I can understand Chinese people being upset with the stereotypes–Spielberg and company basically lift all the anti-Japanese stereotypes from early 1940s American films and apply them to the Chinese–but at least they’re only goofy and mischievous. The Indians in the film are downright evil. Temple of Doom‘s atrocious script (I suppose Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz do manage to get a few excellent one-liners in) never explains how the bad guys came to have their titular temple, but it certainly implies, left to their own devices, the Indian upper class is inclined toward evil. The good Indians, working for the British (of course), show up at the end for a moment.
Besides the film’s amazingly Western view of the world (it takes the worst from old serials instead of the best… or even the mediocre and not just in its portrayal of non-whites, there’s a moment where the bad guy goes through the secret hatch to escape), it is, simply put, a piece of crap. There are some good action sequences–remove the story from the last act and all the action stuff is well choreographed and, in another context, exciting–but the rest is garbage. Oh, the dinner scene. I forgot–Indians are barbaric savages who eat gross food too. Spielberg, Lucas, Huyck and Katz really take the low road here (but it seems like most of Spielberg and Lucas’s mid 1980s output often did).
While there are some real Spielberg touches–the annoying kids, the poor casting of Kate Capshaw, who gives one of the worst performances I can remember–but it all feels like too much Lucas. Lucas came up with the shallow story, but a lot of the sequences from Temple of Doom seem like they’re straight from Return of the Jedi. Maybe ILM had all the photography techniques down.
Harrison Ford escapes somewhat unscathed. Even he can’t make the scenes with Capshaw believable, but the scenes with the annoying kid are fine. The problem, again, comes from the script. Huyck and Katz turn Indiana Jones into a superhero. An occasionally lucky one, but a superhero nonetheless and it isn’t particularly interesting watching him in the action montages. The full scenes, where he escapes due to environment or the bad guy’s bad luck, those are fine. But when it’s Indiana Jones knocking people out with one punch… it all seems too goofy. The story never gives the impression he’s smart, which is a bit of a problem. It comes kind of close a few times, but it’s a shock every time someone refers to him as “Dr. Jones.”
Spielberg always said he made the third Indiana Jones to make up for Temple of Doom. Well, if he was so aware it was something he needed to atone for, why’d he make it in the first place?