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Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom - Throwback Thursday review

★★★

Directed by #StevenSpielberg

Film review by Nathanial Eker


The second instalment in the Indiana Jones franchise is a marked downgrade from its predecessor, and it fails to hold up in 2021. Many of its scenes remain iconic, but it's marred by a shoddy script that's reliant on outdated stereotypes and cultural assumptions. Fortunately, it's not a total write-off thanks to another stellar turn by both John Williams and Harrison Ford, and an action-packed second half.


Indiana Jones is back in this prequel to Raiders of the Lost Ark. After a run-in with a crime boss in Shanghai, Indy ends up in India with singer Willie Scott (Capshaw) and his young sidekick Short Round (Huy Quan). Native villagers beg the gang to retrieve a sacred stone from the clutches of the villainous Thuggee cult, led by Mola Ram (Puri). It's up to Indy to rescue both the stone and the village's enslaved children and restore peace.


Watching Temple of Doom in 2021 is an often uncomfortable experience for a nostalgic Indy fan. Though the Indian cultists were mere one-dimensional antagonists for Indy to beat up when we were eleven, their presentation by Spielberg and Lucas is difficult to swallow today. Though undeniable iconic; the dinner party scene, in which monkey brains, live snakes, and eyeball soup are consumed by the Indian cultists, comes off as rather crass and insensitive when viewed today. Equally, the uncomfortably basic presentation of the Hindu religion has been cited as being, at best, lazy, and at worst, highly offensive.


However, it isn't just racial insensitivities that plague Indiana Jones this time around. The character of Willie Scott may be the most stereotypical, irritating, and poorly crafted "Damsel in Distress" ever put to film. Though Marion occasionally felt like she was written to be more of a prize to be won than a three-dimensional character, Spielberg and Lucas at least blessed her with admirable gusto and a strong will. By comparison, Willie exists purely to complain, make offensive remarks, and kiss Ford. Her character is undoubtedly the low point of the film and virtually every scene invokes an eye-roll and exasperated sigh. However, make no mistake; the fault lies entirely with the script, not the performance of Kate Capshaw; who does an admirable job with what little she has to work with.


For all its faults, it's undeniable that Temple of Doom remains a pioneering entry in the adventure genre. Films made decades later such as the equally controversial Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006) owe just about everything to this film. Love them or hate them, moments like the revolting dinner and the ominous cry of "Kali Ma" have endured into the public consciousness. Equally, Temple of Doom is almost all action. Given its weak script and problematic portrayals, that's likely for the best.


As with every Indiana Jones film, the score remains a highlight. John Williams fires off all cylinders and delivers another masterful soundtrack which is bursting at the seams with individual leitmotifs as well as call-backs to Raiders. The highlight this time is the "Slave Children's Crusade" which quickly becomes the film's main theme, just as the Ark theme was for Raiders. However, Williams also makes excellent use of the Raiders March whenever Jones is doing something suitably heroic. Equally, the brutish charm of Ford salvages an otherwise disastrous sequel as he provides an earnest legitimacy that offsets the ridiculousness of both his co-stars and the horror-centric plot.


Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is riddled with faults, and it can be a tiresome watch; particularly thanks to its presentation of Indian culture and women. However, it's still an exciting adventure with an excellent soundtrack and a fantastic leading man. Turn off your brain for two hours, and you'll undoubtedly be entertained, horrified, and amused. However, don't expect the intricate weaving of religious folklore and call backs to classic adventure serials found in its predecessor and sequel. Much like the problematic character of Willie, it's all style and no substance.


 



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