After the summer of 1981, all summer adventures were measured against Indiana Jones. For whatever reason, the particular attributes of the character -- the way he winced in pain when pummeled, the way he never seemed to get a break -- were very appealing in a human way, and his adventures were endlessly thrilling. Sadly, as the 1980s wound down, we got our last Indiana Jones movie for 19 years, leaving the 1990s barren. Of course, there were lots of terrific summer movies, ranging from Unforgiven to Speed, Mission: Impossible to The Fugitive. But I was always looking for that particular Indiana Jones charge.
I think I found it, twice. (And just in case you're thinking about The Mummy, just forget it.) The first time was during a festival of Hong Kong movies held sometime in 1993. I had recently discovered the phenomenon and was eagerly devouring everything I could find. I haunted this particular theater that week, and brought my brother along to a Jackie Chan double feature. The first was Project A II (1987) and the second was called Armour of God II: Operation Condor (1991). It didn't matter that both movies were sequels and that we hadn't seen the originals. I loved them both, but Armour of God II had that special Indiana Jones feel.
It's about an adventurer, teamed up with two pretty girls, trying to find a lost cache of gold while fighting off bad guys. That's about it. It has some of Chan's best stunts, and some of his most exciting set-pieces. I'm counting it as a summer movie, because it had its official American release in July of 1997, although this version -- titled simply Operation Condor -- was dubbed into English and missing about 15 minutes of footage. I didn't see this butchered version, but judging from the reviews at the time, it was pretty much ruined. I didn't care. I had my memories of the original version, and I still await a decent DVD or Blu-Ray release of the real thing.
The second time I felt that Indy tingle was in the summer of 1998, watching Martin Campbell's The Mask of Zorro. It's no secret that the old "Zorro" serials of the 1930s were part of George Lucas's inspiration in creating Indiana Jones, so it only follows that the new, post-Indy Zorro film would have that same flavor. It didn't exactly break any new ground; it was a modest hit and received modest reviews. But I loved it because it was simple, gentle, and comfortable. It was exciting in that old-fashioned way. It wasn't cynical and did not have to make a comment on the Zorro legend.
It came close to my other favorite Zorro, Douglas Fairbanks' original The Mark of Zorro (1920), although imagine my disappointment when I reviewed the sequel, The Legend of Zorro, and found it to be one of the worst movies of 2005. But that 1998 version stayed with me throughout the summer and beyond, even while bigger movies took more attention (Saving Private Ryan, for example). I think that's the secret of both movies, is that they stay with me, almost secretly, privately, the adventure that I could never have and yet did, in a way, have. This was the summer double feature that got me through the long, dry spell until the next Indy.