The prologue to Steven Spielberg's irresistible Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade tells you all you need to know about the upcoming movie: It's going to be fast-paced and energetic, nostalgic and warm, fun for new fans ... but definitely a treat for the faithful. It's a fantastic early-career mini-adventure for Indiana Jones, here played quite wonderfully by the late River Phoenix, as he bounds through caverns, races across the desert, and turns a circus train into a chaotic mess. This opening sequence is a fantastic mini-movie all by itself. And then the real fun begins ...
After taking a lot of finger-wagging from the mommies of the world, series creators George Lucas and Steven Spielberg decided to lose the nasty edge that was so prevalent in the previous film (Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) and hearken back to the old-fashioned charms found (everywhere) in the original Raiders of the Lost Ark. The treasure this time around is nothing less than The Holy Grail, but (as usual) the relic means a whole lot less than what it does to the people around it. Plus we've also got a sneaky, sexy German spy; a big fistful of meticulously crafted action scenes; and, of course, the stately presence of Mr. Sean Connery as Indiana Jones' papa. (Seriously, who else could be Indy's dad besides James Bond?)
As always, Harrison Ford settles into his signature role with no discernible effort. He's simply fun to watch. And Last Crusade earns a few extra points by allowing the background characters to have some fun. She's not as cool as Karen Allen, but leading lady Alison Doody does a fine enough job of keeping up with the Joneses. Fans of the original Raiders will no doubt appreciate the diverting escapades of Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliott) and Sallah (John Rhys-Davies) -- but it's Connery who turns out to be the most fun of all. Amusing at his stodgiest moments and effortlessly warm in his sweeter ones, Connery acts as a perfect foil for Indiana Jones: Forever disapproving, fastidious and fussy, but ultimately pretty impressed by his son's eclectic talents.
If Last Crusade isn't as addictive as Raiders or as creepy as Doom, that's probably because the filmmakers were getting a bit older and focusing on the family side of things. I think it's great that each flick (including the fourth one) has its own signature "feel" to it, and I'd call Last Crusade the most mature of the series, but also the funniest. It might not have the villains of the original or the mega-pace of the prequel, but Last Crusade still has all the key components firing on all cylinders -- plus nobody does action like Steven Spielberg.