Why You Shouldn’t Skip Indiana Jones & The Temple of Doom

I’m writing this post even at the risk of being one of those scary fangirls. I am possibly a borderline Indiana Jones fangirl, even though the vast majority of the time I can’t work up the energy to be a fangirl about anything at all. Anyway, if that’s what I am, I guess I can own it, since I can’t think of a single other thing I qualify as “fangirl” for. Make fun if you must. Onward.

Lots of people skip the 2nd in the Indiana Jones trilogy, The Temple of Doom. Admitedly, it’s not my favorite either. My mom doesn’t like it because it’s gross, and I think it definitely has some darker stuff in it than the other two movies do, so I understand that reasoning. The reason I never liked it, though, was that it seemed incongruous. Indiana Jones wasn’t the Indiana Jones I’d come to know and love (despite his repeatedly choosing career over love) in Raiders of the Lost Ark, and he’s certainly not the lovable guy from The Last Crusade who makes jokes with his dad and falls for… well, that’s a whole different blog post.

**SPOILER ALERT** Lots of Temple of Doom spoilers follow. I’m assuming you’ve already seen it and decided your opinion on it. If you haven’t seen it, watch it first, then come back here and read this.

But, I watched Temple of Doom again on Sunday and came to a realization: Indiana Jones has a character arc through the trilogy. It surprised me. I always thought of the Indiana Jones series as a serial, like James Bond– basically the same character, with a new girl each episode, and ready to start all over again next time. Most of the James Bond movies you can watch in any order because he’s the same guy in every movie. (We’d have to talk about the two most recent James Bond movies separately, but you get the general idea of my point, right?)

This, however, is not the case with the Indiana Jones trilogy. As I mentioned above, in Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones repeatedly chooses career over love (see my whole long post about it), which breaks my romance writer heart. Raiders of the Lost Ark is not a romance. I must keep reminding myself of that fact. I’m not going to tell you that Temple of Doom is a romance… but it’s closer.

Hear me out.

Act I immediately introduces Indiana Jones’ cohorts: a beautiful but annoying nightclub singer and a little Chinese boy Indy calls Short Round. Throughout all of Act I, every time the three get into trouble, Short Round plays a big roll in getting them out. (Willie the nightclub singer mostly just screams.) This befuddled me at first because the partner role was Marion’s role in Raiders of the Lost Ark, at least partly. I expected Willie to fill Marion’s shoes, when really it’s Short Round who plays Indy’s partner here, and actually does a better job of it than Marion ever did (maybe because Indiana Jones lets him).

Short Round plays an important part in every climax and turning point, and Indiana Jones makes decisions in favor of him and the other kids involved in the plot, instead of for the sake of his “fortune and glory,” and he does this repeatedly. In the climactic scene on the bridge, he holds the sacred stones over the gorge and demands that the priest let Willie and Short Round go or he’ll drop them. It’s a lot like that scene in Raiders when he threatens to blow up the Ark, only this time, he really means it. In the resolution of the movie, he physically gives up his fortune and glory (the stone) in favor of giving it back to the village so that everything will stay the way it should and the children will be safe. This is character growth! He never would have done those things for Marion in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

So here’s where the feeling of incongruity comes from… This is a bit of a transitional time for Indiana Jones. He’s not quite ready to give it all up for just anyone, but for a kid he can be a little selfless. Baby steps. I need to watch The Last Crusade again, but I think it’ll come full circle there, back around to him loving the man that taught him to value career over everything else in the first place– his dad.

Also, as an aside, I think that Temple of Doom has some of the best comedic moments of any in the trilogy, perhaps because it needs more comic relief from such dark subject matter– and if Willie’s entire function is comic relief (which I think it is), she does it pretty darn well.

So what do you think? Have I convinced you that Temple of Doom doesn’t suck? Are you willing to give it another watch?

  • I certainly prefer Temple of Doom to Indiana Jones and the Lead-lined Elevator.

    As a fangirl myself (by genetics! My mom actually has the hat), I'm compelled to point out that Temple of Doom is actually set Raiders – Temple of Doom is 1935, and Raiders is 1936. So if there's a character arc, ideally it would move from Temple of Doom through Raiders and then into Last Crusade. (Once again I must ignore the abomination that was Indiana Jones and Shia LeBouef on a Motorcycle. Except I was so happy to see Karen Allen again. Crap.)

    I haven't watched these recently and I don't know that I've ever watched them in that order. I might have to try it.

  • I'm actually the odd fan who enjoyed all four of the Indy films, even the last one. If put a certain gopher and tree-swinging monkeys were cut, I might even give it a B+. But Temple of Doom is always the one I think of when I think of Indy, because it's the one I saw when I was old enough to be aware of films more (too young for Raiders). The comedy was great, the costuming way fun, and I loved Short Round, the mystical rocks, and ripping hearts out through bodies. But then, I'm not a discriminating fan–if it makes me think, I like it or if it entertains me, I like it.

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  • The problem with that theory is that timewise within the movies Temple of Doom is really the first movie. It was a prequel to Raiders so his character arc would have started in Temple and progressed through Raiders and then Last Crusade.

  • I hereby rescind my claim of fangirlism because I totally never realized that Temple of Doom takes place before Raiders of the Lost Ark. That completely ruins my arc theory and makes my blog post moot. Awesome. 🙂

  • Damn it.

  • I'm with you– I like a lot of movies that other people don't necessarily like. But I still think Temple of Doom gets an unfair amount of criticism when really it's a good movie.