Confession time…Temple of Doom might be my favorite Indiana Jones movie. I know—I know. How can you even say that, Aaron?! But it’s true.
I love Temple of Doom mostly from memory more than defending it as a modern film. If today I were to watch Raiders and Doom, having never seen or really heard of Indy before, Raiders would probably be the clear winner for me. But as a kid, Doom held such sway!
I was 5 when Temple of Doom came out. So the whole “Indiana Jones is really Doctor Henry Jones Jr.” didn’t make sense to me. Just the other day I watched Raiders with my 5-year-old and 7-year-old sons and they felt the same way. The 7-year-old was the first to say “You know—I think that teacher really is Indiana Jones! Does anybody else know he’s Indiana Jones?” I then fielded several minutes of questions during the rest of the exposition scenes at the university about why Indy was both a professor and super hero. As an adult, I appreciate Indy’s academic identity and what it does to humanize and provide motivation for the character. But as a kid it adds an unnecessary layer. Doom doesn’t really mess with Indy’s academic life. Indy’s a globetrotting fortune seeker from frame one through to the end of the film. That worked for 5-year-old me, and it still works today.
The horror of Doom commanded respect, too. Where some call the Thuggees “cartoonish” compared to the “real-life” threat of the Nazis from the first film, my 5-year-old self would heartily disagree. Raiders didn’t have Nazis with all their historical horrors in tow. Ithad random bad guys in soldier uniforms. With the exclusion of the Peter Lorre clone, there was nothing particularly Nazi-specific about them. Yes, in Crusade the Nazis were Nazis, but in the first film—other than Hitler’s interest in occult objects of power—there was nothing about the evil soldiers that was specific to the evil of the historical Nazis. And so, to me at age 5, the villains of Raiders were very much just cartoonish Cobra commandoes. And Balloq lacked any real motivation other than being a holier-than-though fortune seeker. He was Destro to those Cobra commandoes but not much else was going on there. The Thuggees on the other hand were not just random evil soldiers. They dripped with mind-controlling, child-enslaving, supernatural menace well outside what was popular in cartoons and children’s TV at the time. They harkened back to older, Edgar Rice Burroughs-era villains. The idea that somewhere in the still hidden, dark places of this Earth there lay a cult capable of stealing your heart and soul truly seemed the stuff of nightmares and worthy of super heroic interventions from the likes of Indiana Jones.
And Willie. She gets bashed so much—even by the actress who played her! But I like Willie. Marion was this abrasive, over-the-top, action hero of a woman who could drink men under the table, throw a punch like a boxer, and work the machine gun turret on a plane with no training. Willie, on the other hand, was a true to life diva forced to play action hero. She had character flaws to overcome to prove her bravery. The brave person isn’t the one who can do things the rest of us can’t—the brave person is the one who does what they fear they cannot do but must.
Of course there was the ramped up action, Short Round, and all the rest that made Doom such a great film to me through much of my childhood. I’m not knocking Raiders (or Last Crusade)—they’re both phenomenal films. I’m just pointing out that—in my book—Doom’s the best.
PS. One last thing that I came to really love about Doom only in my later years—it’s not Judeo-Christian. Raiders and Crusade are set squarely in a world where the Judeo-Christian God is real. But add Doom, and we’re in a world where many gods are real, and the divine is so much more and more mysterious than could be defined by one concept and incarnation.