“The Temple of Doom” is one of the few prequels ever made that works, and works well. Though it gets a bad rap by some fans of the series, “The Temple of Doom” follows in the Lucas tradition where the ante is upped, and the sequel garners a much darker atmosphere with a unique premise not centered on the Nazis and their quest for world domination. “The Temple of Doom” is a great change of pace, in the end. And it’s damn fun, to boot.
While “Raiders of the Lost Ark” was mainly a one shot that pretty much captured lightning in a bottle, director Steven Spielberg follows up the first film with a classic serial villain: the evil tribesmen. Providing nods to many of Spielberg and Lucas’s own beloved films, “Temple of Doom” opens with a sprawling musical number, segues in to a classic secret spy battle in a night club where Indiana finds out he’s been poisoned, and then dives head first in to the epic adventure. Spielberg and his crew were clearly inspired by the excellent 1939 adventure film “Gunga Din,” as many of “Temple of Doom’s” iconic moments are ripped directly from the film. Jones also channels much of the heroes’ own personas. There’s even a fun sidekick in the ethnic persuasion, except not as stereotypical. “Temple of Doom” introduces us to an earlier stage in Indiana’s career, where he’s paired off with his own little sidekick nicknamed “Short Round.”
Jonathan Ke Quan gives an immortal performance as the rambunctious and enthusiastic sidekick to Indie, helping to provide the nod to serial epics like Tin Tin. Though the film isn’t centered on Short Round, he is very much the young adventurer like Tin Tin, pulled in to an amazing situation like his hero Indiana, and has to do battle much like the fedora donning hero. One flaw of “The Temple of Doom” is that we’re never really told what became of Short Round. The future films never truly acknowledge where he went, or how he fared as an adult. Which is a shame, considering Ke Quan’s performance is charming, and often times keeps the film grounded in the childlike enthusiasm like the serials that inspired the film series.
Much of the villains’ quest is still centered on world domination, but their intent is ghoulish and much more menacing, this time out. The evil Mola Ram uses children to mine for sacred stones that could grant him power, all the while appeasing his gods with human sacrifices. Spielberg depicts a human heart being ripped from someone’s body, as well as Indiana hitting Short Round in a hypnotized state during the finale. Though it’s criticized for its dark and dire atmosphere, “The Temple of Doom” is daring in changing the entire direction of the series, and shifting the focus on the earlier years of Indiana Jones, before he met Marion. “Temple of Doom” is a fun and worthy sequel that really continues the harrowing but exciting exploits of Indiana Jones who is less a lone wolf this time around and more a part of a unit of adventurers.