“I miss the desert. I miss the sea. I miss waking up every morning wondering what wonderful adventure the new day will bring to us.”
Who said Nazis aren’t a lot of fun? Hogan’s Heroes turned them into comic foils. When it comes to Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones, it seems there’s no one we like seeing him beat more than Nazis. Think about it. Raiders Of The Lost Ark: Nazis: Great movie. Temple Of Doom: No Nazis: Not so much a great film. Last Crusade: Nazis: Again great film. Crystal Skull: No Nazis: Total disaster. Can you see a pattern beginning to develop here? Somebody finally took notice and Indiana Jones is back in Indiana Jones And The Dial Of Destiny (terrible title, by the way), and he’s back to fighting Nazis. What could go wrong? Best we don’t tempt fate with questions like that. It took decades, but we’re finally sitting down in our theatres to see Indiana Jones once again. We sat through a really bad sequel and COVID, and we waited. The wait is finally over, and the first … and last Indiana Jones film to be released under the Disney/Lucasfilm banner is finally here.
The film starts with a wonderful flashback series of events that features Indiana Jones back in the good old days of fighting Nazis and tracking down artifacts. In this case it’s a famous sword tip that is believed to have special powers. Indy is back on old trains fighting Nazis and getting himself out of jams, only to stumble into another artifact. It’s that danged Dial that was supposedly built by Copernicus himself using some crazy mathematical formula that could reach across time itself. The Dial has been the life work of Indy’s pal, Basil Shaw, played by Toby Jones. The film sports some nice de-aging computer magic that had me worried going in from the moment word was released that it would be employed in the film. The segment is my favorite part of the movie and really did bring me back to that first day seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark on the big screen. But this is only half the story. That’s because Indy only has half the Dial. Apparently when it was transported by Romans long ago, it was divided into two parts to keep a bad guy from getting their grubby hands on it and doing all sorts of bad-guy things with it. Unfortunately for those Romans, the ship sank, and the two pieces went to the bottom of the ocean, where one was recovered years ago. Indy has one piece, and someone else is looking for it.
Jump to 1969, and America is in the middle of moon fever. It’s a big day for Indiana Jones. He’s retiring from teaching and looking forward to the rest when he is visited by Basil’s daughter Helena (Waller-Bridge). At first she tries to lie to him about getting an expedition together to recover her dad’s piece and the one still lost. But she knows Indy has it, and when he takes her to examine it, they come under fire. There are some thugs out to get the artifact, and while it’s 1969, long after the days of the Nazis, the thugs are led by Dr. Voller, played by Mads Mikkelsen, a man he encountered years ago on that train fiasco we witnessed earlier. Mads believes in the device and wants to get it so he can save the Third Reich and allow the Nazi regime to take over the world. See, it’s so much fun when we’re fighting those guys.
The film winds its way from a recovery of the second piece to that traditional Indy version of keep-away that involves all kinds of vehicles and action moments. It’s all leading up to a third act that I feel ruins much of the film for me. I can’t tell you what happens. Would you want Harrison Ford showing up at your house to kick your butt? I will tell you that it feels too much like the ending to The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull where the film leaves a certain level of grounding and gets more than a little bit out there. I’ll be interested to find what the general reaction to the finale is.
Fans of the franchise will get plenty of those callback moments. We get eels instead of snakes and a little role reversal with a surprise encounter in the film’s final moments. The opening scene truly captures the magic of the best of the series, and I never wanted that part to end. I guess it’s nostalgia over reason, but I think those first 20 minutes will take you back to that first Indiana Jones experience for you, and I suspect that alone might be worth the price of admission. I will say it’s at least a satisfying goodbye, but I’m not really ever going to get to the point that I don’t want more.
I think director James Mangold has a good understanding and passion for the material, but the third act falls into that trap that I suspect was too tempting to ignore. There had to be this desire to put some kind of significant stamp on the material, while I think being invisible would have been the best imprint Mangold could have left. In the end the film is what it is, and the ending is what it really is. I suspect on additional viewings I will discover more things than I did the first time. It’s overlong by about 20 minutes but will still stand up to repeated viewings like the best of the franchise continues to do and Crystal Skull has never been able to do. I guess what I’m trying to say here is that there will be a moment, maybe years from now, when this film has settled in as a part of the whole when I’d like to take it all in again … from the start. You see, it was June of 1981. It was a rainy day, and I walked into this theater in State College, PA, and I saw … “Everything”.