Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Harrison Ford, Kate Capshaw, Amrish Puri, Ke Huy Quan
Have I Seen it Before: Is it possible I’ve seen this movie more than Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)? It seems unlikely, but I can’t rule it out.
Did I Like It: Yes. Fight me if you must, but I think this is the best of the Jones sequels/prequels.
First of all, it would be myopic at best to not admit that there are some things about the film that had not aged well, and were a probably a bit much at the time of release. Willie Scott (Capshaw) is not exactly the stuff that strong female heroes are made of, but at the same time one has to give credit to Capshaw for playing the role without once reaching for the easy milieu of ironic detachment. There had to be a sense among her and the filmmakers that the character would grate on people’s nerves, but that didn’t stop her from swinging for the fences.
Similarly, the depiction of Indian people varies pretty wildly from the “sorta okay” to the “eek, is everybody else seeing what I’m seeing?” Again, one wants to write off the rougher parts of the film to intentional choice on the part of Spielberg and Lucas, but in this case, that might be reductive. The portrayal of both Hinduism and Indian people in general is sometimes insensitive, but it does appear that most Indian characters are actually played by people of Indian decent. If we’re grading the 80s on a curve, this move may still get a passing grade. I’m looking in your direction, Short Circuit (1986).
All of this being accepted, the film still follows that cardinal rule of sequeldom*: don’t let up on the pace. From the first musical number in the Club Obi-Wan, the film never lets up until the Sankara stones are finally put back in their rightful place. Now that I think about, that musical number is a mission statement for the entire film. While “Anything Goes” is in and of itself as a good a thesis for the film, the mere idea that “Raiders 2” would ope up with Busby Berkley style musical number let the audience know—even if they weren’t 100 percent on board with the plan—that Spielberg was firmly control of what was happening, and if we trusted him, we would be in for the ride of our life.
It’s a shame that the film wasn’t as widely accepted in its time as it should have been. Had it been, each Indiana Jones adventure might have been a new, weird venture into the unknown, instead of warmed-over leftovers from Raiders.
*I guess, actually prequeldom, but unless you’re paying real attention to the year stamped in the titles, there is not a whiff of what usually reeks in a prequel.