trillietitan’s review published on Letterboxd:
Fun fact about me: I was first shown this when I was probably a little too young for it, and a couple scenes definitely traumatized the fuck out of me. It was at home on a rented VHS years after the initial rating debacle had first happened, but the point still stands-- the creation of the PG-13 rating was probably a pretty good idea.
That had to have been at least twenty years ago, but there's still some genuinely terrifying stuff here. The infamous cult ceremony isn't just shocking by the standards of a PG movie-- it's a legitimately effective horror scene regardless of MPAA rating or genre. Combine that with a few of the ridiculously uncomfortable creepy-crawly scenes the Indiana Jones films are known for (as well as a noticeably darker tone for the second half in general), and you've got a pretty freaky movie.
What's even scarier, though, is just how fucking problematic it all is. I mean, I knew it was gonna be bad-- this is an 80s American blockbuster, afterall. But even taking that into account, this is racist as fuck. In fact, this is egregious even by the standards of that era of Spielberg's productions-- and that is a profoundly low bar to stumble over.
When it's not fully committed to channeling its inner Ingagi, the film finds time to be nearly as wildly misogynistic as it is racist. Often, it's doing both-- and more often than not at least one of Indy's absurdly annoying sidekicks is involved.
I mean, there's definitely a reason people say Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is the weak spot in the original trilogy. And frankly, it's pretty goddamn hard to disagree (even though I haven't actually seen Last Crusade in quite a while). And I certainly can't imagine that most new audiences would find a lot to like about this one without existing nostalgia, either (and that's without factoring in the problematic nature, too).
I mean, this is just a baffling film all around. We start out with some absolutely unhinged musical number that quickly turns into massive duel in a Shanghai restaurant (complete with death by literal flaming shish kebab). Then a wild car chase and sudden plane escape from the city, and things look to be all clear-- until Indy and Co. are forced to jump out of the plane on a raft and ride that down the mountain (and a river, conveniently enough).
Shit only gets weirder from there, because that's really still all only there to setup the lunacy of the cult plotline. It feels pointless getting into too many details about that, but along the way we get some more wild shit-- an unnecessarily long scene of Willie getting terrified at the campsite, the most disturbing dinner ever filmed, an assassin hanging himself from a ceiling fan, child slave labor...
You know, normal movie stuff.
Anyways, the final product is a pretty baffling relic of an exceptionally strange point in a lot of careers. This is definitely one of the low points in the series if I'm being objective, and I don't think most audiences will find a lot of reasons to come back.
I fucking love it, though. This film has a ton to offer to the right audiences, and even though I think that's probably mostly going to be limited to nostalgia I definitely think there's something here for some new viewers, too. I mean, I've probably seen this more than any other film in the franchise-- and even if that wasn't always entirely intentional, it must say something positive about it.