Much like when it came to my childhood and 'Star Wars', I watched these "Lucasfilm" flicks totally out of order. I'm about 90% sure that it all started with 'Temple of Doom' for me, although I'm still not 100% sure. This is extraordinarily strange, as I was a kid who was afraid of just about everything growing up, and this is easily the most traumatic of the 'Indy' titles. Both 'Raiders' and 'Last Crusade' had scenes that would send me out of the room so I wouldn't have to watch them, but tearing someone's beating heart out of his chest - that was fine.
My only thought is that I simply didn't get what was going on at the time. Who knows if I knew what a human heart even looked like back then? Add to that the fact that Indy has a sidekick here who's a kid, which probably helped alleviate some of the more traumatic moments for yours truly, as there was a character I could directly relate to. Anyway, that's something personal that will always remain a mystery, as some REALLY tame stuff has scared the ever-living hell out of me as I grew up. As a result, I don't tend to be one to think of this title as being at all that bad, as it has been pointed out to be in recent years. However, I WILL say that as far as I'm concerned, it's the second-weakest overall... but so help me God, I think I like it better now than I ever did before. But more on that soon.
Our film opens one year before the events of 'Raiders', in 1935 Shanghai, where Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) is making a deal with crime boss Lao Che (Roy Chiao). Long and almost unnecessary story short, we are simultaneously introduced to nightclub singer, Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw) who ends up inadvertently in tow with Indy and his new sidekick, Short Round (Ke Huy Quan, in his introductory role). They board a trap of a plane, set up by Lao Che (and are guided to the plane by a very subtle and uncredited Dan Aykroyd) only to miraculously and frankly, impossibly survive a plane crash, ending up in the jungles of India. Here, a quaint village asks for their help in finding their village's sacred stone along with their missing children.
Indy agrees to head to Pankot Palace, along with Willie and Shorty, and are greeted at the palace doors with open arms. The trio is then allowed to attend a banquet, hosted by the young Maharajah (Raj Singh), which has since become one of the more famous scenes of the film. Here, we get into Indy's theory that an ancient, evil cult known as the Thugee may be coming back into power, hence the missing children and sacred stone, which Indy theorizes as being one of the five Shankara stones. Of course, more famously standing out among this convo, is a great deal of disgusting food from "Snake Surprise" to "Chilled Monkey Brains". Later that night, Indy is attacked by an assassin but overwhelms him and his journey to find out what's at the bottom of all of this mystery is set in motion.
So as not to go into a whole whack of detail here, I'll just say that the rest of the film is a sort of living nightmare, and easily makes for the most brutal of the 'Indiana Jones' titles, as it involves plenty of scary behaviour, including (as mentioned) heart-ripping, being sent into a pit of fire, child slavery, aspects of voodoo, and I would probably argue it's also where we see Indy at his weakest. Even our villain, Mola Ram (Amrish Puri) is, at least to me (and I'm gonna have to be careful how I say this), more frightening than any of Indy's main Nazi enemies. To put it another way, the Nazis are always looking for dark magic in these films. Mola Ram just plain has it and knows exactly how to use it. Just bear in mind I'm speaking of the fictional aspects of these stories because obviously, real Nazis are far scarier than any work of fiction.
Today, the biggest problem I have with the movie is trying to wrap my head around why it didn't scare me as a kid. Nowadays, I see it as something closer to a cult horror movie than an action/adventure, considering the dark themes it involves. But that's not to say it's not without a healthy dose of adventure either. The mine cart scene is still amazing, and I don't care how unrealistic it is. Otherwise, my only REAL issue here is the character, Willie. When you analyze the situation, Willie is actually just kind of there, and she's by far the most irritating of the "Indy Girls". I won't say much more about it, but I will say there's a 'Family Guy' joke about her presence in the film and... I don't wanna be a jerk about it but... yeah. It's hard not to imagine that being accurate.
As far as this being an overall bad film, however, I kinda have to disagree with most critics. Although I admit some bias coming from a healthy amount of nostalgia, there are other aspects of this I like a lot. For starters, I feel like the "hero" aspect of Indy really shines through here, as part of his mission is to free enslaved children on top of searching for some kind of relic. I also still enjoy the fact that they gave a kid the time of day to be a proper sidekick. His presence also gives us a better look at the kids' perspective, ultimately making him just as big a hero as Indy (without spoilers). Once the climactic stuff gets going, it's hard not to route for these guys. It's a far from perfect film, and still pretty weak as far as 'Indy' titles go. But I still have something of a personal connection to this one, and still have a lot of fun watching it despite its flaws.