The second installment of the Indiana Jones franchise is one of those films I thought was beloved for many years until the advent of the internet when I discovered it gets a lot of stick. So hold onto yo potatoes, it’s time for a controversial review of unpopular opinion.
I’ll begin my defense of Temple of Doom with discussing the movie’s two not so beloved characters. First up, Short Round. I love this character for several reasons; the first is the endearing relationship he has with Indiana Jones. Unlike Indy’s other companions, Short Round idolizes Indy. The moment in which Indy places Short Round’s cap on his head after freeing him from the Thuggee cult’s spell perfectly sums up their relationship and it gets me every time. Short Round saves Indy’s life on multiple occasions; In fact, sometimes I wonder how he’s even still alive without him. In comparison to a more beloved character in the series, Henry Jones senior, who almost gets Indy killed on a number of occasions thus rendering the criticism of Short Round being a hindrance to Indy invalid. But I hear you say, Short Round has an annoying voice? So I guess a high pitched voice renders a character’s personality, vulnerability, and character arc void? Short Round is like a kid’s fantasy, what’s cooler than getting to be Indiana Jones’ sidekick? Who wouldn’t want to be Short Round? Well, I’d rather be Indy himself, but being Short Round is the next best thing.
But how do I defend Willie Scott?! I’ve never found the character of Willie to be annoying and I believe one of the reasons for this is that she is punished for her selfish actions throughout the film. Her character is supposed to be unlikable and the movie is fully aware of this by making her receive comeuppance. During the movie her character matures, she shows concern for Indy and Short Round during the later portion of the film and even punches bad guys during the mine cart chase, a far cry from her earlier self. I love this trio of characters, so yeah, what are you going to do about it?!
It might seem odd to start an Indiana Jones movie with a musical number but as it captures the 1930’s setting and exotic tone of the series it manages to work. This is my favourite opening scene in the series. Of course, I love musical numbers and this is one of the greatest spectacles of song and dance ever put on screen.
Temple of Doom is too juvenile? You say juvenile like it’s a bad thing. I like all the weird creepy stuff; the bugs, the monkey brains, hearts being ripped out of people’s chests. It’s repulsive in the best sense of the word. But Temple of Doom isn’t a stupid film. No one ever seems to mention Indy’s character arc of overcoming his selfish streak. During the first half of the film, he is only concerned with obtaining his ‘fortune and glory’. Even after visiting the baron village, obtaining the Sankara Stones for his own personal gain remains his only objective. It’s not until he sees his own eyes the children in slave labour that he changes his way.
Also, why is the raft scene a constant source of criticism? I can understand how Indy surviving a nuclear explosion inside a fridge went too far but the raft scene is perfect sort of implausible B-movie type moment that doesn’t go too far to the point of absurdity. The second half of Temple of Doom is one huge roller coaster ride with the mine cart chase being an actual roller coaster ride. The movie throws so many classic b-movie thrills; a room with a descending spiked roof, a conveyor belt with a crushing roller at the end, a scene atop a rope bridge. After the trio escape from metaphorical hell, the final kiss between Indy and Willie is one of the most satisfying in all of cinema.
But let’s get into the real serious stuff, the film’s portrayal of Hinduism. I don’t claim to be an expert on Hinduism but I’ll attempt to the best of my ability to defend this most controversial aspect of the film. The villains of Temple of Doom, The Thuggee, were a cult who resided in Indiana over several hundred who would strangle travelers and steal their belongings (hence the origin of the term ‘thug’). The Thuggee were followers of the Hindu Goddess Kali, however, in Hinduism, Kali is not an evil entity, but rather the goddess of time, change and energy. As what The Thuggee believes is not what Kahali stands for, it makes the villains more interesting as they religious extremists, desecrating a faith for their own selfish gain, such as The Westro Baptist Church to Christianity or Isis to Islam. I believe the filmmakers are aware of this, as evident in the scene towards the end of the film on the dangling rope bridge, Just before Indy sends Mola Ram to his death, he utters “You betrayed Kali!”. The more I look into it, selfishness seems to be a recurring theme in Temple of Doom.
When a film is labeled for apparent racism I think to myself was there malicious intent behind it? I’m not one for defending the Star Wars prequels but did George Lucas create Jar Jar Binks because he has a prejudice against African Americans and/or Caribbean peoples or is it an innocent oversight? In the case of Temple of Doom the filmmakers were simply taking inspiration from another film, 1939’s Gunga Din, which features The Thuggee as the central villain, and of scenes in Temple of Doom pay homage to.
I consider Temple of Doom to be no less worthy a film than Raiders or Last Crusade. Like how Temple of Doom dared to be different and the black sheep of the series, I dare not to bow to the will of popular opinion. What are you going to do about it!? For you see my opinion is always correct, except for the times when I am wrong, which is never.