WARNING! This post does contain some spoilers for Raiders of the Lost Ark, if you for some reason haven’t seen it yet. (What’s wrong with you?)
1. It’s better than I remembered, but then I remembered quite little.
When I sat down to watch it yesterday, I hadn’t seen Raiders of the Lost Ark since my childhood almost 20 years ago. The memory that had stuck with me is that it was my least favorite of the first three Indiana Jones movies. Why this is, I’m not sure. As it turned out, there was a lot I didn’t remember from the film. Rival archaeologist Belloq, the bar fight in Nepal, the monkey, the car chase, the ship passage and more were all missing from my memory bank. Just about the only things I did clearly remember were the trap-filled opening, the snake pit, and the face-melting in the finale. But more importantly, I had forgotten just what an action-fest the entire movie is. We’re thrown form one cool scene to the next, with tremendous energy all the way through. Raiders is one of those films that are just pure fun, and I’m not sure why this eluded me in my younger years. I mean, sure I still liked the film at the time, but not as much as I do now.
2. Indy is human.
No matter what Harrison Ford does, there will always be two roles he’s associated with above all others: Han Solo and Indiana Jones. While both characters are cocky adventurers, there is still a lot of difference between them. Solo is smooth, confident, and generally in command of a situation, or at least able to pretend that he is successfully enough. Indy, by comparison, seems more worried, vulnerable and human. Not drastically so; this is after all a guy who spends most of his time chasing down ancient treasures and fighting Nazis. But there’s often a look on his face that seems to say “I might not make it out of this alive.” Add in the fact that he can get hurt, and it’s clear that Indiana Jones is more Bruce Willis than Arnold Schwarzenegger – though neither of those two action stars were fully established by the time Raiders came out, of course.
3. There is no really strong antagonist.
Well, you could argue that the entire Nazi faction is as strong an opposing force as they come, but you know what I mean. Raiders of the Lost Ark doesn’t have that one great bad guy. There are two candidates, neither fully satisfactory. First is Belloq (Paul Freeman), who is a constant thorn in Indy’s side but is so clearly a pawn of the Nazis that it’s hard to take him entirely seriously. Second is Major Arnold Toht (Ronald Lacey), the Gestapo guy. He is easy to remember due to being the victim of the face-melting at the end, but apart from threatening to brand Marion (Karen Allen) in Nepal, he doesn’t do much at all for most of the film other than to look creepy.
4. The climax is dramatically weak.
The last big victory for the good guys in the movie is when Indy pushes the Nazis’ car off the road and gets away with the truck carrying the Ark. After that, he gets on a ship home, only for it to be hijacked by the Nazis. Then he follows them to the island and threatens to blow up the Ark with a bazooka, only to have his bluff called and end up being tied to a post with Marion, forced into the role of passive bystander during the climax where the wrath of God – or whatever it is – kills the bad guys. This is pretty weird when you think about it, and Indy certainly doesn’t end the film looking like a hero. Hell, the last scene of him, he’s skulking away with Marion, whining about bureaucrats. In light of what an iconic character he has since become in the adventure genre, this is a sort of humbling end to the movie.