Indiana Jones puts on the fedora for one last adventure full of action, adventure, and time travel?
(There’s spoilers ahead but when you’re done you can turn the dial to a time when you hadn’t read this piece. No time loop created.)
Indiana Jones fans have been expected to accept a lot over the past forty years. We’ve seen faces melted off by the wrath of God, we’ve witnessed a beating heart ripped out of a chest, wondered at an immortal Templar Knight, and left perplexed how anyone could survive a nuclear blast by hiding in a refrigerator. Through it all we have accepted every single zany thing Steven Spielberg has sent our way, except maybe Shia LaBeouf swinging through the trees with monkeys. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is no exception. This time it’s James Mangold who wants us to go on one last crazy ride with Indiana Jones. Mangold succeeds with varying degree.
A franchise like Indiana Jones with Harrison Ford coming back for one last time is going to bring the naysayers, people looking for something to complain about, or people who are automatically turned off by a woman in one of the lead roles out of the woodwork. It’s difficult to say if they have legitimate criticisms or not because their attacks are the basest forms of attacks that appeal to the lowest common denominator. There are legitimate criticisms of Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny to be found. So, let’s get those out of the way first.
The De-Aging of Harrison Ford
We’ve become used to being dropped in the middle of an adventure, “In medias res” the cinephiles call it, before the real adventure begins. Like the James Bond movies, it has become a staple of the Indiana Jones movies. This time we’re plunged into the last days of WWII as the Allies are making their final push into Berlin. With the main story taking place in 1969 and Ford being eighty years old a little CGI magic had to be employed.
The nay-sayers amongst the critics will deride the de-aging effects. Yes, the technology to do a seamless, unnoticable de-aging may not be available yet. The de-aging of Ford is easy fodder if you’re looking for something to nitpick because you’re looking for something to nitpick. By focusing on the CGI you’re going to miss the adrenaline rush of the opening scenes and you’ll miss the set up for the rest of the movie.
The opening action sequences are everything one has come to expect from an Indiana Jones movie. It has the comedy, it has the action and, yes, it has the CGI but how else are you going to have machine guns blast through cars as it derails over a bridge? If you’re Christopher Nolan you build the bridge, find a train, mount real machine guns, and start blasting away before blowing the bridge up. This isn’t a Nolan movie.
We’re introduced fairly quickly to Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), who turns out to be Indiana Jones’ goddaughter. The more toxic of critics latch onto how Waller-Bridge seems to be taking over the show at the expense of Harrison Ford and Indiana Jones. These “fans” forget Marion Ravenwood was no wilting flower when we first met her back in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Marion was a strong female character that easily matched Indiana Jones word for word and at times blow for blow. Fans shouldn’t be turned off by a strong female character in an Indiana Jones movie but they are.
Waller-Bridge takes the baton from Karen Allen and runs with it. Ford and Waller-Bridge’s back and forth are some of the best things in the movie. If you fail to recognize that the two actors play well off of each other the rest of the movie will be lost on you.
It takes several scenes before we’re let in on the fact that the CIA has an agent in Dr. Voller’s (Mads Mikkelsen) crew. It’s almost a throwaway fact that’s overshadowed by Boyd Holbrook’s die hard Nazi. Apparently, the CIA was aware of the Dial and inserted Agent Mason (Shaunette Renée Wilson) to keep track of Voller. However, if the CIA was aware of the Dial, why did they lose interest in it so quickly after Mason is killed? If she were there to protect the physicist who put the USA on the moon they would definitely be scrambling to find him. The whole CIA angle is only there to get Voller and his crew to Europe.
If the CIA was never written into the script the movie wouldn’t change one bit. Jones could have still ridden through the streets and subway on horseback. Voller, as we see later in the movie, could have still flown to Greece. Absolutely nothing would change and nothing would be missed without the CIA. If there’s one good thing to have come out of it’s Wilson’s star turning performance. Though Mason is almost a throw away character Wilson manages to elevate it to something more. If Wilson isn’t seen in more movies and projects after this then there are truly no cinema gods.
The Nazi Doctor
It’s not all bad, in fact, there’s more good in The Dial of Destiny than bad. One of those good things is Mads Mikkelsen as Dr. Voller. Voller is a stand-in for actual Nazi physicist Wernher von Braun. It’s Voller who wants to use the Dial to go back in time to get everything right Adolf Hitler got wrong. One would expect a Nazi whose sole desire is to get Hitler’s master plan right would act insane. Imagine finishing what Hitler’s death camps started. It’s a disturbing thought. Yet Voller isn’t a screaming, yelling Nazi. Mikkelsen’s Nazi keeps the evil simmering right below the surface. He’s too cool to spout off Nazi diatribes and rants but vile enough to make not so racist comments to hotel staff.
We would expect the final showdown between Jones and Voller to be on a grand scale like with Belloq, Mola Ram, and Elsa, another Nazi. When it doesn’t happen we’re left to wonder what happened to Voller. We see the plane he’s in blow up but he had to have survived for the final showdown, right? Nope. We see his burned body on a beach. It’s an anticlimactic death for an Indiana Jones movie, but Mangold has subverted our expectations.
Voller’s giant German isn’t taken out by Jones either. When we first meet the giant German our thoughts go back to the giant German in Raiders of the Lost Ark who’s dispatched when airplane propellers dice him up. The same actor, Pat Roach, would also be killed in The Temple of Doom when he’s thrown into a rock crusher. Teddy, Helena’s sidekick, is the one who takes out the German by handcuffing him to an underwater grate. It’s David versus Goliath Indiana Jones style.
It does feel forced that Indiana Jones thinks he “belongs” in 214 BC. Apparently, unbeknownst to the rest of us, he was always fascinated about the Siege of Syracuse. If he arrived in 214 BC he would have missed the siege altogether, but this isn’t a historical movie. It also rings hollow that there was ever a chance Jones would remain in the past. Indiana Jones isn’t that kind of movie and Jones is a character that belongs exactly where he is, in the present. Which makes the movies ending all the more meaningful. It may be fan service to have Indiana stay with Marion, but it also feels right. It feels like the movies have come full circle.
We could go around and around on how a crashed plane from the 20th Century and men dressed in Nazi uniforms made from modern synthetics didn’t affect time. We could complain when Jones returns to 1969 nothing has changed. There’s no upset timeline, no one from the past has come back, and Indiana Jones doesn’t have to go back in time to fix anything. No, nothing has changed. It’s almost refreshing to see a movie with a time travel element not falling into the same trap as so many time travel movies before.
The Final Ending
A lot of people are going to say that Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny will make you forget about Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Unfortunately, that’s never going to happen. You will always remember Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. It may never be everyone’s favorite Indiana Jones, that award goes to Raiders of the Lost Ark, but it’s at least a return to the Indiana Jones that we’ve seen and cheered for before. If this is the last Indiana Jones movie it was one hell of ride to leave out on.