Indiana Jones was the first and last time a teacher was cool. Now, he’s old. But, what does that mean? Indiana Jones and The Dial of Destiny takes the former college professor and places him in his final adventure, but not in the Daniel Craig sense. We’re going to let the old man stop drinking and reclaim his dignity. So, what has happened in the last 15 years?
Indy is moving into theaters like it’s 1989
Your youth has been over for a bit, quit making kids relive it. While it makes for reaction video fodder, I love watching unnecessary sequels land with a thud. Why? Because we need to get back to making movies again and not franchise installments. The American Cinema thrives when it is a marketplace of ideas that can give you something to watch in an air conditioned auditorium instead of wasting your time elsewhere.
As time goes on, my memories of 1989 grow dimmer. But, it always ties back to Indiana Jones and Batman. Now, I’m older and it’s Indiana Jones and special guest star Batman again in the cinemas. But, things have changed. The theater I used to go to is now a Costco and everyone is old. I now read coffee table books about the weird production history of Last Crusade instead of talking to schoolyard chums.
It’s 1989 again and nobody cares.
Seriously, The Flash screenings are turning into Cinematic Spirit Halloweens
I love comic books and I’m starting to hate comic book movies again. It’s not because they’re bad, it’s because the potential has never been greater and the return has never been more mediocre. However, that effect is spilling over to the multiple returns to the well in other subgenres. In Indiana Jones and The Dial of Destiny, that diminished repeating return is the crux of the movie. The Nazis in hiding can’t escape their desire to improve upon Hitler’s mistakes, Indy can’t forget the past and Indy’s goddaughter wants be the new Belloq.
Times change and nothing ever improves. Mutt is dead, Marion has left and Indy sits and drinks alone. So, when the Dial of Destiny (I’m not even trying to spell out the Greek name) sets off the latest adventure, things get recycled faster than how recycling works in everyone’s mind. Indy has to get the call to adventure, which is different than Crystal Skull. That film opened with Indy CG slinging from overhead lights and then escaping nuclear death in an ancient fridge.
The Dial of Destiny begins with our hero broken down. But, what about The Force Awakens? Well, Ford in that movie is an aging adventurer still actively looking for his past and working in space when the Falcon gets pulled onto his freighter. Han Solo never gave up, he was just sad about Kylo Ren going to the Dark Side. Indiana Jones gets into a fight with his adult son and then loses him to a Vietcong crack shot half a world away.
You got old too
It’s not the age, it’s the mileage only goes so far. That analogy works once and then you start to see the characters in this narrative and the people in your life as tired vehicles. They did their time and some don’t need to keep running the road hot. Indiana Jones had an ending at the end of Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and The Dial of Destiny have just been cinematic DLC without a point.
This might sound like I’m beating up on Indiana Jones and The Dial of Destiny. But, that would be elder abuse and I’m told it’s frowned upon. Throughout The Dial of Destiny, I found myself marveling at the choices made. From the over-extended de-aging in the opening scene to its Rise of Skywalker style second flashback, I started to detect something seemingly undermining Mangold’s choices.
There is not a doubt in my mind that nobody outside of maybe Filoni at Disney has any real control. But, what about Feige? This isn’t 2019 and the Fantastic Four still doesn’t have a cast. Get back to me when you have something real, invisible naysayer. What we have in Indiana Jones and The Dial of Destiny is a confirmation that Disney is returning to the older studio style system.
You have a property, you have contracted stars and you have a date to make. Anyone outside of Steven Spielberg couldn’t elevate The Dial of Destiny and Crystal Skull showed his heart isn’t still in it. I don’t blame Spielberg, as you shouldn’t keep having master directors keep revisiting their previous work. Even Hitchcock stopped that noise in the early 1950s.
Indy belongs with Marion
Marion Ravenwood exists in two facets. People remembering Karen Allen and online people mentioning her character origins. She was a child, they’ll say. I’ll say it’s a left over line from script changes that played worse after casting. They’ll moan and continue not watching movies. I’ll growl and keep watching the same staple of cinema over and over again. All the while, Indiana Jones continues to age.
Kicking the Marion support from underneath Indiana isn’t the best way to start The Dial of Destiny. After all, Crystal Skull made it clear that he was getting old and wanted to settle down. There is the need to get the adventurer back in action, but he’s slow and plodding throughout most of the movie. People will awe at how you have to actually pay attention to Harrison Ford acting in The Dial of Destiny. That’s because it’s easy for an 80 year old to convey that everything sucks, he hates young people and his joints are killing him.
This is the consequence of not recasting or furthering a story. Eventually, time runs out and your beloved 1980s toys rot apart or get lost in a sea of nostalgic bastardization. Even the third act of The Dial of Destiny is based around realizing that playing in the past things you love is a trap. You can’t go back in time and if you do, it’s not how you want to do it.
Why Helena Shaw doesn’t work
People beat up on Willie Scott way too much and they give Elsa a pass. That leaves Marion Ravenwood who is as untouchable as it gets. But, where does Helena fall into the mix? Disney realized that no one wants to watch an 80 year old make out with his goddaughter, so she becomes the kind of characters that makes everyone hate modern Disney. A plucky young woman covered in plot armor that can do whatever she wants when she wants to do it like a Virginia Slims model made out of Adamantium.
You came a long way, baby. But you’re going to be seen as cliche with the shelf life of a gas station burrito. That’s not even to bring up Shaw’s sidekick Teddy who feels like a syndicated 1980s sitcom kid that shows up for a few laughs and support. That’s right, The Dial of Destiny gives Indy’s sidekick a sidekick for no reason other than to reduce things down further to Disney is replacing the old man eventually one day soon.
Helena Shaw doesn’t work because she is redundant. Shaw was created as an accessory to an unseen Indy helper who also gets shoehorned into place to further along the story. All the while, we’re treated to how Helena can use The Dial of Destiny for different motivation. She’s everything we’ve expected Indy not to be and she doesn’t really learn anything from him. At the end of the film, she dumps Tomb Raider Grandpa off with another older person, so she can go live her life elsewhere. Helena only exists to bring the focus in and out when it’s convenient to her, but also she never really validates why she is there.
Spielberg was wise not to revisit the Nazis
The Nazis rarely work as a villain in narrative fiction anymore. But, what about Raiders of the Lost Ark and Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade? Well, even in Last Crusade we were experiencing diminished returns. But that movie started as a haunted castle picture that was reduced to Spielberg working out his pre Fablemans angst at an early age. I know the Gen Z crowd likes to pretend smacking around skinheads online or occasionally with milkshakes is the same as storming Normandy, but it’s not. The Nazis as the threat they were is minimized and virtually worthless on film.
But, where do you go? Spielberg tried to pivot to the Commies in Crystal Skull and all it gave us was Cate Blanchett in a bad wig and killer ants. As a character ages and options dry up, real threats become harder and harder to find. In The Dial of Destiny, Indiana and Helena are fighting Dr. Voller who is the last relic of the Third Reich. He wants to go back in time to improve the Nazis and the Dial of Destiny is his ticket back to a better age.
History lessons pale in comparison to mythology
If you’re going to come at me with facts about the Siege of Syracuse, I’m going to yawn. The ultimate point of The Dial of Destiny is that all of the relics that Indiana Jones encounters are ‘stacked decks’. Whether it be the Ark, the Sankara Stones, the Holy Grail or even the Crystal Skull…they exist as tools of an overlord to reset balance to a chaotic universe. This time, it’s Archimedes using The Dial of Destiny as a tool to bring future help back to 212 BC to save his ass.
So much of The Dial of Destiny is about tweaking your expectations and seeing how many times you can get kicked in the ribs before giving up. In a lot of ways, there are almost Venture Bros. levels of failure throughout the story and we’re expected to treat the heroic Indiana Jones as an aging Rusty Venture hoping for the return of purpose. After all of this, the trite filled cop out of his fedora on a clothesline feels like the gasp of a grave robber that can’t leave well enough alone.
What makes Indiana Jones work?
Indiana Jones and The Dial of Destiny thrives when Indiana Jones feels like he has a purpose. Spielberg and Lucas are both their best when telling purpose driven stories. Whether it be clearing the beach at Amity, reaching out to Aliens or pursuing the finest relics…the duo knew that things had to have a point. So much of the last decade of genre entertainment has been spent watching mindless quests.
The Dial of Destiny gives Indiana Jones an arc of trying to rediscover what matters via his work. All the while, we see a very real old man who just wants to quit at a pleasurable spot. When he’s not allowed and forcibly taken back to 1969 by Helena Shaw, that’s when the real lesson of The Dial of Destiny hits us. You aren’t allowed to fail, but you can suffer all day long.
Accounting for Continental Drift
Indiana Jones has now had 2 giant gaps in revisits. In 2008, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull felt too far and 15 years later, age impacts a lot. In this seemingly final last gasp of Indiana Jones, the aforementioned point becomes more relevant. Indy spends a great deal of this movie suffering. He suffers from losing his teaching position, not being able to adventure, his son’s death and his wife moving on from the life. As he tries to reconnect with a shadow of his past in Helena, he realizes that the world doesn’t want him in it as the same role.
What will make this so unappealing to some is how awful fighting your age looks like on film. Helena Shaw will get a healthy amount of blame for it, because putting a rather pointless female character as the face of reality only tends to enrage. But, The Dial of Destiny ends the only way it can end. Indiana Jones in virtual retirement being doted upon by the woman he didn’t leave to die in a Nepalese tavern. Just like the stories your grandparents used to tell you.