To many, the pinnacle of 'Indiana Jones' is 'Raders of the Lost Ark'. And who can argue the choice? 'Raiders' is a pretty damn awesome adventure, and it IS where you will see where most of Indy's farces come from. But for me, 'Last Crusade' is absolutely everything an 'Indiana Jones' film should be; taking everything good about 'Raiders' and just adding to it by bringing in new characters, bringing back old characters, and making it about the search for the Holy Grail - the ultimate find for any archaeologist. This is why some people refer to the most coveted item in their collections as their "Holy Grail".
I'm pretty certain that this was the first time I sat through an 'Indiana Jones' movie and thoroughly enjoyed it (except for the rapid aging scene which used to scare the hell out of me). I was introduced to this one through my brother, and it's one of the few movies that, to this day, we can both watch and have a totally equal amount of fun with. I could consider this title to be a sort of bonding experience for us, much like it probably was for my Dad and him when they caught it in theaters. I, meanwhile, stayed home with Mom because, at the age of 6, going on 7, it probably would have been a terrible idea. Regardless, when I did finally see it on VHS (now stone-aged tech), I had a lot of fun with it, and eventually, it became THE 'Indiana Jones' film that I wanted to watch more than the previous two.
We open the film with a flashback in which we see, pretty much, everything that created the Indiana Jones character as we know him. One could almost consider it a fun pre-film short in which a young Indiana Jones (River Phoenix) gets chased by a few grave robbers, led by a man credited as "Fedora" (Richard Young - guess what Indy gets from him). They have found the golden cross of Francisco Vázquez de Coronado, Indy, afraid they'll take it for their own purposes, intercepts it, arguing that it "BELONGS IN A MUSEUM!". Through this chase on horseback and on a moving circus train, Indy also obtains his whip, complete with the explanation of his real-life chin scar which he received in a car accident. We also see why he hates snakes. It's perhaps a lot all at once, but it still does it all in pure Indiana Jones adventure style.
Moving things along, however, we eventually get to 1938 where we get a very similar opening to 'Raiders'. We get Indy (now Harrison Ford) teaching a class of professor-crush-stricken girls, and to make it short, he's eventually approached by some people with an archeological "mission" He's seen by a collector of rare artifacts, Walter Donovan (Julian Glover), and told about the very real possibility that he could be on the right track to find the one and only Holy Grail. He just needs a little help. The Grail being Indy's father's obsession, however, eventually reveals that said father, Henry Jones (Sean Connery) has actually gone missing, being the guy Donovan hired before Indy. This is what gets Indy on his toes, and eventually, he and colleague and friend, Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliot) head to Venice, Italy to meet a contact named Dr. Elsa Schneider (Alison Doody) - a colleague of Henry's.
Indiana is mostly there to find and rescue his father, but still has been tasked and financially backed by Donovan to locate the Grail, so Venice is pretty much where everything starts. Eventually, Indy finds himself up against a group of Nazis who are also interested in the Grail, along with the Brotherhood of the Cruciform Sword - an order who has protected the Grail from being found all of these years. We also get a complex relationship with his father, and it always strikes me as funny that the little old man Sean Connery plays here was my very first impression of him. He always does a great job, but one really can't help but appreciate the sense of humour he brings to this role. He and Ford play off each other incredibly well here!
One may also appreciate the return of an old favourite here, as Sallah (John Rhys-Davies) makes a comeback as well! For my money, he's one of the more lovable characters in these films, providing a bit of comedy relief, but able to be serious when necessary. On that note, I have to say that I appreciate Brody here a lot more as well, as he's barely seen in 'Raiders'. I have to appreciate that they did more with his character here, even if they did make him a bit of a bumblebutt. It still lends itself to one of the funnier lines of the movie when Indy reminds his Dad that Marcus once "got lost in his own museum". This brings me to my next point, the sense of humour!
I didn't fully realize how not only fun but funny this movie is! I'm not altogether sure, but there's a good chance this could be the most quotable of the 'Indy' titles. Something that makes this one so special is that it's an honest-to-God, somewhat light-hearted adventure. It's not intense like 'Temple of Doom', but it delivers all of the action-packed adventure you could want from an 'Indy' flick, in my opinion actually topping 'Raiders of the Lost Ark'. There's a damn-near perfect balance of elements here, bringing the story-telling, action, adventure, comedy and cast of likable characters together with just that little tiny dash of a horror element (which no 'Indy' film is complete without, mind you). It's a fine example of one of my all-time favourite films, and it may very well stand as my all-time favourite film in the "Adventure" category. They just (seemingly) don't make them THIS fun anymore.