*****ARK OF THE COVENANT-SIZED SPOILERS!*****
42 Years of Jonesing for Indiana
Like “Star Wars,” the Indiana Jones franchise has paralleled my own life ‘adventure’ from adolescence well into middle-age.
In the summer of 1981, I was a middle-schooler with most of my life ahead of me, eagerly going to see a new summer ‘event movie’ from the guys who delivered “JAWS,” “Star Wars” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”—three movies that changed my life. To say my anticipation ran high was a massive understatement. Not being a religious kid, I had little interest in the Ark of the Covenant, nor did I have a peculiar yen for archeology (more of a futurist, space/sci-fi geek), but I was up for it. While not quite as life-altering as Lucas and Spielberg’s previous films, “Raiders of the Lost Ark” was, nevertheless, one of the most rousing action movies I’d seen in my life at that point. John Williams’ heroic fanfare practically made audiences stand from their seats and cheer whenever it resoundingly punctuated an act of onscreen derring-do. “Raiders…” was the popcorn flick at its creative apex.
A few years later, the prequel “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” was released to much controversy over its ‘darker’ tone,’ which eventually led to the creation of the PG-13 rating in the US soon afterward. The prequel was a profound disappointment for my high school-age self. While I enjoyed the mine car chase sequence (foreshadowing Lucasfilm’s eventual purchase by the folks that gave us Disneyland), I found most of the movie to be a downbeat, racist mess. A few years later, at age 22, a friend and I hopped on my motorcycle to go see “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” That was more like it. “Last Crusade” brought the old “Raiders…” magic back in droves. So much so that I’d later take my dad to see it, as well (he loved it). “Last Crusade” easily became my favorite of the bunch.
I also remember catching one or two episodes of “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles” on TV in my bachelor days (circa 1993), but without Harrison Ford, John Williams or the high-octane action of the movies, it quickly lost my attention. 16 or so years later, my now-married self would go see “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” with my wife, and it left both of us vaguely dissatisfied. Latter-day UFOology seemed an odd fit for the more God-fearing quests of the earlier films. “Crystal Skull” wasn’t as unpleasant an experience as “Temple…,” but nowhere near the dizzying heights of “Raiders…” or “Last Crusade,” either. As far as my personal enjoyment went, the Indiana Jones movies were now an even draw; two were great…the other two not so much.
Now, here I am in my mid-50s, going to see the latest entry, “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny,” which also marks one of the extremely rare occasions in the last few years (only twice, in fact) where I’ve felt compelled to hit up my local movie theater. The COVID pandemic and lockdown years saw my wife and I buying an HD digital projector, and we much prefer streaming movies at home these days; it’s more immersive, and far less stressful, as well (and no parking hassles, no cellphones, no sticky floors, no seat-kickers, etc).
However, for nostalgia’s sake, the older, present-day version of me—almost like Indiana Jones—felt compelled to head out to a theater again for one more adventure…
The movie is cowritten by director James Mangold (“Logan”), along with Jez Butterworth and David Koepp. In addition to Harrison Ford, the movie benefits from another returning legend, composer John Williams.
Opening with a flashback to 1944, Indiana Jones (Ford) is captured by Nazis during World War 2, wearing a dead Nazi colonel’s uniform in hopes of infiltrating a train filled with plundered artifacts; among them is the alleged “Holy Lance” that drew the blood of Christ. The Nazis also hope to find part of the Antikythera—a half-complete, clocklike device created by ancient Greek mathematician-physicist-engineer-inventor Archimedes, sometime in the third century BC. Beyond its historical value, a Nazi rocket scientist, Dr. Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelson) secretly believes the device to be a key component for navigating through time—a far-flung theory supported by Indy’s eccentric colleague, archeologist Basil Shaw (Toby Jones), who’s been captured elsewhere.
Note: The digital de-aging of Ford throughout this opening sequence is very impressive. The last time I saw such convincing digital cosmetics was in 2019’s “Captain Marvel,” when Samuel Jackson was made to appear as his 1990s-era self. One issue I had with this otherwise convincing ‘younger’ Harrison Ford was that he still had a gravelly, 80 year-old man’s voice; otherwise, the illusion is nearly flawless.
When Voller opens the crate with the alleged dagger, he learns something that Jones already knew; the dagger is a fraud, created with contemporary alloys within the last 50 years. Disappointed by this discovery, he nevertheless authorizes the loading of a train filled with plundered artifacts, which now includes the Antikythera, also known as the titular “Dial of Destiny,” courtesy of a captured (and interrogated) Basil. Using his stolen colonel’s uniform for as long as he can, Indy infiltrates the train in hopes of rescuing his friend, sounding an alarm. With the Nazis actively searching for Jones, Indy is spotted in a compartment full of young stormtroopers, who notice the bullet hole on his stolen uniform, and give chase.
Note: The Nazis are treated a bit less comically in this film, giving them a more appropriately menacing tone; something more fitting with the unfortunate rise in both neo-Nazism and anti-Semitism worldwide.
Changed back into his familiar fedora, leather jacket and whip, Indy manages to rescue Basil, who’s not quite as rugged or fearless as his colleague. Indy and Basil use the darkness of night to escape onto the train rooftops, along with the recovered half-Dial. The Nazis give chase, and a deadly, nighttime battle on the train car rooftops ensues. To save Indy’s life, Basil is forced to shoot a Nazi officer, something which deeply upsets him. A determined Voller then joins the rooftop battle, before he’s flung over the sides of the train by Indy—presumably with the half-Dial. As Allied planes fill the sky, Basil fears his life’s quest has been lost, but Indy reveals that he managed to steal back the priceless artifact during the fight…
Note: Indy’s rooftop escape reminded me of the opening sequence of 1989’s “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” where a teenaged Indy (the late River Phoenix) steals the Cross of Coronado from a gang of looters aboard a train, only to lose the device when the authorities don’t believe the young man’s story. Indy later adopts the dress and manner of the gang leader, who admires young Indy’s tenacity. This opening sequence of a younger Indy also inspired the short-lived TV series, “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles” (1992-1993) which was later edited into a series of TV movies as well, and is currently available to stream on Disney+.
We then fade from Indy’s vigorous, heroic past to the movie’s present of New York City in 1969, where we see a much older Jones fallen asleep in a chair as the children’s show “H.R. Puff ’N Stuff” plays on his TV. After awakening, he see Indy rummaging through his kitchen, where he notices the as-yet-unsigned divorce papers from his estranged wife Marion (Karen Allen), who left him following the death of their son. Old Indy then hears the blare of music from his neighbors across the hall—a group of young hippies who blissfully ignore the angry old man with a baseball bat in their doorway, reminding him that it’s “Moon Day” in the city, as the Apollo 11 astronauts returning from the moon are being honored with a ticker tape parade. The shuffling, arthritic Jones then struggles to get dressed for work at Hunter University, a public college.
Note: As a fiftysomething, I related so much more to this older version of Jones, and Harrison Ford gives an almost shockingly vanity-free performance—completely unafraid to portray Jones as a faded hero, long past his peak, and facing retirement.
We see Indy going through the motions of giving a lecture on Greek artifacts, with a completely bored class that has “moon fever” on their minds, save for a young woman (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) sitting among the upper seats of the lecture hall, who is very interested in Indy’s lecture on the Antikythera, and seems well-versed on the device’s background. As Indy loses the rest of the class’s attention, he reminds them that the material he’s covering will be on an upcoming test before he dismisses them. Indy then makes his way to a surprise retirement party being thrown by the faculty.
Note: The lecture scene of this film is a stark and sad contrast to the days when amorous students swooned to the handsome, younger Indy’s lectures at the University of Chicago in the 1930s, when pretty coeds wrote “I Love You” on their eyelids to get his attention (“Raiders of the Lost Ark”). Now they sit bored and disinterested as the older Indy struggles to hold onto their fragile attention spans. Director/cowriter James Mangold has a knack for showing heroes living well past their prime (2017’s “Logan”).
Hitting up a local bar for a drink after his party, a dispirited Indy is met by the young woman from his class, who identifies herself as Helena Shaw, the daughter of his late friend, Basil (and Indy’s goddaughter), whom Indy used to call “Wombat” when she was little. She is seeking the half-Dial her late father entrusted to Indy, after Indy assured him it would be destroyed, fearing its power. After drinks, Indy takes Helena back to the university archives, where he shows her the artifact. She knew he couldn’t bring himself to destroy it. Soon, they both become aware that they’re being followed; this stealthy shadowing soon turns into a hot pursuit, as rogue ‘CIA agents’ shoot several faculty members in pursuit of Indy and Helena, along with the half-Dial.
Note: The tone of the violence and deaths of this film are much more real and less ‘comic book’ than those depicted in previous Indiana Jones movies, which were often played for laughs as well. When the rogue agents shoot and kill innocent faculty members (who recently threw Indy’s retirement party), it’s far more disturbing and all-too evocative of modern school shootings in the United States.
Indy and Helena exit into the chaotic parade for the returned Apollo 11 astronauts, where they’re separated—with the Antikythera in Helena’s possession. The mysterious rogue agents pursuing them are actually working for celebrated US rocket scientist, Dr. Schmidt, an alias of the unrepentant Nazi, Dr. Jürgen Voller. Voller’s operatives include the trigger-happy Kleber (Boyd Holbrook), muscleman Hauke (Olivier Richters) and opportunistic Mason (Shaunette Renée Wilson), who are all part of Voller’s plan to steal the half-Dial. During the parade, Jones uses the chaos of the cheering crowds to elude his pursuers, even stealing a policeman’s horse to outrun the NYPD, who are already framing him for the murder of his colleagues at Hunter University…
Note: The parade for the Apollo 11 astronauts (Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins) timestamps the movie’s events for August 13th, 1969, which is before the start of a typical fall semester at that time, so I assume Indy was teaching summer courses.
We then see Indy riding his stolen policeman’s horse into the entranceway and tunnels of the New York City subway system, where he avoids several head-on collisions with oncoming trains before finally squeezing into a car and narrowly eluding Mason, who watches angrily as Jones speeds away…
Note: Indiana eluding capture by stealing a horse in New York City feels very old-school Indiana Jones, and is one of several scenes in the movie that genuinely captures the magic and spirit of the best in the film series. The sequence also reminded me of Arnold Schwarzenegger stealing a horse to nab a pair of terrorists in downtown Washington DC in the 1994 action comedy “True Lies,” directed by James Cameron.
Jones’ butt is then saved by his old friend and current US citizen, Sallah (John Rhys-Davies) who is working as a cabbie in NYC where he conveniently whisks Indy to LaGuardia airport, where the framed archeologist is hoping to find the half-Dial and clear his name. The ever-loyal Sallah offers to join Indy on “one last adventure” but Indy declines his offer, reminding Sallah that his kids—and many grandkids—need him too much to risk his neck. Indy reminds Sallah that their days of grandiose adventures are long over, as he leaves to board his plane…
Note: Indy’s acceptance that his lifetime of adventure is coming to a close is written from a surprisingly insightful and truthful place, much like the aged Logan and Professor Xavier from cowriter/director James Mangold’s “Logan.” That 2017 film saw two superheroes dealing with their own golden years.
“Give ‘em hell, Indiana Jones!” Sallah calls out to his departing friend, as the two go their separate ways for now.
Note: Some might understandably object to the ‘whitewash’ casting of Welsh actor John Rhys-Davies playing an Egyptian character, but the character is a legacy from the original films (1981-1989), inherited from a time when such casting practices were commonplace in movies and TV. Recasting the role would be an even greater error, in my opinion. To his credit, I’ve always loved John Rhys-Davies’ portrayal of Sallah as well, as he brings much energy, humor and warmth to what could’ve been an easily forgettable supporting character. My wife and I had the pleasure of meeting the actor 19 years ago at a Planetary Society event in Pasadena, California, where he graciously signed an autograph for us and used my camera to take an early ‘selfie’ (well before the phrase was coined). John Rhys-Davies is a true gentleman.
Jones follows black marketeer Helena to the Moroccan city of Tangier, where Helena is in league with the local underworld, and hopes to clear some gambling debts by selling the half-Dial to the highest bidder. As several mobsters make their bids, including a jilted ex-lover of Helena’s, Indy makes his way past the teenaged “bouncer,” Teddy (Ethann Isadore), who is learning to ‘fly’ from half-drunken airline pilots on layover. An embarrassed Helena dismisses her disgusted, grumbling godfather, and continues with the auction. Indy himself puts in a bid, only to be vastly outbid by Voller—which momentarily sucks the oxygen from the room. As the auction becomes more heated, Indy breaks out his whip and snaps it at the assembled guests like a pack of animals—only to have them draw and cock their various pistols at him in response. As Indy’s bluff is called, he grabs the half-Dial and flees with Helena, who’s also running from an ex-lover…
Note: Helena is not unlike the younger Indiana Jones when we first met him, many years ago. She’s got a some angry ex-lovers, she’s in league with some shady competitors, and she’s not above selling stolen pieces for money (as we saw Indy do in “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” when he sells stolen Hovitos tribal pieces to his pal Marcus Brody’s museum). Both also came from obsessed archeologist fathers who taught them everything they know. They each have young boy sidekicks, as well (Short Round, Teddy). Helena’s arc in this movie is to go from black market archeologist to the ‘true faith’ sort that Indy becomes later on; an archeologist who recognizes that valued antiquities belong “in a museum.” I wouldn’t be surprised if Disney isn’t using this movie as a platform to see if audiences have an appetite for an “Helena Shaw” series of archeological adventures…
Stealing a local tuk-tuk (a motorized rickshaw) Indy manages to catch up with the fleeing Helena and her teen sidekick, Teddy. Helena is fleeing both Voller’s team and the mob to whom she’s deeply in debt, while Indy is fleeing Voller. Still angry at her for using him, Indy teams up with Helena and Teddy, since they share common enemies on their tails. Indy jumps onto their tuk-tuk, as the trio speeds away from Voller’s Mercedes, which pursues them through the narrow streets of Tangier. The car chase becomes increasingly elaborate, as Voller’s men shoot at the tuk-tuk, causing some damage. Voller’s Mercedes is badly crippled as well, which buys Indy, Helena and Teddy some time to stop and make repairs. Later, Indy and young Teddy get to know each other a bit, as Indy steals the boy’s chewing gum to fix a leaking radiator, remembering that local chewing gum hardens in heat. After jury-rigging the tuk-tuk, Indy remembers a good friend who’s docked nearby, a Spanish sea captain and diver named Renaldo (Antonio Banderas), who might be able to help them…
Note: While the tuk-tuk chase through the narrow streets of Tangier is meant to evoke the street chase through Cairo in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (and other such getaways in the series), it lacks the memorable moments of punctuation and deft timing from those other chases. It also doesn’t help that everything in this sequence (and most of the movie) seems filtered through a brownish, smoggy haze that makes me feel as if I was watching everything through a pair of cheap sunglasses. I’ve seen this aesthetic used in many other movies of late, and to be honest, I’m sick of it. I miss clean lines and bold color pop. This may not be a fair charge against cinematographer Phedon Papamichael, who was no doubt doing as instructed, but I miss the late cinematographer Douglas Slocombe’s bolder color palette.
Indy introduces Helena and Teddy to Captain Renaldo (Antonio Banderas), a rugged, jovial man of the sea with whom Indy has clearly shared past adventures. Indy brings Renaldo and his crew up to speed on their current situation, and Helena uses information she memorized from her father’s notes to locate the approximate site of an ancient shipwreck off the coast of Greece, which might contain the key to locating the missing half of the Dial. Renaldo familiarizes everyone with the rundown but functional diving equipment and air hoses, and they set a course for the approximate ship of the shipwreck…
Note: A little surprising to see a star of Antonio Banderas’ caliber in a minor supporting role, not to mention that it’s not the kind of role one would imagine for the dashing star of 1990s cinema (“Interview with the Vampire,” “Desperado”).
Later that evening, as the ship makes its way to their destination, Indy and Helena have a heart to heart talk up on deck, where he still hopes that she will come to see the Antikythera as something more than a commodity to be bought and sold to get herself out of debt. They talk about her father’s theory of time-travel with the Dial, and Helena asks Indy if he’d like to change history. He says he’d go back and prevent his late son Mutt from joining the military. Helena asks how he’d convince him not to join, and a heartbroken Indy says he’d tell his son he was going to die. Indy then tries to instill in her some sense of value for things greater than money, “I don’t believe in magic, but a few times in my life, I’ve seen things I can’t explain,” he says, “And I’ve come to believe it’s not so much about what you believe, it’s how hard you believe it.”
Note: I love these moments where we see Jones reflecting on his past, and we see how it’s shaped him into the wiser, more interesting man he is now. Indy’s lines about having faith in something also remind me of Harrison Ford’s dialogue as Han Solo in “Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens”: “I used to wonder about that myself. Thought it was a bunch of mumbo jumbo. A magical power holding together good and evil, the dark side and the light. Crazy thing is… it’s true. All of it.” Harrison Ford arguably gives his best performance as the character to date.
The day of the dive, Renaldo and his crew familiarize Indy and Helena with how to work the gear. Renato, who’s diving with them, tells them they have only three minutes to find what they’re looking for once they reach the bottom. The dive is also complicated by eels—which are too close to snakes for Indy’s comfort. They make the dive, with Teddy and the crew remaining on deck. Once on the sea bottom, Renaldo holds up three fingers; the clock is running. Luckily, they find the shipwreck, and the skeletal remains of the original crew. Soon Helena finds the ‘graphikos’ tablet that should give them the necessary clues to locating the other half of the Dial, in order to complete the device. However, trouble arises, when Teddy spots a vessel pursuing them—it’s Voller and his agents. Unable to leave with the others submerged, Renaldo’s vessel is boarded. When Indy, Helena and Renaldo return onboard, they find the ship commandeered. Voller and his thugs kill Renaldo, as Helen reads the engravings on the graphikos tablet—giving Voller the directions to Syracuse… or so he’s allowed to believe.
Indy, Helena and Teddy are somehow able to slip past Voller and his men, stealing their faster, newer boat. Indy realizes the graphikos tablet is made of wax. Melting the wax down, he finds a gold disc with precise directions for the tomb of Archimedes inside; the wax engravings were misdirection. The trio then sets a course for Sicily, and the tomb of Archimedes. Helena wonders why Indy is so melancholy after they’ve outwitted Voller. He tells her it’s because his friend was just murdered. He also realizes that wherever they go, Voller and his men will follow…
Note: Another bit of terrific acting on Ford’s part, where we see Indy grieving the loss of his friend, which might’ve had a bit more impact if we’d gotten to know the affable Renaldo a little better as a character, but Ford really sells the moment.
Arriving in Sicily, Indy, Helena and Teddy steal a car from young newlyweds and drive to the entrance to the tomb of Archimedes. Blending in with the usual assortment of shutterbug tourists, the trio slip into the cave…
Note: Once again, we see an old trope from the Indiana Jones movies that hasn’t changed; wherever Indy goes, he freely takes whatever resources he needs, and even kills whomever he must in order to accomplish his given task. Just a reminder that Indiana Jones is an archeology professor—a retired one, as of this film—not MI6 or CIA. Even his days of military service are long over. It’s very ‘American’ of him to always assume he has the moral authority to simply do and take whatever he wishes.
Inside of the caverns, Indy, Helena and Teddy make their way past some nasty insects (they had to work some creepy-crawlies into the movie somewhere) before reaching the statue of Athena, and the tomb of Archimedes. Inside the tomb, they find the skeleton of Archimedes and locate the other half of the Dial. Assembling the device, the two halves fit together perfectly. Helena then notices a few odd things about the tomb—Archimedes’ skeleton is wearing a modern wristwatch, and engravings along the bottom of the tomb show a phoenix with propellers instead of wings. Before long, Voller and his men arrive. Helena somehow manages to flee, but Voller’s men capture Indy and Teddy, though Teddy is able to escape…
Note: There is a real Antikythera mechanism, and parts of it were recovered in 1902 from a shipwreck, but the device was believed to be a mechanical calendar, not a time-travel device. Nevertheless, it was still an amazing piece of sophisticated gear works technology, created two centuries before the time of Jesus (!). It was, in many ways, an ancient forerunner to the first analog computers developed in the mid-20th century.
With the completed Dial in his possession, Voller takes the captive Indy aboard an aircraft he kept in an airfield hangar for this very occasion. Aboard the plane, Voller reveals his plan; he intends to use the device to locate one a fissure in time. Once located, Voller intends to fly through it, back to Germany of 1939, where he will assassinate Adolf Hitler, and take his place—leading Germany to victory, instead of defeat, which he blames on Hitler’s leadership. Meanwhile, Helena and Teddy reunite at the airfield, where he asks if Teddy can fly a plane and go after Indy. An uncertain Teddy agrees to try. Meanwhile, as Voller’s plane revs for takeoff, Helena slips inside the landing gear housing. Once airborne, Voller locates the time fissure and orders to pilot to fly through it.
Note: A couple of hoary movie clichés occur during this part of the story. First is the villain who monologues their diabolical plans for world domination to the hero—thus giving them all the necessary information to sabotage those plans. The other is the plucky kid who can fly a plane or spaceship with little-to-no prior experience whatsoever (see: Anakin Skywalker). Yes, there is a quick scene of Teddy pretending to fly in the Tangier clubhouse with a drunken pilot, which is like saying playing Milton Bradley’s Battleship makes one an expert in naval combat.
As the plane nears the fissure, Indy realizes that Archimedes didn’t take continental drift into account, which was an unknown variable in his time. This would make any spacetime calculations created by the device useless. Indy begins laughing aloud as Voller begins to panic. Voller orders his pilot to abort entry into the time-fissure vortex, but it begins to pull them in—both his plane and Teddy’s. Whatever time they’ll arrive in is anybody’s guess now…
Note: This is where the movie officially jumps the shark for me. I’ve always preferred it when the Indiana Jones movies stuck to theological/mystical objects, such as the Holy Grail or the Lost Ark, rather than hard sci-fi concepts such as the inter-dimensional aliens of “Crystal Skull” and the ‘time-fissures’ of “Dial of Destiny.” Even as an atheist, I have an easier time accepting a cup filled with holy water curing gunshot wounds than I do a time-traveling Indiana Jones.
The two planes fly in tandem through the fissure, into the historic Siege of Syracuse, circa 212 BC. Large Roman harpoons, fired from their ships, crisscross the two airplanes, which both Roman and Syracuse armies see as “dragons.” Indy is shot by Voller during the attack, but he and stowaway Helena manage to grab a parachute and land a safely away from the historic combatants. Afterward, one of the Roman harpoons lands a fatal hit on Voller’s plane, sending it crashing to the shoreline in flames, Voller and his crew killed. Teddy manages to land his own plane near where Indy and Helena parachuted to safety…
Note: At this point, I feel as if I’m watching a big budget episode of “Doctor Who” instead of an Indiana Jones movie. Hell, at this point, the Daleks could show up, and it’d make perfect sense.
Realizing the time fissure won’t remain open for much longer, Helena wants to leave, but the wounded Indy is fascinated at the sight of witnessing living history unfold before his very eyes. Helena believes that staying in the past could somehow alter their future (a temporal paradox), but Indy wonders if that’s such a bad thing, after all. Walking towards the wreckage of Voller’s plane, Helena finds his burned corpse—wearing the same wristwatch they found on Archimedes’ corpse in 1969. Helena, Teddy and a bleeding Indy then see a robed figure approaching them with the Dial recovered from the wreckage. The robed figure is Archimedes himself (Nasser Memarzia). Speaking to him in his ancient tongue, Indy and Helena learn that the completed Dial is preset to only brings travelers back to this time; it was Archimedes’ plan to bring reinforcements from the future to defend Syracuse, which explains the man’s lack of surprise with his guests’ advanced technology. When Indy refuses to return, Helena knocks the old man out with a swift right hook…
Note: So Helena is worried about not altering the future, yet she’s perfectly okay with leaving the wreckage of Voller’s plane on the beach? How does all of that advanced metallurgy and mid-20th century equipment not alter the future again…?
Indy then awakens in his New York apartment in 1969. The groggy old man is bandaged across his chest, and he looks up to see Helena, Sallah, Teddy and even Marion standing nearby. Helena took Indy ‘back to the future’ against his wishes before the fissure closed. Once in New York, she alerted Marion. When Indy asks what Marion is doing, she tells him she’s restocking his groceries. Helena wisely realizes that’s their cue to leave, as she takes Sallah and Teddy out for ice cream. Still grieving for their lost son, Marion tells Indy she still hurts all over. Remembering a moment they shared once in “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” Indy teasingly asks where it doesn’t hurt. She raises her elbow, he kisses it. They embrace.
Note: That wonderful, intimate ending sponges away a lot of sins from this movie.
Summing It Up
The first (and presumably last) non-Steven Spielberg directed “Indiana Jones” movie is not quite the unfocused mess that was “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” nor the shockingly-racist horror flick that was “Temple of Doom,” but it’s not among the best of this film series, either. “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” runs right in the middle of the quality spectrum for this often frustrating series, which hit perfection early on, never to achieve it again.
On the pro-side, the new screenplay is smartly tailored for an older Indiana Jones, and Harrison Ford arguably gives his best performance as the character to date—with all the wisdom and regret one would expect from a man of his considerable (and unparalleled) life experiences. For some, this older, regretful Indy might make some yearn for the devil-may-care character we remember from the 1980s, but I really empathized with the emotional journey Ford takes in the film. I also appreciate the actor’s lack of vanity, as well. With or without the fedora and whip, Ford’s personal well of gravity is the force anchoring this movie—allowing it to work better than it should.
The well-realized character of Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge)—herself the daughter of another genius archeologist—reminded me of a young Indiana Jones. Helena’s arc sees her learning about the ‘pure faith’ of archeology (as villainous Belloq once described it), beyond simply grave-robbing for profit, as Indy himself did during his “fortune and glory” years. The movie also features other characters who seem significant, only to end up as redshirts, such as rogue agent Mason (Shaunette Renée Wilson) or happy-go-lucky Captain Renaldo (Antonio Banderas). Resident pickpocket & junior con artist Teddy (Ethann Isadore) fills the “Short Round” gap, but his inexplicable flying skills—having never been in the cockpit of an actual plane—border on Anakin Skywalker-level absurdity.
Editorially, the movie runs about 20 minutes too long, with a sagging midsection and an incongruously hard science-fiction climax (arguably more so than that of “Crystal Skull”). The downright goofy time-travel sequence of the final act would be more at home in “Star Trek” or “The Twilight Zone” than “Indiana Jones.” Major points of logic are also conveniently hand-waved away, such as Helena taking a wounded Indiana Jones ‘back to the future’ to avoid corrupting the timeline, while leaving literal tons of downed Nazi technology with advanced metallurgy lying on the ancient beaches of Syracuse. I also wasn’t exactly in love with the desaturated, almost-smoggy cinematography of Phedon Papamichael, which looked as if the film were shot through a pair of your old nana’s hosiery. It only made me miss Douglas Slocombe’s cleaner lines and bolder color pop from the earlier films.
The movie’s warm epilogue in New York City repairs some of the damage done by its hard sci-fi climax, offering a final reconciliation between Indy and Marion that is earthy and sweet. This is the ending these characters deserved. It’s an appropriately sentimental sendoff for them and the franchise. Let’s hope the powers that be at Disney-Lucasfilm finally learn to leave well enough alone this time…