Indiana Jones and The Dial of Destiny Review – Harrison Ford Once Again Proves It’s Always Ethical to Punch Nazis

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Indiana Jones movies are best when they feature the titular hero punching Nazis. James Mangold, taking the reins from Steven Spielberg, is well aware of this fact and for Doctor Henry Jones Jr.’s fifth and final outing as the adventurous archaeologist Mangold takes the audience back to where Indiana had his most relevance – the second World War. Before we meet a rumpled man out of time in 1969 we are treated to a brilliant, albeit deeply nostalgic, chase on a train where Indiana and his Oxfordian colleague Basil Shaw (Toby Jones) are trying to keep mystical artefacts out of the hands of Nazis.

It’s 1944 and Hitler has all but lost the war. A train carrying Nazi loot commanded by Colonel Weber (Thomas Kretschmann) is rattling its way out of France trying to get to Berlin to deliver the Spear of Destiny or the Lance of Longinus to the mad Führer. Fellow Nazi Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen), a particularly nasty physicist, realises the days of the Third Reich are over, and in fact they may only have hours left, but that doesn’t stop him and Weber hunting down the (young and very convincingly digitally de-aged) American interloper trying to get his hands on the lance. Both Indy and Voller realise that the Lance is a fake but there is something more valuable on the train, the Antikythera, or Archimedes’ Dial, an artefact so powerful that in its complete form it has the power to create schisms in time.

We’ve seen Indiana fighting on trains before, and that is somewhat the point of the scene – to give audiences a taste of the Indiana they knew before the film shifts to an Indiana they, and the public who once adored him, barely recognise. In 1969 Indy is living in a ramshackle apartment trying to ignore his young neighbours who blare The Beatles and Bowie, and equally trying to block out his deep heartbreak which has seen him become a man without family. Gone are the years where young co-eds would worship Dr Jones and hang on his every word. By the time he reaches his class at Hunter College the students can barely stay awake as he lectures on Archimedes and Syracuse. Their eyes are pointed to the sky where the Apollo astronauts have just returned from the moon. There’s no room for a relic like Indiana in the new world and his low-key retirement shows just how far into irrelevancy he’s fallen.

Woe be those who forget history for they are doomed to repeat it is just one of the messages Mangold and fellow scribes Jez and John-Henry Butterworth and David Koepp push forward. It might be 1969 but wars aren’t over and although the space race is in full bloom, America’s success in it is partially built by NASA using ex-Nazi scientists, of which Voller is one (under a different name). Now Voller has conquered the stars he’s interested in conquering time itself via the Antikythera and assisted by CIA operative Agent Mason (Shaunette Renée Wilson), and “good old boy” sounding Klaber (Boyd Holbrook), and brick shithouse Hauke (Oliver Ritchers) they might just be able to get their hands on one part of the Antikythera if someone doesn’t get there first.

The person who gets there first is Helena Shaw (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), Indy’s goddaughter and daughter of Basil who was driven mad by trying to understand the mysteries of the device. Helena is a chancer and a con artist who uses Indy’s own relationship with his father and his seemingly mad quest for the Holy Grail to manipulate him into helping her retrieve the Antikythera from Hunter’s archives.

From this point it is a mad chase to get one part of the thingamajig to the other part of the thingamajig. Some impressive and slightly ludicrous scenes see Indy riding a horse through the ticker tape parade for the returning astronauts and then ending up in Tangier where Helena and her pickpocket junior accomplice Teddy (Ethann Isidore) are running off the books auctions for antiquities. We race through the streets in a tuk-tuk, and somewhere in all the chaos Helena begins to develop a miniscule conscience.

The action moves from Morocco to Greece where we get a small cameo from Antonio Banderas playing a seafarer and old friend of Indiana’s. There are plenty of call-back moments to the other films where eels substitute for snakes (we know how Indy feels about snakes) and caves and grottos reveal arcane information. It’s pretty much what you’d expect from an Indiana Jones film, but it does at least note that Indy isn’t the man he once was physically, although his love and respect for history and archaeology are undiminished.

Perhaps that love and respect are the driving force behind Dial of Destiny. Raiders of the Lost Ark was the blueprint for so many other adventure stories across the years, but Indiana was never a chancer looking for his own glory (although he didn’t mind the adoration), he was a man for whom history was sacred. “That belongs in a museum” is one of his most repeated lines. Harrison Ford at the age of eighty might be playing a man who is consigned to the dustbin of history, but what a history it was.

The whole chase for the Antikythera and its other half the Grafikos is in itself an absurdity as the artefact can only lead to one place and has in the circular nature of history led there before. Voller hoping that his ownership of it will rewrite history and place him at the head of the Third Reich is just a megalomaniac’s dream that cannot be realised. Like so many of the macguffin artefacts that have driven the franchise it becomes a metaphor. In this case it is that time moves on no matter how we seek to change it. For Indiana Jones time has moved on, and what remains is the heart of the man who has come to realise what is really precious.

There are some welcome returning faces which fans will enjoy, and some of the humour is snappy and well written which makes up for the lack of characterisation around some of the lead players. Mads Mikkelsen is an immensely talented actor but he’s doing very little here except playing zealot. Waller-Bridge is somewhat better served but her character arc is mainly going from loveable rogue to concerned daughter figure – it seems unlikely we will be seeing a Helena Shaw spinoff. Harrison Ford does give it his all, he clearly loves Indy in a way that he doesn’t Han Solo. His crooked smile and sense of humour aren’t dimmed by his age and despite some flaws in the writing his character work remains true.

Indiana Jones and The Dial of Destiny is made with nostalgia at its core and embraces the pulpy silliness of the whole franchise. However, its main strength is to remind people that Indiana Jones, for all that silliness, did love and respect what he was doing – and by extension Harrison Ford did too. Although not without some issues (the action is distinctly front loaded, the globe hopping chase not as interesting as it should be, and the final destination we reach with the artefact is patently absurd) audiences can be glad that Dial of Destiny exists as a farewell to Dr Henry Jones Jr., and not the woeful Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. And, as has been already stated, Indiana Jones punching Nazis is the best kind of Indiana Jones and we get enough of that to make the whole journey worth it.

Director: James Mangold

Cast: Harrison Ford, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, John Rhys-Davies

Writers: Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, David Koepp, James Mangold, (based on characters by George Lucas & Philip Kaufman)

Nadine Whitney

Nadine Whitney holds qualifications in cinema, literature, cultural studies, education and design. When not writing about film, art or books, she can be found napping and missing her cat.

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