If anything, while “The Last Crusade” is considered the weakest film of the first three films, director Steven Spielberg teams up the world’s most popular James Bond actor, with the newest adventure hero Indiana Jones. Once considered the finale in the adventures of Indiana Jones, “The Last Crusade” takes another step back and examines the Indiana Jones from when he was a young man. Played by the late River Phoenix, director Spielberg chronicles many of the beats that turned Indiana Jones from a young daring man who cherished hallowed treasures, to an actual man who risked life and limb to return hallowed treasures back to their homes.
“The Last Crusade” works well as a look at how and why Indiana became the man we know him as, and why he’s such a crusty and stern faced individual. Our relationship with our parents often dictate how we’ll grow in to adults, and with the opening twenty minutes, Spielberg grants us some brilliant insight in to Indiana’s life with his own father. As with most Spielberg films, there’s the undertones of familial discord, and Indiana is a man lacking a mother figure, but cursed with a father who is overbearing and strict to a fault. In the opening, Jones dares to steal a sacred cross from a group of thieves, and we’re given emphasis in to his character without the script over explaining much of Jones’ character creation. The moment he breaks out and becomes an adventurer, it’s not the entirety of how he turned in to the hero, but one of the moments that signified a hero’s origin. Spielberg even explains the scar Harrison Ford dons on his chin.
Sean Connery is superb as Indiana’s father Henry Jones, a skilled professor on par with Indiana who is kidnapped by the Nazis. Indiana goes in search for his father, and learns the Nazis are at it once again. They’re seeking the holy grail that can grant the Nazi forces immortality, thus the ability to conquer the world, and Indiana and his father have thwart their forces. As stated, Indiana is clearly a man who has been influenced by his father, for better and for worse. And his entire insistence on being a lone gunman during his treks across the world is immediately put in context once we view his overly anxious father and his efforts to race against his own son to find the holy grail before time runs out. Connery and Ford have an incredible chemistry with one another, and they share some of the best moments of the series by far. From their attempts to escape a flame soaked room while strapped in chairs, to Henry’s heartbreak at the notion of Indiana dying when he seemingly goes off a cliff in a tank fighting the enemy.
You can sense that Henry has not only been a stern hand, but a man who felt a stern hand was necessary. Let’s face it, the way Indiana is so presumptuous and bold in the beginning, you can sense Henry traded love for discipline. In the end there’s a genuine respect and love between them, and that compensates for the lack of a truly iconic villain. The Nazi forces of evil are still menacing, but the villains Indiana has to contend with feel a bit secondary to the events that play out. The dichotomy between Indiana and his dad becomes the truly crucial element of “The Last Crusade” while the battle against evil is kind of an afterthought. That said, “The Last Crusade” is still a wonderful closer, and while it’s the weakest of the first three films, it’s not “Return of the Jedi” weak. It has a grand scope and epic scale, still, but we’re left with a larger idea of the man wearing the fedora.