There must be 50 ways to escape a Nazi. Over the 2 hours and 22 minutes of Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, we see Indy and his ragtag entourage drive planes, trains and automobiles through the streets of New York, Tangiers and somewhere picturesque in Sicily, hijack two getaway tuk-tuks, ride a horse at full pelt through the New York subway tunnels, and fly a vintage plane through a “time fissure” to land right in the middle of – well, we can’t say too much, but the kind of place and time that would be Indy’s idea of Shangri-la. “Too many Nazis!” growls Indy, just before he leaps from a speeding train hundreds of yards down into a churning river. Sometimes, the essence of being an adventuring hero is to know when to put the bullwhip down and get out of Dodge.
Dial of Destiny is the first installment in the swashbuckling archaeology franchise since Indiana Jones ventured to the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in 2008 and, given Indy’s and Harrison Ford’s ages, surely the last. Crystal Skull was generally regarded as an attempt to drive the old-school comic-book aesthetic of the Indiana Jones concept into the new world of action spectaculars. The lackluster result got the thumbs-down from critics and a lot of fans. It lacked that appealing aroma of cheap seats at the Saturday matinee.
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The latest Indiana Jones is also anything but artisanal: it could give late-vintage Fast and Furious a very, very speedy run for its money when it comes to spectacular (and spectacularly ludicrous) SFX stunts. It serves them up, however, in the same gleeful spirit that Steven Spielberg brought to Raiders of the Lost Ark way back in 1981, when CGI was just a pup, with a satisfying sprinkling of call-backs to moments in the earlier films. Where new tech really comes into its own, however, is undoing the weathering of the years on Ford’s handsomely old face.
Set in 1969, with the moon landing happening on TV and anti-Vietnam war demonstrations in the streets, the story regularly jumps back 30 years – and so does Ford, thanks to the miracle of digital de-aging. His nemesis in both timeframes is Hitler’s favorite physicist, gone freelance by the ‘60s but still committed to a racially pure Third Reich, played by Mads Mikkelsen. Mads doesn’t need de-aging; he exudes so much bilious evil as Jürgen Voller, the professor who made math malevolent, that his age is irrelevant.
The driving plot is the usual: a search for a priceless antiquity supposed to have magical powers that, if real, would be dangerous in the wrong hands. The object in question is the Antikythera, a clock-like pile of dials and levers that was supposedly invented and made by the genius second-century Greek mathematician Archimedes – mostly famous these days for jumping out of the bath, having grasped the principle of displacement – to calculate and calibrate astronomical phenomena. For the purposes of this story, it is also suspected of having the godlike power to find and skip those so-called fissures, making it possible for the holder to travel through time.
Since antiquity, however, the Antikythera has been divided in two. One half is the object of contention between Voller and Indy, who tussle for it in 1939, when the Führer wants to get hold of it to exploit its potential to do – well, this is unclear, but bad things. This half is apparently lost forever during the fight in the train, but no: Indy’s late colleague and friend Basil Shaw (Toby Jones, gone full mad-professor) managed to hang on to it. The other half is buried with Archimedes. Maybe. Somewhere. Shoot forward to 1969: Voller wants to find both halves and use his math knowhow to zap back to the war and fix things so the Nazis win. Indy, of course, wants to see it in a museum.
There is also a new kid on the block with a different agenda: Phoebe Waller-Bridge as Helena, Shaw’s daughter and Indy’s goddaughter, known in her childhood as Wombat. Helena/Wombat has persuaded herself that whatever the charms of archaeology, money is better. She is in the business of selling relics. It is not a nice business. She is not very nice all round, but the women in Indy’s life have always matched his curmudgeonly surliness with abrasiveness of some kind. Helena is abrasively witty. She can also deliver a firm punch, drive maniacally and get into moving planes by hanging off a wheel and hauling herself into the hold. In short, she is gratifyingly badass; Ford responds by doubling down on his customary gruff competence.
However much action swirls on the surface of this kind of film, its foundations are built of reassuring nostalgia. Just hearing John Williams’ score, yet another variant on the heroics and theatrics of the original, makes anyone of a certain age feel that everything is momentarily right with the world. Incoming director James Mangold gets plenty done before the titles, just as Spielberg always did, starting as he means to go on: endless action sequences can become so flabbily overblown they lose any punch, but he is never anything but brisk. One minute we’re with Indy underwater, looking for directions written in an Alexandrine code; next we’re at a Passion week procession in a Sicilian village: it moves along in the frame-by-comic book frame way that Raiders did, but with more international destinations.
It’s fun; it’s wacky; it works. I don’t know what Alexandrine mathematical codes are; I don’t have a clue whether a time fissure is a real thing. It doesn’t matter. Reality doesn’t matter, except for Nazis: they still matter. To quote a certain archaeological adventurer, I really don’t like those guys.
Title: Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny
Section: Out of Competition
Director: James Mangold
Screenwriters: Jez Butterworth & John-Henry Butterworth and David Koepp and James Mangold
Cast: Harrison Ford, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Antonio Banderas, John Rhys-Davies, Toby Jones, Boyd Holbrook, Ethann Isidore, Mads Mikkelsen
Running time: 2 hr 22 min
U.S. release date: June 30, 2023
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