Renowned archeologist and expert in the occult, Dr. Indiana Jones, returns for the 3rd and final Indy film. Teaming up with his father, Indiana sets out to try and find the Holy Grail. Once again, the Nazis are after the same prize, and try to foil Indianas plans.
If Steven Spielberg had followed his heart, Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade might never have happened. In 1988, he was heavily involved in pre-production on Rain Man, when George Lucas reminded him of a gentleman's agreement to make the then-untitled Indy 3. Disappointed and slightly resentful, Spielberg nevertheless set to work, rejecting several scenarios for the return of the whip-wielding hero, including an outlandish Chris Columbus idea (which saw Indy battle an African Monkey King, at one point chasing a truck while riding a rhinoceros) before settling on the quest for the Holy Grail. In the end, it all worked out nicely — Rain Man won Oscars for Dustin Hoffman and Barry Levinson, to whom Spielberg passed on his copious Rain Man notes; while the Holy Trinity of Spielberg, Lucas and Ford all enjoyed a much-needed hit, in the wake of critical and commercial disappointments (Empire Of The Sun, Willow, and Frantic respectively).
Spielberg, smarting after yet another Oscar snub, (Empire was nominated for six Oscars, winning none; ironically, Crusade bagged one Oscar, for Best Sound Effects Editing), saw Crusade as "consciously regressing", representing a critic-proof chance to show that he could still peddle popcorn. Ultimately, he succeeded, producing a movie which stands out like a sore thumb from his middling output of the late-80s to early 90s, and which, while not quite matching Raiders, serves as a fitting end to the Indy trilogy.
Perhaps low on confidence and anxious for a hit, Spielberg approached the material with caution (plotwise, it hugs tight to the Raiders formula, rejecting the darkness of Temple Of Doom; while, visually, it's the least-inspired of the trilogy, offering very few indelible images or Spielbergian trademarks). But it may well be the most entertaining of the series, with its playful tone established in the River Phoenix-starring, Indy-demystifying prologue — which, sadly, also paved the way for The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles — and reaching its apotheosis with the arrival of Sean Connery as Indy's dad, Henry Jones.
Thematically, the relationship between Ford's stoic hero and Connery's bookish father addresses one of Spielberg's major preoccupations: paternal absenteeism, although the unusually reconciliatory tone perhaps reflects his own ascension to fatherhood, and his concerns over his marriage to Amy Irving, then divorce courts-bound. Jones Snr. may have been a Lucas invention, but Spielberg uses him to invest Crusade with an emotional core lacking in its rollercoaster precursors, as the Grail finally becomes less important to Indy than his father. Quite frankly, as Spielberg himself postulated, only James Bond could play Indiana Jones' dad, and Connery's Henry contrasts superbly with the thorny Indy — courtesy of punched-up dialogue by Tom Stoppard — reducing him often to the level of chastened son, a truly amusing development. In fact, Crusade is comfortably the funniest Indy, incorporating several superb set pieces (the delightful "No ticket" scene is spoofed adroitly in Kevin Smith's Dogma), but it's the interplay between Ford and Connery — totally believable, despite a mere 12 year age gap — that makes Crusade such a joy.
Humour aside, Spielberg elicits another cool, iconic performance from Ford — witness Indy taking out three Nazis with one bullet — who never loses sight of Indy's human side, while he stages the action sequences quite beautifully. It's a relief in this era of Indy rip-offs like The Mummy Returns and Tomb Raider, to see classically-composed action sequences where the camera doesn't suffer from Tourettes, and where the most important element isn't found on a PC hard drive. And if it's hard to reconcile the Spielberg of Schindler's List with the comic-book depiction of Nazis in this pre-WWII epic, imagine this as the Spielberg of his youth, delighting in blowing Nazis to high heaven. After Schindler's, Spielberg remarked that Crusade's portrayal of Nazis embarrassed him — in fact, this is a sly and barbed condemnation of those "goose-stepping morons".
Crusade ends as perfectly as any film trilogy could, with our four heroes — Sallah, Marcus Brody, Henry Jones and, as we've just discovered, Henry Jones Jr. — riding off into the sunset, to John Williams' triumphant Raiders march. It's enough to bring a tear to the eye — that Crusade was intended as Indy: The Final Chapter is incontrovertible (Ford even told journalists at a 1989 press conference to "read my lips: Bye-bye Indiana"). But when a movie makes $494m worldwide (holding its own against Tim Burton's Batman), bye-bye is a meaningless soundbite, and not every Crusade is the Last. But it would be a shame to taint Last Crusade with a fourth episode, loaded down with untenable expectations. The Grail immortalised Indy; best keep him that way.
The chemistry between its two stars is a thing of dreams, but the plot is a tad too episodic to make it a classic.