I grew up with the Indiana Jones movies. I’m old enough to remember jumping up and down in the theater as The Last Crusade belted out archeological fantasy and Nazi busting action. The opening sequence with the late, great River Phoenix, the quest for immortality (they drank from the cup of Christ and gained immortality, right?), daddy Sean Connery, and all the Nazi fighting that made the original my fondest cinematic memories. I wanted to be an archaeologist, I wanted a whip and a hat and to find that grail and become immortal.
Then, some twenty years later they released The Crystal Skull, with the not-so-great and still very present Shia LaBeouf, aliens, er, I mean, transcendental beings and an ending I’ve never seen because I fall asleep halfway through the movie every time. At least it was nice to see Marion again, but overall, The Crystal Skull had me hoping they’d never make another Indiana Jones movie again.
So, I entered The Dial of Destiny with great trepidation. It was being labeled as Indy’s last adventure, a wrap-up for all five movies and a return to the more traditional Indiana Jones elements. Hollywood has promised this return and come up short before. So I went to the screening anticipating disaster at worst, grudging acceptance at best, but occasionally, someone in Hollywood shows they know what they’re doing. I’m pleased to say this movie broke that mold and took me back to the 80’s.
The movie opens to a youngified Indiana Jones in the 1940’s doing what he does best, getting captured by Nazis, escaping capture from Nazis with daring luck and physics defying stunts, and recovering powerful artifacts from Nazis. In keeping with the tradition of Nazis hunting for Christ relics, this group of Nazis has been charged with capturing the Spear of Longinus (the spear used to stab Christ while on the cross). Mads Mikkelsen plays a Nazi physicist obsessed with the purity of math, and who holds one half to the Antikythera, a fabled treasure engineered by Archimedes and shrouded in mystery. The Nazis also continue the rich tradition of failing at imprisoning Dr. Jones, and young Indiana survives collapsing gothic towers, familiar motorbike battles, and trains being chewed up by anti-aircraft guns. It looks like Mads dies and Indy escapes with his half of the Antikythera.
Jump forward to 1969 New York, Moon Day, and we find Indy on the verge of retirement. In juxtaposition to earlier movies where his classroom is buzzing and alive, the current Indiana has lost his enthusiasm and his student’s interest. The central theme of the movie revolves around aging and a person’s place in the world, and whether older heroes still have that hero factor, which is very meta, considering even the producers seem unsure if Harrison Ford’s last outing will connect with today’s audience and make heroic amounts of money. We see him bounding around New York like a grumpy old man, yelling at hippies, wincing at the thought of the moon landing, and discarding his retirement trophy in the trash. We catch a glimpse of the adventurous, energetic Indiana Jones when Phoebe Waller-Bridges infiltrates his classroom and steers the lecture towards Archimedes. His goddaughter’s line of questioning sends him into an excited but tired diatribe about the validity of the Antikythera and where its second half may lay hidden.
Meanwhile, Indy is being trailed by Nazis in New York. Who knew? Mads Mikkelsen is still alive and in the familiar stereotype of a post WW2 German rocket scientists working for the US. He’s assisted by Boyd Holbrook, who is ruthless and fun to watch while cold bloodedly murdering the prerequisite number of doe-eyed civilians to establish himself as a bad guy’s bad guy. They catch up with Indy and Bridgebag just as Indy reveals to his goddaughter that he still has the first half of the Antikythera. Wallbridge betrays Indy in typical leave Indy-to-his-fate-fashion. A great action sequence set against the backdrop of Vietnam protesters on the streets of New York plays out between Indy and his pursuers. Of course, you’ll have to ignore the laws of physics and how straight lines work, as Indy and The Corinthian ride through the crowd on horseback and motorbike for twenty blocks, only to have everyone on foot catch up with them in a matter of seconds. To escape the physics defying pursuit the cynical professor uses anti-war chants to escape the smoldering ruthless good looks of Boyd Holbrook and his goons.
Indiana evades capture, and he watches a broadcast about how he is wanted for murder. On this broadcast, for the first time we hear a hint of Mutt’s fate, and how the famed archaeologist recently lost his son. Sallah (John Rhys-Davies, of Raiders’ fame) shows up to provide our retired professor much needed shelter. We catch more of a glimpse of the lonely man Indiana Jones has become, and hints at the pain he feels from Marion’s divorce. A man who had adventure, life, excitement, and love now has nothing, and it touches any audience member, making us think about our fate and our accomplishments. A tired Sala tries to talk Indy into letting him tag along for the adventure. At this point the cameo feels a little forced, as the conversation feels less like Sallah and Indiana Jones discussing adventure, and more like a debate between two screen legends about coming out of retirement.
Indy makes his way onto a plane, and instead of the famous flying cartography scenes we’re familiar with, we get a flashback and Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s character development. He arrives in Tangier, where he finds Bridgebag and her young partner, Teddy (a distant cousin, but a far cry from Short Round) auctioning off Archimedes’ treasure. There is a colorful romp of characters, some solid back and forth between Ford and Waller-Bridges, and we even get to see the whip come out. The chase scenes that follow are reminiscent of scenes from the original trilogy, filled with colorful bad guys, physics defying stunts and non-stop action.
At the end of the chase, Jones and Fleabe stubbornly team up to get ahead of the Nazis and find the other half of the Antikythera. Indy and Pheobag figure out the location of a sunken ship that may hold the directions to the final resting place of the last half of the Antikythera. The speed at which Indy and his crew move to get ahead of the Nazis is preposterous but then I remembered the New York chase scene and how distance and time are mutually exclusive in this movie. We also learn that Mutt died in the Vietnam War and Marion was divorcing Indy because he could do nothing to console her, adding to the sense of loneliness about our hero. We get an exciting diving scene ripe with eels (otherwise known as sea snakes), an explanation of what the Antikythera possibly does, and Antonio Banderas.
Of course, the gang gets caught again. Antonio Banderas is relegated to cameo history, Fleabag does an excellent exposition scene of the Antikythera’s location (I really started liking her at this point. She did a great job and was fun to watch), and Harrison Ford grumbles. The final end goal of the Nazis and the legitimacy of the Antikythera is revealed by a math loving Mads. Without ruining anything, let’s say it is more amenable than transcendental space monsters and glowing heat rocks that control the weather, but not as believable as an ark that melts Nazi faces. During her energetic monologue Waller-Bridge manages to blow up Antonio Banderas’s boat and steal the Nazis’ vessel.
In Syracuse, Sicily, Wallerbag and Indy delve into the depths of the Cave of Dionysus in the search for the second half of the Antikythera. Here, we are treated to some not-so-subtle nostalgia. There’s a tunnel of bugs, which is a callback to Temple of Doom and summons childhood memories of Steven Spielberg’s 1st wife’s screams. There’s a neat puzzle trap, which is a callback to Last Crusade, but not nearly as clever. There’s a scene of skeletons in new and exciting states of decay, which alludes to every Indiana Jones movie ever. The cat and mouse sequence through the tunnels are great, and the nostalgia didn’t ruin any pacing.
Inevitably, the Nazis catch up to our hero, and shoot our geriatric swashbuckler. Phoebe and Teddy escape, but the Nazis take Jones captive and load him on a plane. I can only assume they let Indy live so Hannibal and The Corinthian can gloat over the professor at the climax of their victory. I don’t want to ruin the end, but it falls somewhere in between Raiders and Last Crusade on the believability scale. The whole thing is a lot of fun, with the different players all over the map. The final scenes were unique, unexpected and cleverly executed.
The real beauty shot is in Indy’s final farewell. After defeating the Nazis, licking his wounds and returning to New York, we get the tenderest moment of The Dial of Destiny. The movie’s themes of aging and dealing with mistakes of the past are poignant, but our hero gets the happy ending he deserves. There’s a final heart wrenching cameo, with a great callback on one of the greatest scenes in cinematic history. Sallah sings the song he sang from the first movie, and it is a fitting backdrop to the movie’s closing. I hated to see the credits roll, but it made me think that even though I’ve aged and Harrison Ford has aged and the world has aged, The Dial of Destiny shows us all you are never too old to have a good time…
…unless you are a Nazi.