Raiders of the Lost Ark was released in 1981. I was 17 years old, just the right demographic for an action-adventure movie about a globe-trotting archeologist in search of the lost Ark of the Covenant. And naturally, just like all other 17 year old boys, I ate it up. To this day, I can still watch Raiders and feel the same thrill I had as a teenager. No matter the age, 17 years old or 90 years young, movies like Raiders live in our imaginations for a lifetime. So just as with the previous three sequels, I looked forward to the new Indiana Jones movie, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, with the heightened anticipation of another thrill ride like Raiders, but with the awareness that the previous sequel, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was ultimately a mild disappointment, and that this installment was not made by Stephen Spielberg, the creative genius behind the first four films.
First, let’s address the elephant squarely in the middle of the room. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is set in 1969, 33 years after the events in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Harrison Ford is now 81 years old, and the film does not try to hide the fact that he is now an old man. I recall that Roger Ebert marveled that Katherine Hepburn did much of her own stunt work in On Golden Pond (which basically consisted of diving off an anchored motor boat) at the ripe old age of 74. I can only imagine what Ebert would think of the stunt work Ford does in this movie. Does he move with the dexterity of his 39-year-old self? Of course not, but the old man proves pretty conclusively there is still some mileage left in him. Not to mention a sense of humor, as when he pointedly reminds his newest side-kick Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), when she comments on his not climbing a rock wall as fast as her, of the many trials and tribulations his body has gone through, all of which bring a smile to the viewer as they recall each one from a previous film.
The film begins in 1944, not long after the events in Raiders, as Indiana Jones (a quite convincingly de-aged Ford) and his fellow archeologist Basil Shaw (Toby Jones) are trying to retrieve the Lance of Longinus, which is said to have been used by the Romans to pierce the side of Jesus during the Crucifixion. Of course, the Nazi’s (they’re back!) are hoping to use the Lance of Longinus to turn the tide of the war. During the retrieval, which takes place on a speeding train populated by a seeming regiment of Nazis, Indy realizes that the lance is a fake, but there is a true ancient relic on-board, one half of Archimedes Dial, a second century BC mechanism purported to locate fissures in time. Only one Nazi, the scientist Dr. Voller (Mads Mikkelsen), realizes the value of the Dial, and when Indy succeeds in stealing the relic from the Nazis, it sets in place the basic storyline for the remainder of the film, now set in 1969, as Dr. Voller attempts to reclaim the one half of the Dial from Indy and reunite it with the other, long-lost, half.
As with most action films, the fun begins with the action sequences, and while Dial of Destiny certainly has some great action set pieces, I couldn’t help but wonder if Spielberg had been the director that the action would have been more comprehensible, especially in the early preamble set on the speeding train, which often seemed incoherent. The director, James Mangold, is no stranger to action films, but his pace is more frenetic than Spielberg’s, who always seemed to have the magic touch to make propulsive action sequences that still remained clear in the details. But I must say that the concluding action scene was fantastic. I am not going to say what it involved because to do so would be to give away an expected plot development that was truly delightful.
The supporting cast, always important in movies such as this, are fine, especially Waller-Bridge, who plays the daughter of the Basil Shaw character and Indy’s goddaughter, who is a scheming smuggler of antiquities who is as often a foil to Indy as she is a sidekick. Waller-Bridge lends a cheekiness to the whole enterprise that is quite welcome. Also fine is Mikkelsen. The veteran Danish actor, most well-known for his villain Le Chiffre in the James Bond movie Casino Royale, is an appropriately smarmy Nazi turned American moon program consultant, supposedly modeled on Werner Von Braun, who has a quite ingenious purpose for retrieving the Dial. And how welcome was it to have John Rhys-Davies back as Salllah, Indy’s pal from Raiders and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, not to mention Karen Allen as Marian Ravenswood, Indy’s love interest from the original film.
If you love the Indiana Jones films, and really who doesn’t, I heartily recommend Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, a fine send-off to the series and to one the most iconic movie characters of all time.