Simultaneously bold, disarmingly handsome and well-intentioned if arguably foolish in his pursuit of the world’s rarest artifacts, Dr. Indiana Jones can easily be considered one of the more likable everyman-esque central protagonists to have ever been conceived. In fact, it’s Indy’s relatable vulnerability that transforms him from untouchable hero archetype into someone that easily garners sympathy from viewers. From a profoundly overblown fear of snakes to bits of general rough-and-tumble fallibility, Indy himself is as much a joy to travel with as his treacherous exploits are to witness from start to finish.
From the get-go, the first and notably lauded entry in the franchise – Raiders of the Lost Ark – engrosses early on and throughout as an iconic opening sequence segues into a series of blunders, busts and intermittent successes along Indy and the gang’s path toward the Ark of the Covenant’s much-needed acquisition. Amid instances of effective broad humor and captivating, moreover well-researched world building, Raiders often benefits from a palpable, all-encompassing charisma that procures a simple sense of inherent likability.
As a follow-up, Temple of Doom is a considerably weaker effort. In direct comparison, the film does competently expand upon Indy’s cinematic legacy via apt character-specific tropes, particularly grandiose action and more regionally-inclined set pieces; however the narrative feels a bit lax in terms of personality.
While an inherent sense of dread and despair pumps the proceedings full of grim involvement, odd and sometimes grating supporting characters serve as nothing but pawns in Indy’s secondary crusade (no series-specific pun intended) through an unknown territory as he pursues a new archeological phenomenon. Even still, the film is serviceable if a very noticeable comedown from an explosive and unparalleled foray into big-budget action-adventure territory.
Thus brings me to The Last Crusade, of which I consider to be Indy’s sprawling, multifaceted magnum opus. Opening with the late River Phoenix’s notable portrayal of young Indy, the film immediately hits high notes as us viewers revel in this bit of adroit character-centric exposition. Finding further strength in a chancy but generally awesome father-son dynamic, The Last Crusade rarely does wrong as the duo pursues the Holy Grail amid a slew of predictably unforeseen obstacles.
Emotional gratification also takes a front seat, the involving if clichéd strained bond between Indy and his father rarely faltering in the pursuit of its narrative-enhancing intentions. From commandeering a WWII-era fighter plane pre-dogfight to the compelling (accidental) acquisition of a certain German dictator’s autograph, this third and (then) final entry into the franchise evokes fear, joy and then some as it culminates as gratifyingly as possible.
Rebooted six years ago to generally favorable critical reception, a slew of others typically did and still have a bone to pick with Kingdom of the Crystal Skull‘s lack of sustained charm and invention. Playing extensively as a fan service-heavy, nostalgia-laden slog, this most recent entry into the series banks a bit too heavily on bit after bit of “Remember THIS?!” – a trait that admittedly runs its course as characters and events lack general engagement value. Is the film still ostensibly an entry into the fabled franchise? Undeniably so, however beneath all of the title character’s inherent charm, one can only tolerate a certain amount of thematic redundancy amid an agreeably impressive action sequence or two.
Although I somewhat “viewed” these films vicariously through others’ varying references – not to mention my attending the stunt show at Disney World when I was a wee lad – the viewing experiences I’ve just described to you weren’t hampered in the slightest. From Raiders‘ palpably unprecedented genre-bending scale and scope to the enthralling locale-specific exploits of later chapters, Indiana Jones’ cinematic legacy will continue to withstand the test of time despite 2008’s unremarkable misstep. Whether or not you agree based on personal taste, Indy’s a character worth caring for – one that’s deservedly lauded based on Harrison Ford’s disarming charisma and his titular counterpart’s lovingly crafted chunk of cinematic history.