Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade Is a Screwball Comedy Masquerading as an Adventure Movie

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade Is a Screwball Comedy Masquerading as an Adventure Movie

For almost 20 years, everyone thought Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was the last time we’d ever see our favourite archaeologist on screen again. The 1989 mega-hit sequel capped the franchise with a storybook ending, complete with our hero riding off into the sunset alongside his father and best friends. Of course, Last Crusade didn’t end up being Indy’s last crusade. Not by a long shot. And that’s not the only thing that’s changed when you watch the film today.

As Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny approaches its release date, Gizmodo has been revisiting each of the Indiana Jones films just to see what, if anything, stands out about them in 2023. First, it was Raiders of the Lost Ark, widely considered to be one of the best action films ever made. Next, it was Temple of Doom, a film that took the franchise in a whole new direction. And now, it’s Last Crusade, a film most people think of as being one way, but actually feels another.

Previously, when I thought about Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, I considered it to be an excellent but largely by-the-numbers take on Indiana Jones. It’s a carbon copy of Raiders of the Lost Ark and that’s why it works so well. That sentiment has sort of become the prevailing discourse surrounding the film these days. And while yes, Last Crusade undoubtedly uses a similar structure, religious mythology, and villains as Raiders, there’s one huge thing that makes it stand apart from not just the first film, but the second one too.

Whether you remember it or not, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is a comedy.

Indy and Elsa in the knight's tomb. (Image: Lucasfilm)
Indy and Elsa in the knight’s tomb. (Image: Lucasfilm)

Does it have action, suspense, adventure, and excitement? Absolutely. But watching the film again I truly could not get over how more often than not, director Steven Spielberg leans into the funny and goofy nature of the serialized action series with this film.

This starts from the very first scene, where a young Indy (River Phoenix) steals a priceless artefact from a clearly soon-to-be-role model and has to basically run and jump his way through the entire Indiana Jones mythology in a single scene. We glimpse the fedora, the whip, the scar, the snakes — it’s beyond ridiculous that this one day, this one event, could form a person like we’re seeing, and that’s the point. It’s unbelievable. It’s over the top. It’s maybe not funny per se, but tonally it’s a much different table-setter than the golden idol in Raiders or song and dance of Temple of Doom. The scene lets us know this movie, more so than the others, is self-aware and having fun with it.

From there, after a mostly serious setup of the plot and stakes, the humour returns once Indy (Harrison Ford) and Marcus (Denholm Elliott) meet Dr. Elsa Schneider (Alison Doody) in Venice. From the playful flirting to the banging of the floor/book stamp in the library, the film immediately starts to make us chuckle. Elsa’s line that both Indy and his missing father are “giddy as a school boy” also speaks to the film’s vibe. Indy, for the first time in these movies, seems excited to be on this adventure. He’s uncharacteristically enthusiastic. That drapes over all the scenes in Venice, at which point Indy finds out the location of his father and things take a whole new turn.

An all-timer comedic duo: Indy and Henry. (Image: Lucasfilm)
An all-timer comedic duo: Indy and Henry. (Image: Lucasfilm)

When Indy and Elsa get to the castle looking for Henry (Sean Connery), Last Crusade takes a hard right-hand turn and never turns back. While the movie had been fun and pleasant up until here, Indy’s Scottish accent marks the beginning of a nearly non-stop barrage of gags. Most of this is because, with the introduction of Henry, there is a delightful tit-for-tat chemistry between the characters. It helps that Ford and Connery both seem so game too because it makes it all feel so natural, so the vase-smashing, the burning room, the revolving fireplace, the revelation that father and son both slept with the same woman, it’s all incredibly funny. And the best bit, of course, is the unforgettable edit of Indy talking about how smart and capable Marcus Brody is, right into Marcus not being at all smart or capable. It’s legitimately one of the most hilarious edits in movie history.

Indy and Henry then escape, joust on a motorcycle, make guys fly through the air, and go to Germany where Indy literally meets Hitler who signs the Grail Diary. It’s truly a screwball comedy that has somehow found itself inside an action movie. They escape Germany on a zeppelin where Indy’s “no ticket” line is an all-timer. Then, in a smaller plane, Henry shoots up the tail and lies about it. They land, steal a car, crash the car, have an umbrella aid in the destruction of a plane, all of which is exciting and cool, but obviously played for laughs. And the cherry on top is when the German pilot flies a plane into a tunnel, loses both wings, and then zips by them with a confused look on his face. This is comedy gold, folks.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade Is a Screwball Comedy Masquerading as an Adventure Movie

The humour gets toned down a bit once they hit the desert on the way to the canyon of the crescent moon, but there are still some moments. The exploding canon is one. “The pen is mightier than the sword” is another. Even the big, dramatic, climax of the film — something we’ve analysed in excruciating detail in another article — has laughs alongside the tension. “In the Latin alphabet, Jehovah begins with an I,” which then cuts to Indy saying “J” and nearly falling to his death. The Knight’s simple line of “He chose, poorly.” Finally, in their moment of triumph, Marcus Brody kicks his horse and almost falls off in one final hilarious moment.

At this point, I’m just running down a list of jokes in the movie and there are many more where that came from. But truly, I think the reason why Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is such a good sequel and is such a great movie is that it, again, takes the Indiana Jones idea and puts it through a new filter. And that filter is comedy. There are jokes and laughs in the previous movies, for sure, but Last Crusade is easily Steven Spielberg’s best comedy — and maybe it’s his best Indiana Jones film too. We’ll leave that up to you. I just know that I loved it before, I still love it, but now I have a whole new appreciation for the franchise for taking a chance and succeeding so well.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is available to stream on both Disney+ and Paramount +. Next week, we’ll have the final instalment in this series, revisiting Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Want more Gizmodo news? Check out when to expect the latest Marvel, Star Wars, and Star Trek releases, what’s next for the DC Universe on film and TV, and everything you need to know about the future of Doctor Who.

Editor’s Note: Release dates within this article are based in the U.S., but will be updated with local Australian dates as soon as we know more.