As a piece of cinematic art, I can’t say that The Last Crusade is a purer film than the first Indiana Jones movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark. But, if I were forced to choose only one Indiana Jones movie to watch for the rest of my life, I would never choose Raiders, and that’s because The Last Crusade exists. Not only is Last Crusade the Indiana Jones movie that has the most fun, but it’s also the one that’s aged the best. Calling it the best father-son movie of all time would be too obvious. This movie is simply the best of the franchise and one of the best action movies movie ever. And the reason is simple: it’s both Sean Connery and Harrison Ford’s best film.
30 years ago, in 1989, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade did what The Temple of Doom failed to do on almost every single level: It delivered a sequel to Raiders of the Lost Ark that not only improved upon the original, in many ways, it actually surpassed it. I mean, the “Lost Ark” sounds pretty awesome, but what the fuck is it, really? A box with ancient scriptures that somehow creates a death vortex and shoots lightning? As MacGuffins go, the Ark in Raiders is a little vague and unconvincing. This is one way where Last Crusade wins easily. You’ve heard of Jesus Christ, and you know what a cup is, meaning, people searching for the cup of Jesus so they can become super-immortal is a pretty easy premise to get excited about.
On top of a great thing, for Indiana Jones to go after, the movie actually does what all three other Indiana Jones movies also fail to do: It gives Indy a backstory, and allows Harrison Ford — and River Phoenix — to do real, honest-to-god character work with Mr. Henry Jones Jr. Famously, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg conceived of Indiana Jones as a kind of James Bond analog, which, in the first two films, checks simply because Indy isn’t so much of a character as he is a cipher for nostalgic male adventure fantasies. But in The Last Crusade, he becomes a real person. He has a childhood, and he has…a father.
Making Indy’s deadbeat dad literally be James Bond (AKA Sean Connery) is one of the slickest meta-textual casting decisions ever made in any movie. (Which is saying something, considering George Lucas thought the casting was too on-the-nose, and Spielberg apparently told him to shut up.) The point is, without Sean Connery as Bond in the ‘60s, Indiana Jones doesn’t exist in the ‘80s. However, The Last Crusade isn’t a Bond pastiche, nor is it trying to ape the beats from Raiders, either. It’s actually just its own movie, determined to tell a story about an estranged father and a son reconciling, all while searching for a mythological object that, could, potentially, let them live forever.
Sean Connery was only 59 years old when he played the father of Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade, while his “son” Harrison Ford, was 47. When you watch the movie though, you feel like you’re seeing a 70-year-old guy running around with his son who is in his 30s. This is the magic of both Ford and Connery as actors. We never question that they are related for one second, because everything about their chemistry in this movie works. In fact, there are almost too many classic moments to list! From the fireplace scene (“She talks in her sleep!”) to the scene when Indy first rescues his dad (“They come in through the door, dad!”) to the famous scene where Connery defeats a Nazi airplane by twirling his umbrella and encouraging a flock seagulls to ram it, it’s literally like you’re smiling or laughing the entire time.
However, my favorite scene, and the one that has stayed with me the longest is towards the end of the film. After rescuing his father, Indiana Jones briefly gets greedy, and tries to grab the Holy Grail, even though doing so, will almost certainly kill him. His dad can’t let this happen, and so Connery gently coos “Let it go, junior. Let it go.”
And the best part is, Indiana Jones listens. It’s a nice fantasy. The idea that a grown child, a hero at that, might actually still take the advice of their parent in a dire, and very important moment. It’s probably the best moment of the movie. And it’s certainly one I personally, will never let go of.
You can watch Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade on Netflix, right now.