Shanghai, 1935 and archaeologist Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) is in a nightclub trying to negotiate a deal to possess a rare diamond that Lao Che (Roy Chiao) has promised him. After the resident chanteuse Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw) has finished a rendition of Anything Goes, the time for the exchange of goods has arrived, but when Lao Che has one of his henchmen pull a gun on Dr. Jones he responds by grabbing the singer and holding a sharp item of cutlery to her side. Fair enough, the bag is handed to him, but it contains gold coins, not the gemstone, and Jones demands the real artefact, which he receives. Taking a swig from his glass, he is about to congratulate himself when Lao Che and his men start laughing: the drink was poisoned, and the diamond will provide the antidote...
All of which has very little to do with the main plot of the sequel to Raiders of the Lost Ark, but in effect you got two sequels in one, a superior opening twenty minutes of mini-follow-up and a more substantial hour and forty of the actual business of the titular Temple of Doom. You assuredly got plenty of action for your money, but all this sound and fury, while more or less as big a success as the previous work was, proved to be one of the most divisive in director Steven Spielberg's canon with plentiful protests about the material - did we want to hear Indy swear? Nobody had been particularly bothered that the Nazis had been the bad guys last time, you pretty much expected that of them, but when the villainy was carried out by Indians here the accusation was that the whole thing was racist.
As if that wasn't bad enough, while Raiders was given a flavour of fear for its violence, both supernatural and otherwise, producer George Lucas decided to up the ante for the second instalment (technically a prequel) much like The Empire Strikes Back had for the more serious turn the Star Wars franchise took, this emerged looking more like a horror movie than anything Spielberg had approached since Jaws. To make matters worse, there was a determination to create a real funhouse experience that was as unrelenting as it was propulsive, vomiting up thrills at breakneck speed with barely a time to catch the breath which rendered its scenes of shock and revulsion all the more vivid. The result? Lots of complaining parents saying Spielberg had gone too far.
For the kids, on the other hand, most of them lapped up the extreme nature of the movie in the way that picking your nose and examining the contents or pulling the wings off flies can be highly diverting for those of a certain age, which made it all the more unfair in British kids' eyes that the censors cut the gorier bits before it was released (they are now reinstated). Famously, this film and the Spielberg production Gremlins prompted the introduction of the PG-13 rating in its American homeland, which led to the situation we have today where kid-friendly franchises are geared towards those older audiences ratings, bringing near the knuckle material to family films. This can be a good thing, plenty loved the Christopher Nolan Batman films, or quite often bad, as the Transformers series exists in an uncomfortable no man's land pandering to grown-ups with juvenile business.
In this case, the tale of Indy and his encounter with possibly racist characters (if they were, it didn't look intentionally offensive, more for the sake of a grimmer tone) wasn't made any more palatable by his love interest, Willie. At least the director was happy with Capshaw - he married her - but for most other people her two modes of either screaming or complaining was more of an endurance test than a source of lighthearted laughs. You could reason she was there to make the child sidekick Short Round (Jonathan Ke Quan) look better, as he's certainly a lot more useful if nowhere near as cute as the film thinks he is, but whereas Raiders offered up thrills with a morality that was genuinely stimulating, here it's solely about the thrills and everyone is strictly two-dimensional, if that. Amrish Puri was formidable leading the Thugee cult Indy must save a village from, and fans of Mr India still get a kick out of seeing him in this, but that rich texture to Spielberg's best blockbusters was lacking, no matter how far he piled on the setpieces, traps, sacrifices, mine chases and all. Music by John Williams, also a letdown.
His best films combine thrills with a childlike sense of wonder, but when he turns this to serious films like The Color Purple, Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan, Munich and Bridge of Spies these efforts are, perhaps, less effective than the out-and-out popcorn movies which suit him best. Of his other films, 1941 was his biggest flop, The Terminal fell between two stools of drama and comedy and one-time Kubrick project A.I. divided audiences; Hook saw him at his most juvenile - the downside of the approach that has served him so well. Also a powerful producer.