Indiana Jonesin': How Does the Latest Chapter Measure Up?

We compare Kingdom of the Crystal Skull to Raiders, Temple of Doom, and Last Crusade

by | May 21, 2008 | Comments

Everyone has their favorite Indiana Jones movie — and their own thoughts on if Raiders of the Ark is better than Last Crusade. (Sorry, Temple of Doom — there’s no contest). So how does this week’s long-awaited third sequel, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, measure up to its predecessors?

Popular opinion holds Indiana Jones’ first on-screen appearance in Raiders of the Lost Ark as the best in the series. (It does, in fact, have the highest Tomatometer rating.) Third installment Last Crusade follows closely in second place in the hearts of most fans, with the oft-maligned second film, Temple of Doom, bringing up the rear. And despite running considerably close to one another on the Tomatometer, that order also holds true when it comes to the opinions of critics.

But where in the series will Indy’s first outing in nineteen years fall? Below, we examine the critical response to Dr. Jones’ latest escapade, and compare and contrast the key differences of each spectacular Indiana Jones adventure. Check out more articles in our Indiana Jonesin’ countdown series here.

The Return of Dr. Jones…

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Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

Tomatometer: 80%

Plot: Nineteen years after he last graced screens, Indiana Jones is back. This time, he’s hunting for a mystical crystal skull in the Amazonian jungle — and reuniting with a lost love. Could the skull hold the key to extraterrestrial contact?

Villain: Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett), a sword-wielding Russian agent specializing in psychic warfare

Sidekicks: Wartime buddy George ‘Mac’ McHale (Ray Winstone); former colleague Harold Oxley (John Hurt), out of touch with Indy for years and now missing in Peru; switchblade-wielding greaser Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf)

Love Interest: Mary Williams (Karen Allen) — nee Marion Ravenwood, Indy’s feisty love interest from Raiders of the Lost Ark

Indy IV may not entirely be the grand return that everyone had hoped for, but it’s still great to see a good old friend come around again.” — Peter Howell, Toronto Star


Indy’s First Three Adventures

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Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Tomatometer: 95%

Plot: In this smashing series opener, the Nazis are on their way to uncovering the fabled Ark of the Covenant, which holds the power to make their armies indestructible. Enter Indiana Jones — globe-trotting treasure hunter, ladies man, professor of archaeology, rogue extraordinaire — who, along with an old flame, traverses the earth to stop the Ark from falling into the wrong hands.

Villains: Rene Belloq (Paul Freeman), French archaeologist and professional nemesis of Indiana Jones; Major Toht (Ronald Lacey), Nazi interrogator who gets a medallion scorched into his hand and his face melted off; Colonel Dietrich (Wolf Kahler), cold Nazi commander of the Tanis outpost

Sidekicks: Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliott), museum curator; portly Egyptian excavator Sallah (John Rhys-Davies)

Love Interest: Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), feisty Nepalese barkeep and daughter of Indy’s former mentor, Abner Ravenwood

Raiders of the Lost Ark is an out-of-body experience, a movie of glorious imagination and breakneck speed that grabs you in the first shot, hurtles you through a series of incredible adventures, and deposits you back in reality two hours later — breathless, dizzy, wrung-out, and with a silly grin on your face.” — Roger Ebert


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Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
Tomatometer: 87%

Plot: In this prequel to Raiders, Indiana Jones finds himself fleeing Shanghai with a nightclub singer and an orphan, stumbling into an Indian palace where secret passages are lined with creepy crawlies, children are enslaved by an evil cult, and the menu features “chilled monkey brains.”

Villains: Chinese gangster Lao Che (Roy Chiao); Mola Ram (Amrish Puri), leader of the Thuggee cult, human sacrifice, brainwasher, and seeker of the Sankara Stones

Sidekicks: Short Round (Jonathan Ke Quan), eleven-year-old Shanghainese taxi driver

Love Interest: Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw), spoiled American showgirl

IF you’ve ever been a child or, barring that, if you’ve ever been around children, ages 7 to about 11, you may remember the sort of game in which each child attempts to come up with the vilest, most disgusting, most repulsive, most stomach-turning meal he can think of. It might consist of sheeps’ eyes in runny aspic, live cockroaches wrapped in spider webs, juicy worms a la king and bats’ brains with anchovies and chocolate sauce… This may well be the public’s reaction to Steven Spielberg’s exuberantly tasteless and entertaining Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom...” — Vincent Canby, New York Times


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Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
Tomatometer: 90%

Plot: Indy is sent to Venice to locate the Holy Grail — and his own missing father (Sean Connery), with whom he’s been estranged for years — where he must contend with an ancient brotherhood, a beautiful blonde double agent, and his old enemies, the Nazis.

Villains: Walter Donovan (Julian Glover), an American businessman and Nazi conspirator; Colonel Vogel (Michael Byrne), SS officer who gets caught with “no ticket”

Sidekicks: Dr. Henry Jones, Sr. (Sean Connery), Indy’s estranged father and lifelong Grail scholar

Love Interest: Elsa Schneider, Austrian art historian and femme fatale who seduces both Joneses

To say that Paramount’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade may be the best film ever made for 12-year-olds is not a backhanded compliment….The Harrison Ford-Sean Connery father-and-son team gives Last Crusade unexpected emotional depth, reminding us that real film magic is not in special effects.” — Joseph McBride, Variety


The Verdict:

While some critics peg Kingdom of the Crystal Skull somewhere above Temple of Doom, but below the mark of The Last Crusade, its adjusted Tomatometer score places Indiana Jones’ fourth onscreen outing after all three films in the original trilogy. Even so, Kingdom — like Raiders of the Lost Ark, Temple of Doom, and The Last Crusade all — has earned Certified Fresh status. Not too shabby for Indy’s first adventure in nearly two decades!

For more articles in our Indiana Jonesin’ series, click here.