When George Lucas first approached Steven Spielberg to make a third Indiana Jones film involving the legendary Holy Grail, Spielberg was less than enthused. After all, how excited can you get about a cup? The backlash he received from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom didn't help either, as it was criticized for being too gruesome and dark. Fortunately, Spielberg decided to honor his three-picture obligation to Lucas and to make up for Temple of Doom by stepping behind the camera for (at the time) one more Indiana Jones film.
The Last Crusade takes place a year after the events in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Globetrotting archaeologist Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) has just returned to the comfort of his classroom when he receives disturbing news. His father, Professor Henry Jones Sr. (Sean Connery), has vanished in Venice while searching for the Grail. Wasting no time, Indy packs his beloved fedora and trusty whip and heads for Italy. Subsequently, Indy journeys across Europe and the Middle East and encounters rats, Nazis, fanatical religious cults, and Hitler!
Like the previous two films in the series, The Last Crusade rarely offers viewers time to catch their breath. A bullet-riddled boat chase through the Venice canals and an exhilarating aerial dogfight are just some of the many high-octane scenes found throughout the film. However, the action isn't the only reason that leaves audiences gasping for air. The film does a splendid job in applying hearty doses of humor during such nail-biting moments. The main source of this humor stems from the witty banter between Ford and Connery, who incidentally was Spielberg's first choice to play the elder Jones. In spite of the 12-year age gap in real life, the amazing chemistry between the two actors makes it easy to believe that they are father and son.
Although The Last Crusade is on par with the other two films action-wise, it stands out because it's the most character-driven of the three. In the DVD interview, Spielberg said that he wanted to use the search for the Grail as a metaphor for the strained relationship between Indy and Henry. This is firmly established during the thrilling flashback sequence at the beginning of the film. After a run-in with some grave robbers, a teenaged Indy (played to perfection by the late River Phoenix) tries to ask Henry for help. However, Henry is so engrossed in his work that he ignores his son. This sets the stage for the rest of the film, as Indy is often exasperated and mildly sarcastic towards his father, while Henry insists on calling his son "Junior" against his wishes. Because the father/son relationship is so crucial in The Last Crusade, it will be interesting to see how a similar family dynamic will play out in the upcoming fourth installment, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.