This is it. The end of the road for Indiana Jones… again. And while this time it seems to be for good, was this new adventure necessary to cap off his journey? Some spoilers ahead.
It has been fifteen years since we last saw Indiana Jones, and those years have been long and trying for the adventuring archaeologist. Living out his later years in a world that he barely recognizes (and one that seems to have little need for him), Indy’s adventures and his career seem to be all but behind him. It’s a sad existence for one who has saved countless lives, and helped keep the world on a better track than it may have been without his many interferences. Those fifteen years have passed in our real lives and within the films. It is August of 1969, the Moon landing was a few weeks back, and while the world is looking to the stars, Jones can’t help but feel like a relic himself. When a young woman sits in on one of his lectures the week he is about to retire from teaching, he realizes that she is someone important from his past, and will lead him on a whole new journey that ties directly back to a mission he threw himself into at the end of World War II.
It is that mission that opens the film, notably with the de-aged scenes shown in the trailers. To give fans one last younger Indy outing, the movie’s entire cold open is that WWII story thread. It’s a fun and exciting sequence that feels like it could have been a bonus scene from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. It gives us that classic Indiana Jones vs Nazis action, and drops some light hints as to there being a dial of destiny, or the Antikythera as it is actually named in the movie. We also get a little bit of insight as to who our main villain will be with a lightly de-aged Mads Mikkelsen as the Nazi scientist Jurgen Voller. Along for the ride is Toby Jones’s Basil Shaw, a silly, bumbling, but well-meaning fellow academic brought in to essentially fill a character void previously taken by the likes of Denholm Elliott’s Marcus Brody from the first and third films, and John Hurt’s Harold Oxley from the fourth.
Shaw is looking to assist Indiana in stopping the Nazis from delivering the Lance of Longinus (the spear that pierced Jesus at the crucifixion) to Hitler, but when he overhears mention of the dial, he knows that their mission must be modified a bit. It’s a thrilling opener that will deliver the goods to most fans looking to get back into these movies, and everyone behind this movie knew well enough to put it right at the top as a way of saying goodbye to the past while building a new story for the end of this film series. And just to comment on the de-aging on Harrison Ford, it does look really great, especially when he’s kept in shadow or dim light. It is the best de-aging we’ve seen in a film, especially taking a man in his 80s and making him 40 again. A few moments of erratic action and a bright flashlight in his face show off some of the inconsistencies, but for the majority of the opening it truly felt like we were back in the ’80s watching a new Indy flick.
The young woman who brings adventure, and some extra trouble, turns out to be Helena Shaw, Basil’s daughter and Indy’s goddaughter. Played cunningly by the always great Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Helena is a mixed bag of a sidekick. She is always looking out for herself and that adds a bit of a feeling of “what side is she actually on?” throughout the movie. It’s a change of pace for a series where anyone teaming up with our lead hero is in it for the right reasons and there are never any doubts. We don’t usually get a shifty character like this, though it isn’t the first time either. Her banter with Ford is cute and funny without being over the top, or trying to force laugh out loud moments. She’s a nice addition to the lore, but not someone that could steal the spotlight from our leading man.Continued below
She also comes with a young partner in crime, Teddy, played by Ethann Isidore. Teddy and Helena have the exact same meet-cute as Indiana and Short Round had back in the ’30s; Teddy tried to pick her pocket, she caught him, and they’ve been breaking the law together ever since. It’s a cute throwback without absolutely bashing us over the head with it. And while her relationship to Teddy proves that she isn’t just out for herself at all times, her connection to Indy could have proven that to us just the same. At times their scenes felt like a backdoor pilot for The Many Adventures of Helena & Teddy on Disney+, and as I previously stated, their story is essentially a callback, but there is no way they could carry a spinoff on their own. This is Indiana Jones’s world, and it should remain as such. Even the idea that’s been kicked around of an adult Short Round series is cute in theory, but we’re all here for the man with the whip and fedora: accept no substitutes.
As the group go in search of the dial and any accompanying relics or information about it, they are faced with an absurd amount of enemies and allies from beginning to end. A stacked cast marks plenty of new faces to the series while bringing back some old favorites, like John Rhys-Davies’s Sallah, and Karen Allen’s Marion. Returning Mangold company player Boyd Holbrook does what he does best – look menacing, grin, and shoot people. Antonio Banderas has a role as an old friend of Indy’s, who happens to be a legendary deep sea diver, leading to one of the spookier sequences in the film.
This may be the big screen villain role that Mads Mikkelsen has always been auditioning for. Not since his turn as Le Chiffre in 2006’s Casino Royale has there been a need for his unique style of mustache twirling, Eurotrash-style villain. And making him a top Nazi scientist with an obsession with a device that could possibly be used for time travel, or to alter history? It’s exactly what this man was built for. To say it is even a remotely challenging part for him would be a joke, but sometimes on the nose casting just needs to happen and we can all enjoy it for what it is. There are some allusions to Project Paperclip and the further research and inventions of German scientists working for the United States, but not in a deep or meaningful way. Just a device for getting Voller in America and giving a certain level of respect and protection. The same goes for Toby Jones as Basil. It’s so obvious I doubt they even had anyone else audition. Overall, the cast is simply doing what they have all done many times over in their career. Nothing new, nothing all that interesting, but it all works within these parameters. I’d say they’re all having fun, especially Ford who hasn’t seemed this pleased to return to a role since, ever?
At nearly 2.5 hours, this is the longest movie in the series by about 20 minutes, and unfortunately there are times when you feel those extra minutes ticking by, but with a movie where time is the main focus, maybe it was impossible not to feel it. Some extra long chase sequences, a few extraneous exposition scenes, and plenty of traveling around add to a runtime that could have easily been trimmed down to hit closer to the even 2 hours of the other movies. These things adding to the runtime feel like ideas from the modern action movie school of thought, and are nowhere near as economic as similar sequences or details from the previous movies were. For as many good things the MCU and other recent popcorn movies have brought us, these padded out moments are also something that have made their way into other similar properties.
However, for every seemingly typical big studio choice, there was a decent shock or twist on an old trope which was nice. A character gets kidnapped? Don’t waste time trying to rescue them, keep chasing the dial and the Nazis will bring them to you. Nazis have guns? People, nice people, are going to be shot and killed without a second thought. To that, this movie does its best to make the Nazis a scary, real problem as they were (and are) while still making them part movie monster that we got in past movies. It also takes aim at how silly fascists truly are. Grandstanding and using their own intelligence to win over mindless incels and sociopaths to join them in their journey with elegant pageantry, false history, and folklore. Every character is miserable in their own way and not living the life they, or we, thought they would? There is still plenty of fun to be had, but everyone in this movie could benefit from some time travel. One of the most shocking details of the entire movie is how they wrote Shia LaBeouf’s Mutt Williams, aka Henry Jones III, out of this one. So in short, this movie still had some surprises up its sleeves.Continued below
There are a lot of set pieces, story beats, and characters for what is arguably the least complicated story since the original movie, but it would seem that a lot of these additions and ever-changing scenery are to have us get swept up in the moment, and remind us that we are once again in search of a possibly supernatural item, where the journey is the fun part. The end is never that important. Though when it comes to definitively giving an ending to a long-running series such as this, with a hero who could die, retire, or have some other bizarre thing happen to him right before the credits roll, it is important that you stick the landing. It is safe to say they have done so here. Fans are very protective of Indy, and whether all of the choices made are good or even interesting, Indy was without a doubt given a finale that speaks to various ways his story should or could end. With everything Indiana Jones has been through in these movies (and if you want to count the books, comics, and video games), this is the most he has been able to touch and be immersed in something otherworldly, rather than just being a bystander or witness.
The story thankfully keeps the supernatural (or sci-fi?) elements out of the movie until the finale. Like with the previous entries, there is always the question as to whether or not the thing they are chasing is going to be magical or if it is just a belief in that magic. That is a theme that gets played here as well, but it really keeps everything big and flashy for the final sequence. I can’t say I fully loved how big some of it gets, but the way Indy connects to what is happening around him, I couldn’t help but be mostly won over by the story choices. If my beloved hero is getting to be a part of something he has always wanted to, then who am I to question it at this point? Look how happy he is! There is plenty of fun to be had, but I never got emotional watching this, which is a little big of a red flag for someone who can cry at almost anything. Maybe once time goes by and it’s clear that we are never getting another movie, the bittersweetness will hit me, but unfortunately for these later entries, my mind and my heart always go back to Indy, Henry Jones Sr., Sallah, and Marcus riding off across the desert.
James Mangold does a solid Spielberg impression here: not to say that there isn’t plenty of his style on screen, but he knew not to stray too far from what has come before, and for the most part captures the older style rather than Spielberg/Lucas of the last 20 years. To his credit, there are mercilessly few nods and references to past movies: sometimes these big sequels just want to shove a hundred references in your face, but this one really only pulls out a few when it is emotionally meaningful. John Williams’s new score also does some nice heavy lifting. It calls back not just to the older Indy movies, but to Williams’s career as whole; there are similar flourishes in this movie to what he has done in nearly every other film he has scored. It fits the story and we only get the familiar themes when it really calls for it. His ability to give us a blend of old and new, while being patient with the old favorites, is what makes the score stand out this time around. None of it feels like a nostalgic overstep.
I am someone who can defend the majority of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull because it is not as bad as you remember (seriously, go watch it since I know you only saw it once), but I definitely enjoyed this one more from beginning to end over Crystal Skull. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny may be a bit too long, it may take some big leaps while also playing it a bit safe, it may even feel like treading old ground by including Nazis in a story set in 1969, but this is the finale fans have been wanting ever since they knew there would be more to come after The Last Crusade. It is a good, solid movie that respects the fans, but don’t expect the heights of nostalgia you feel watching the original trilogy. Not even Spielberg could bring that back: that’s an impossible and unfair ask of anyone.