jones manages to locate his father, The Last Crusade locates it’s optimum gear, leans hard into the humour of an action hero being constantly undermined by having his doddery old dad tag along and finds legitimate comedy gold in the double act of Harrison Ford and Sean Connery that proves to be nothing short of revelatory.
Connery, a bit of stunt casting to make James Bond both figuratively and literally Indiana Jones’ father, boasts superlative comedy chops, taking the wind spectacularly out of his son’s sails at every turn by being utterly unaware of what’s going on at any moment and Ford is only too happy to meet him with angry frustration, comfortably becoming the hen-pecked straight man in his own franchise.
The comedy is so inspired that it subsequently fuels the rest of the film and works so well thanks to it being incredibly relatable; after all, who HASN’T been driven to distraction by their own parents? You could argue that Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade is the action movie equivalent to helping a confused mum or dad programme a new phone or fiddle with wires around the back of the telly – just with more Nazis…
Adding to the more humourous feel to this installment it the triumphant return of Deholm Elliot (whose once serious Marcus Brody curiously now seems to have the cognitive abilities of a 8 year old child) and John Rhys Davis who all join together in order to make one big, glorious, middle-aged comedy troupe despite the mounting carnage around them. The Indiana Jones movies have always carried with them a healthy amount of wit but this shift into more overt comedy (a precursor to the tone of the MCU perhaps?) is a welcome change.
Right from Connery’s introduction the film comfortably racks up genius moment after genius moment (the uncomfortable moment where the Jones’ realises they’ve both had sexual relations with the same woman is fucking priceless) and it peaks with possibly one of Spielberg’s finest action beats of his career as the leads tackle an entire German battalion and an honest to god TANK in an extended sequence that stands as one of the best of the decade.
As the trilogy wraps up with a last minute spot of tomb raiding and an encounter with an immortal knight from the crusades (I’ve quoted “He chose poorly” in casual conversation more times than can possibly be healthy) it becomes apparent that Spielberg, Lucas and co. have something more poignant in store than mine cart chases and melting Germans and that have made the ballsy choice to make the sacred cup of Christ a red herring and that the REAL last crusade is the reclaiming of family – not an unimpressive feat considering there’s only a 12 year age difference between father and son. With this in mind (and with the atrocities of Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull still 20 years away) the image of the leads riding off into a setting sun proves to be extraordinarily affecting and unequivocally proves my long held opinion that Last Crusade is clearly the superior Indiana Jones sequel.
Or in other words – I chose… wisely.