AlfredAngier’s review published on Letterboxd:
Mola Ram! Prepare to meet Kali... in Hell!
Considered for about 24 years to be the worst in the Indiana Jones series Temple of Doom AKA the one where Indy shuts down an iPhone factory seems to be looked upon more fondly as the years and Crystal Skulls have gone by and I was curious to see how it would hold up on this watch as it was always my least favorite growing up.
What I remember most is how much I disliked Kate Capshaw's Willie Scott who I recalled as being that one American on vacation who goes somewhere exotic and then complains about why it isn't exactly like home and while that's true to a certain extent I had also way overblown how annoying her character actually was, whether that's entrenched sexism on my part or the bizarre decision to make the future Mrs. Spielberg have virtually zero positive character traits I'll have to ruminate on because while she does have a few moments of annoying shrillness they're almost all in the first half of the film and other scenes that I'd remembered her as being terrible in were now clearly attempts at a more lighthearted mood that actually sometimes worked, like when she runs around screaming at all the animals in the campsite while Indy (Harrison Toyota) and Short Round (Ke Huy Quan) accuse each other of cheating at cards or when she meets Indy for the first time and they have this great exchange that I somehow missed on every other watch:
Willie: Well I always thought that archaeologists were always funny looking men going around looking for their mommies
As a connoisseur of dad jokes I appreciated and approve of it.
Other things have not aged super well. The Fast and Furious levels of over the top and unbelievable action like a raft being used in lieu of a parachute from a crashing plane or the mine car chase where it jumps from one broken track to another are just goofy and don't fit in with the generally darker tone of child slavery, hearts being ripped out of chests or starving villagers. The effects work is 50/50, some of it holds up remarkably well, some looks as bad and dated as the brown face and white savior trope on display. Then there's the culturally insensitive and offensive dinner scene at the palace with disgusting "delicacies" (all bullshit) and it makes the film not so great albeit for different reasons than when it first came out.
This sequel prequel is much better than I remember and I'm glad I got to rewatch with an older perspective as it allowed me to appreciate what it did well (the relationship between Indy and Short Round is really sweet and I love that once Indy learns about the children being taken from the village there's no question of not going to at least try and rescue them) while also being aware of where it missed the mark in telling the story of a white dude saving a bunch of brown people.
It's also interesting watching this so soon after Spielberg's West Side Story since the opening of this is basically the opening of a musical and shot really well, as is the whole film. There are moments of unbearable tension even though I know exactly what's about to happen and the heart stopping scene with Mola Ram (a great Amrish Puri) is more horrifying than many horror films. I also admire how it both tries to be super dark with the children in chains, people getting eaten by crocs and a famine stricken village but also balances that out with more levity of Ford and Capshaw trying to be in a screwball romance, it doesn't really work all the time, or even most of the time and I'm not sure it it's the writing or the acting by Capshaw that isn't up to par in that department because Ford gets the rare chance to show off his comic timing which is underappreciated and excellent. Speaking of Ford showing off... he spends a good amount of time shirtless and I've actually confirmed with scientists that the lava is the second hottest thing on screen next to him.
Fortune and glory, kid. Fortune and glory