He's the man that needs no intro—the reason that pick-up artists think that fedoras are sexy, the reason that thousands of wide-eyed undergrads enroll in Archeology 101 each semester, and the reason that we all realize that it's possible to own up to being terrified of snakes and still be a hottie.
He's Indiana Jones, the sweaty, womanizing, grave robbing, underdog archeologist looking to atone for past sins.
But the Indy of Temple of Doom is different from the Indy made famous in Raiders of the Lost Ark. You may think you know Indiana Jones, but this installment shows us his darker side.
Temple' s a prequel, so Indy's grave-robbing bad boy tendencies are even more apparent here. In the movie's opening scene, we watch as Indy bargains the remains of a Chinese emperor for a diamond.
Indy, we thought you were a professor, not a buyer for Diamond Gallery. And shouldn't those remains be in a museum? In Temple of Doom, Indy's only concerned with personal fortune and with saving his own butt.
Perhaps more alarming is the way Indy guiltlessly uses Willie as a pawn to get the diamond from La. Willie's a fellow American and, unlike the henchman Indy skewers, she's an innocent in this situation. But Indy stabs her with a fork and threatens to kill her if he doesn't get what he wants:
INDY: I suggest you give me what you owe, or anything goes.
Hey, at least he was paying attention to the two English words from her opening number. Ladies love it when a man actually listens. But we get no indication that Indy is bluffing here. Would he actually hurt her to manipulate Lao if that tactic would work? We're not sure, but we do know one thing: Indy's not the nice academic we meet in Raiders.
That's not to say that Temple of Doom's Indy is 100% bad news. Sure, he's a little selfish and misogynist in the beginning, but he makes up for it being loyal to his companions. When Wu Han's shot in cold blood by one of Lao's henchman, Indy soon retaliates by throwing a flaming skewer through the man's chest. Did someone order BBQ?
Let this be a lesson: if you hurt Indy's buddies, you'll get hurt tenfold in return.
Because we know Indy does have a soft spot somewhere under his rugged exterior, the scene where he mistreats Short Round is all the more heartbreaking. After being force-fed the black blood of the Kali Ma (a Cold Stone flavor we've personally always avoided) Indy's brainwashed into giving in to his most violent impulses; he embraces the Dark Side.
As Darth Indy attempts to sacrifice Willie, Short Round begs him to snap of his trance:
SHORT ROUND: You're my best friend. Wake up, Indy.
Indy definitely has a soft spot for his favorite ex-pick pocket, but the boy's plea doesn't elicit tears or a bear hug. Instead, Indy backhands the kid in the face. Is this the dark magic of Kali Ma at work, or does this action speak to an icy heart below Jones' trademark brown leather jacket?
Probably a bit of both, to be honest.
But this bit of kid-smacking marks a turning point for Indy. After Short Round burns Indy with a torch and breaks the spell, Indy's a changed man. He seems to realize how easy it is to slip into the dark side, and his hard heart begins to soften.
Even when Willie spits in his face, Indy acts like a true gentleman. He knows he deserves it—he was trying to flame-broil her, after all. Even though he was brainwashed, he takes responsibility for his actions. Slowly but surely, we see the tough guy Indy of Temple of Doom morph into the more even-keeled and big-hearted bloke we first met in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
But Indy doesn't just shape shift into a stand-up guy. He also grows into the honorable archeologist that shouts, "It belongs in a museum" in later Indiana Jones films when Bad Greedy Dudes want to turn quick profits by selling off invaluable artifacts.
And this metamorphosis is even more stunning, because Temple of Doom shows us an Indy that initially…wants to turn a quick profit by selling off invaluable artifacts.
When Indy finds out about the Sankara stones, you can almost see the dollar signs dancing in his eyes. Short Round asks Indy what they are, and instead of explaining their historical and religious value to the area, he has a much more self-centered answer.
INDY: Fortune and glory, kid. Fortune and glory.
Not a phrase you expect to hear from an archeologist…but one that's totally in line with a guy who would trade a person's remains for a diamond.
Somewhere during the course of this film—say, around the time where Indy finds dozens of children being used for child labor purposes—Indy realizes that recovering these stones for a profit is similar to the reason Mola Ram wants them.
Mola Ram's idea of fortune is to have power over the world. But if Indy were to take the stones and sell them, he'd be basically endorsing the use of child slavery. And (even though Indy employs a Chinese orphan as a driver), this isn't a line he is willing to cross.
Plus, Indy sees the value of the stones to the impoverished villagers. Returning the stones to them gives them hope. And Indy, like a MasterCard commercial, teaches us that hope is priceless.
Willie comments on Indy's change of heart in the movie's final scene.
WILLIE: But then it would've given you your fortune and glory.
INDY: Anything could happen. It's a long way to Delhi.
He knows that there will be more opportunities for adventure, and for fortune. We think he'll do just fine. Just watch out for giant boulders, okay, Dr. Jones?
If you're keeping track, Willie changes outfits five times, breaks two nails, and screams…well, we can't count that high. She screams a lot. She is definitely not what Netflix would characterize as a "Strong Female Lead."
The first half of the film consists of Willie shrieking, complaining, or otherwise being a burden. She attempts to steal the diamond. She hides the antidote from Indy. He gives her a gun; she drops it. She puts perfume on an elephant. And as we said, she won't stop screaming.
INDY: Biggest trouble with her is the noise.
Despite her shrillness (or maybe because of it) we can relate to her. Unless you're a globetrotting adventure seeker—it doesn't count if you just pretend to be one on Instagram—Willie's the character we're most similar to. She's an outsider, sucked into a situation she doesn't want to be in.
She knows where she belongs, and it's not at a table eating Snake Surprise:
WILLIE: I can't go to Pankot. I'm a singer. Oh, I need to call my agent. Is there a phone?
Okay, we hope we wouldn't act the exact same way she does when in this situation, but chances are there would be more than a few screams of terror when confronted with the horrors of Pankot Palace, whether it be chilled monkey brains, a cave full of bugs, or Mola Ram's bad makeup job.
Or wait. Scratch that. We're exactly saying that she's a gold-digger.
Willie knows what she wants, and what she wants is a butt-load of cash. Her actions throughout the movie don't exactly come as a surprise, seeing how she puts finding the diamond at a priority over helping Indy find the antidote in the movie's opening scene. (What happened to that diamond anyway?)
Accustomed to her own lavish lifestyle—that red dress is incredible—Willie doesn't know how to deal with poverty. She doesn't want to eat the food in the village because it's poor-people food, and not rich enough for her palate.
And, just as Indy's eyes lit up when he hears the words "Sankara stones," Willie gets that cha-ching look when she walks into into Pankot Palace.
WILLIE: I think the maharaja is swimming in loot. Maybe it wasn't such a bad idea coming here after all.
You'll notice that Indy doesn't criticize her here, for a change. That's because the two have found something in common: the hunt for a fortune. However, it wouldn't be Temple of Doom if five minutes went by without Willie being humiliated, so we soon learn that the Maharaja's about twelve years old.
Indy's in Willie's age bracket, but these two have one of the most unlikely romances on film. They spend most of the film bickering—and we don't mean in a cute, banter-y way. Both characters are downright nasty to one another.
Check it out:
WILLIE: There's nothing you have that I could possibly want.
INDY: I'm allowing you to tag along, so why don't give your mouth a rest? Okay, doll?
At some point they warm up to one another…because nothing gets the juices flowing like a brainwashed dude trying to perform a human sacrifice, apparently. Actually, all snark aside, its Indy's brainwashing that leads Willie to realize what a good guy Indy had been all along:
WILLIE: Indiana...help us. Please, snap out of it. You're not one of them. You're not one of them. Please come back to us. Don't leave me.
Hey, sometimes all it takes is magic demon blood and a pit of lava to get those true feelings to come out, right?
But Willie's not just a shrilly gold-digging love interest (although she is both of those things). She's also a resourceful lady. Without Willie, Indy and Short Round would be crushed, impaled, and covered in bugs: she overcomes her insectophobia to save her buddies from certain death.
She also throws a snake out of camp (and we know how much Indy hates snakes) and punches a guard during the mine-cart chase. She may be a damsel in distress, but she's canny enough to know that both Indy and Short Round are in distress as well.
Before we close the book on Willie Scott, we want to talk about her name. No, she isn't named after pervy weatherman Willard Scott. Nor is her name, despite what some people want you to think, an homage to the classic Wilhelm Scream sound effect, although the scream does appear in multiple Indy films.
Willie is actually named after Steven Spielberg's dog. And, before you're offended that an already weak-willed female character is named after a dog, remember: Indy was named after a dog too. (Source)
It would be easy to write off Short Round as a comic relief character, because, well, that's pretty much all he is on the surface. The website Cracked named him on the worst sidekicks in TV and film, saying he has "nothing better to do than whine, scream, spout dopey one-liners and generally get in the way." (Source)
Oof. That's harsh.
But don't worry. It isn't exactly true.
Sure, Shorty triggers the spike trap. But he later uses a torch to snap Indy out of his brainwashing. He uses the same technique to shake the Maharaja from Kali's spell. And he throws punches just like his mentor, Indiana Jones.
Shorty wants to be Indy—just like millions of movie viewers. We see Shorty idolizing Indy throughout the movie. In the village, Indy, hands clasped under his chin, thoughtfully listens to the villager elder. Shorty mimics the gesture. And when Shorty fights the Maharaja, we see him throwing punches almost in unison with Indy, as Indy grapples with a temple guard.
Also, the friendship between Shorty and Indy is the heart of the movie…which is important in a movie where hearts are literally being ripped out. Our hearts are figuratively ripped out when Indy is brainwashed and punches Short Round. However, Shorty knows that Indy isn't himself:
SHORT ROUND: You're my best friend. Wake up, Indy.
This is a touching moment, but to be fair, Short Round called an elephant his "best friend" earlier in the film. We hope the elephant doesn't get jealous.
While we disagree with Cracked's assessment of Short Round as a bad sidekick, we do have a serious question: what's the difference between Short Round's employment with Indy and the child slaves in the mines?
Here's Short Round's backstory:
INDY: Shorty's family were killed when the Japanese bombed Shanghai. He's been living on the streets since he was four. I caught him trying to pick my pocket, didn't I, short stuff?
That's great. Indy is a real humanitarian. But we really want to know is, does Indy pay him? Does he get benefits? Paid time off?
Short Round's working conditions might actually be worse than the child slaves, except for the whole blood-of-Kali-Ma thing. Shorty falls out of a plane, is punched by a brainwashed Indy, attacked by a Maharaja, almost pulled from a moving mine cart, and forced to hang on to a rope bridge as Indy severs its ties. Oh yeah: on top of all that, he's actually enslaved for about five minutes.
Indy better give this kid top-notch insurance and match all his contributions into a retirement plan. But, judging from the fact that we don't see Short Round making an appearance in either Raiders of the Lost Ark (which takes place several years after Temple of Doom) or in The Last Crusade, it looks like Indy let Shorty go. Probably without a severance package.
Mola Ram didn't choose the Thuggee Life, the Thuggee Life chose him. Mola Ram comes from a cult of people who killed between 50,000 and 1,000,000 people. Yes—there actually was a Thuggee cult. And yes, its members were referred to as Thugs. (Source)
The cult was suppressed by British colonial rule in the 1820's, and was totally eradicated by the 1870's. And yes—it's super-telling that The Temple of Doom chose to focus on the Thuggees. By telling a story about a group of criminals whose activity was quelled under the British Raj, Temple of Doom manages to portray the white colonists as good guys and make the #1 villain in this flick an Indian.
But we discuss all that in our "Why Should I Care" section. Let's more on to what makes Mola Ram tick.
Mola Ram, a guy who is clearly just angry because his makeup artists went overboard on his smoky eye, wants to restore the Thuggee to their previous glory. But despite his rich, historical background, Mola Ram is a pretty unoriginal villain. He wants to recover some mystical artifacts that will give him the power to take over the world.
Mola, sweetie, we've heard that one before from pretty much every bad guy ever.
Here's his specific plan.
MOLA RAM: The British in India will be slaughtered. Then we will overrun the Muslims. Then the Hebrew god will fall. And then the Christian god will be cast down and forgotten. Soon, Kali Ma will rule the world.
So he wants to extend the Thuggee reach beyond India and to the entire world. We said he was unoriginal…but we never said he wasn't ambitious.
Unlucky for the future of the Thuggee (but lucky for Indy & Co.), Mola Ram is as effective as he is original—i.e. not very.
Dig his watertight plan:
MOLA RAM: Soon we will have all the five Sankara stones, and the Thuggees will be all powerful.
We have a feeling he's missing a few steps in this grand scheme. It can't be as simple as recover a few rocks, then take over the world, can it?
Mola Ram—who doesn't appear until an hour and two minutes into the movie—never quite fits in, either in this movie or in the Indy-verse. In a movie franchise that's known for having white, totalitarian villains, Mola Ram sticks out like a Snake Surprise.
Also—how exactly does Indy know who he is? At one point, Indy just calls him Mola Ram, but how did Indy glean that info? Did they exchange business cards off camera?
The meat of Mola Ram's plan lies in child labor. Not only does he have kids working in the mines, but he has brainwashed a young Maharaja into doing his bidding. When Indy liberates the children, Mola Ram's whole plan disintegrates. Even if he were to kill Indy and recover the stones, he still needs two more…and we doubt Mr. Ram is going to dig for them himself.
We'll give him credit where credit is due, though: bro knows how to accessorize. Not only is he wearing a great big honking skull on his head, but that skull has a shrunken head on it. Maximalism is back, folks.
The Maharaja, whose real name is Zalim Singh, is a figurehead ruler over the fictional province of Pankot during British rule in India. If there's anything the British love, it's rulers who are virtually worthless, but look nice wearing fancy headgear.
He may be useless, but, boy, is the Maharaja a sight to be seen. When he first appears, he is decked out in more jewels than a Victoria's Secret fashion show bra. And when he speaks, he does so in perfect English. As we've said, he so-called "kingdom" is really being run by the British. Yet when the Maharaja opens his mouth, the table goes silent, and everyone listens:
MAHARAJA: I have heard the evil stories of the Thuggee cult. I thought the stories were told to frighten children. Later, I learnt the Thuggee cult was once real and did of unspeakable things. I am ashamed of what happened here so many years ago, and I assure you this will never happen again in my kingdom.
Does that sound rehearsed to you? Yeah. It sounds rehearsed to us, too.
It turns out that the Maharaja's under the mind control of the magical blood of Kali Ma. And magic blood mind control isn't the only kind of magic afoot in the Pankot Palace, because the Maharaja himself uses a Voodoo doll to hurt Indy from afar.
Yes. That's right. The Maharaja, despite being an Indian prince, is using an object associated with the African/Caribbean spiritual practice of Voodoo. You'd think that with a budget as big as Temple of Doom' s, they could have hired someone who knew even the teensiest bit about world religions.
However, despite doing that (super anachronistic) Voodoo, the Maharaja is good at heart. He tells Short Round how to escape after Shorty breaks the spell. No wonder the British like him. He helps their allies.
Chatter Lal is the power behind the throne. He's the one who is really in charge—which isn't saying much, seeing that his boss is a brainwashed twelve-year-old. He spends most of the dinner scene criticizing the British, who still occupy India at this time.
Here are some examples:
CHATTAR LAL: It seems the British never forget the mutiny of 1857.
CHATTAR LAL: Captain Blumburtt and his troops are on a routine inspection tour. The British find it amusing to inspect us at their convenience.
And don't forget:
CHATTAR LAL: The British worry so about their empire. Makes us all feel like well-cared-for children.
It speaks volumes about this movie that a dude who is speaking out against colonial rule is cast as the Evil Henchman. This is especially preposterous considering the fact that The Temple of Doom takes place in 1935 (a mere twelve years before Indian independence). Chattar Lal is actually on the right side of history: this is like having a film set in 1764 where the bad guy is an American revolutionary.
But let's not forget that Chattar Lal also aligns himself with a murderous cult. That's never a good idea.
When Willie is about to be sacrificed, we see Lal at the ceremony. He fights Indy, and is thrown into the cage machine's gears. However, the film never makes clear whether or not Chattar Lal is brainwashed or not. After all, the Maharaja uses his Voodoo doll to stop Indy, but that's because he's being controlled by Mola Ram.
Did Chattar Lal willingly align himself with Mola Ram because of his hatred for the British, or was he one of Mola Ram's pawns? We'll never know.
The Village Elder is a purely expository character. He's your typical mystical wise man, who gives Indy the mission to recover the stones and rescue the children:
ELDER: We know you are coming back when life return to our village. Now you can see the magic of the rock you bring back.
The Elder believes in the power of the Sankara stones, even though we never see any evidence of them actually being magical, besides randomly bursting into flame. Hey, they might come in handy if he needs to boil water for some Easy Mac.
Both the beginning and ending of the film feature some miscellaneous characters that are important enough to have names. In the Shanghai scene, we meet a bad guy named Lao Che. From his dialog with Indy, it feels like these two have a history that goes back way beyond this meeting.
And speaking of history, we also briefly meet Wu Han. He is a friend of Indy's who's disguised as a waiter and strangely happy to die for him:
WU HAN: I followed you on many adventures, but into the great unknown mystery, I go first, Indy.
Finally, we briefly meet Captain Blumbertt at the dinner in Pankot Palace. He re-emerges at the very end to save Indy as he flees Mola Ram's men. The British swooping in to save the day from a bunch of evil Indians in a movie set in India? No wonder India didn't want Spielberg and Lucas filming there.