I'm not the only person to believe that Temple of Doom is a movie stocked thick with classically funny moments and yet somehow fails to capture the essence of the first Indiana Jones movie.
Some of the scenes in Temple of Doom might well be considered classics in comedy such as the meal scene which features the assortment of beetles, snakes and such, capped with monkey brains for desert.
As for chase scenes, Temple of Doom has few equals.
And despite being perhaps the most humorous and equal in action as compared to the other Indiana Jones films, Temple of Doom is also the least satisfying.
One of the editors at my newspaper have a simple explanation calling Temple of Doom "pure candy," a lot of flavor as well as a lot of empty calories.
This editor also accurately claimed Temple of Doom characterizes Indiana Jones differently from the character of the first and third movies, a reluctant hero willing to sacrifice science for the welfare of a village, when in the first movie, and later in the third, he is dedicated to preserving artifacts for the world.
This disparity between characters is best highlighted by a statement made at the end of Temple of Doom and the insistent even motivating declaration made near the beginning of The Last Crusade. When giving up one of the stones of power, Indiana in Temple of Doom shrugs off his giving up a fortune saying "Someone would only put it in a museum," while in The Last Crusade, the boy Indiana and later his adult equivalent insists on a captured Spanish cross be put into a museum.
In some ways, the Indiana Jones we encounter in Temple of Doom is a kinder and gentler version than the character we met in the first movie, becoming something of a soft touch for every village wise man when the Indiana Jones we knew from the first movie was ruthless if not evil.
Temple of Doom is also less careful with plot development, which contributes to the up and down peaks and pitfalls that resembles the silent film classics Perils of Pauline with one mad cap adventure strung along after another with little apparent connections between each except time sequence and the desire to continuously assault the viewers senses so that there is no time to realize the lack of logic, philosophy and morality the film contains. Indiana drops into the lives and problems of an Indian village with no apparent motivation and is drawn along by the thinnest of pretences.
While Temple of Doom presents us with a similar opening in Raiders of the Lost Ark - an action sequence that helps kick off the film and introduces us to the films' main characters, there are important differences between the two films. The evil figure we encounter in Temple of Doom - who steals the diamond and nearly poisons Indiana in the opening, vanishes completely from the film once Indiana orchestrates his escape. In Raiders, the beginning action sequence not only introduces us to Indiana but also lays the ground work for one of the first films' principle rivalries - a conflict that will be played out later in the film.
Greed and love of science also define the internal conflict inside the Indiana Jones character, making him seem something of a ruthless, flawed hero that somehow manages to save the world despite his intentions. We cheer him without getting an overdose of sugar.
Although awed by his experiences by the end of Raiders, Indiana Jones is hardly repentant, and he would likely repeat his efforts later if the opportunity arises. In the second film, he willingly gives up the tone of power - and in fact deliberately saves the village children an act of kindness that would be unthinkable of the character we encounter in Raiders. Indiana's good deeds in the first film appear to be incidental to his own ambitions or perhaps a frustration to his greed. He says that day almost by accidental although he might later claim credit, but only to get some benefit from his otherwise ruined plans, settling for glory instead of the Ark when he really wanted more.
Indiana, in fact, is a good guy largely in comparison to those whom against he struggles. In the first movie, his character is fine tuned because he is confronted with differing levels of evil that gives the film additional texture. Indiana's primary opponent is another scientist - the Darth Vader of the Lost Ark - who has sold out his love of science to the evil forces of the Nazis. While Indiana may be a scoundrel, his life of science and his respect for preservation of artifacts keeps him on the right side of the line dividing good and evil - even though he may nudge that line from time to time.
In Raiders, there is a begrudging respect between the two scientists, men who came to seek truth. Whereas even the evil scientist knows and dislikes the clearly evil forces to which he has sold his soul, and understands the Nazi seek power, not truth, when pursuing the Ark.
In Temple of doom, these layers do not exist. All the characters are either good or bad, and they vie over power.
This is the reason why Temple seems so stark and why Indiana's greed seems so shallow, and why his giving up the stone of power in the end lacks any sense of sacrifice.
In Raiders, several conflicts went on at once: good vs. evil; good science vs. bad, greed vs. common good. Underlying all of these is the most character defining conflict going on inside of Indiana, that division of personal greed and love of history and preservation.
While we have plenty of people grabbing at the rocks to gain power, Indiana does not struggle for long (if at all) with the dilemma over whether or not to return the stones to the village and the need for the wider world (science) to study them, and even his greed seems weak when he can give up the stones after going through so much to get them.
He is too sweet to be the same Indiana we met and fell in love with in the first film.