He can still make sharper cracks than his famous whip. And he can still throw a punch or two. There is much mayhem, a mind-bending plot, friends old and new, stunning locations and an ending that may bring a tear to the eye.
The series has been epochal in movie making since George Lucas and Steven Spielberg launched Raiders of the Lost Ark into the world back in 1981. Audiences loved the explorer tales of mystical artefacts and exotic backdrops that mixed James Bond travelogue, 1940s movie serial cliff-hangers and a sprinkling of riddles and Nazis.
We all know the seismic impact of the films on what followed, and how they influenced so much beyond them: film series such as The Mummy and National Treasure, and the wisecracking action heroes of the 1980s and 1990s – none of whom could match the freshness or originality of Indiana Jones.
Or at least that was the received wisdom until 2008’s divisive fourth Indiana Jones outing, The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, unleashed a wave of CGI monkeys, giant-headed aliens and Nazi-ish Soviet baddies to distinctly uneven effect. Not even a neat trick of an atom bomb-resistant fridge could elevate this penultimate film to the pantheon of what went before.
Wearing it well
So, does the Dial of Destiny turn the magic back on? Yes it does.
First, a few things need to be said, including the inclusion of some necessary spoilers (but nothing to completely ruin your enjoyment). Ford is old. He may be the first octogenarian action hero in any movie. But overall, he wears it as lightly as the famous hat on his head. The vivid facial expressions that made Indy and Han Solo so beloved still flicker and sparkle throughout.
Yes, they are more hangdog but they’re still there, connecting Ford to his audience in that way he always managed in his prime. However, in a quirk that raises a question for the future portrayal of other aged action heroes, the movie opens with a hauntingly young digitally de-aged Ford. He fares better than a frankly weird-looking Robert De Niro did in The Irishman – and the effect is generally convincing.
This earlier incarnation of Indy is back battling Nazis in 1945 at the tail end of the second world war – Nazis who, let’s be honest, were always his best opponents. These soldiers of the Third Reich are transporting looted antiquities back to Germany, only to be interrupted by Indy and new addition to the dotty-English-academic-sidekick oeuvre, Toby Jones as Basil Shaw.
Together they accidentally stumble upon and retrieve an artefact that provides the “MacGuffin” – a plot device (which in this case I won’t give away) that drives the whole movie. On a thrilling chase through a speeding train they encounter the chillingly blank Nazi scientist Jürgen Voller (played by Casino Royale Bond baddie Mads Mikkelsen) who becomes Indy’s bête noire.
In a theme that becomes more apparent as the film progresses, we then jump forward in time to 1969 and an elderly dozing Indy is woken, appropriately, by the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour blasting from a neighbour’s flat as they celebrate the homecoming of the Moon landing astronauts.
There are a number of sharp and quick observations about the Nazis’ role in the American Moon programme; nods to the very real underlying racism in America; the significant dissent over the money spent on space exploration; and the ongoing Vietnam War.
And then we’re off. First on horseback, then a Moroccan tuk-tuk, a Greek diving boat captained by a Tin Tin version of Antonio Banderos, and on to a series of secret caves and crashing planes, in a typically hurdy-gurdy Indiana Jones adventure.
To provide some necessary youthful counterbalance to the ageing adventurer, new director James Mangold (this is the only film in the series not directed by Steven Spielberg) enlists Phoebe Waller-Bridge as the daughter of Indy’s old friend Basil Shaw. In turn, her mischievous sidekick is newcomer Ethann Isidore as a young thief.
In a series that’s been notably short of women in any significant roles, Waller-Bridge has a ball with a character who seems to unconsciously echo the roguish charm of Han Solo, while Isidore does well with the little he is given.
The pace is fast and frenetic, but perhaps a bit too Jason Bourne, particularly the chase sequence in Marrakesh. Overall, though, Mangold’s direction is deft and true to the visual action gags that made the original films so exciting and watchable.
There are of course many recurring gags about age and the passage of time, and appropriately time itself becomes a motif for the film. In a key scene with Waller-Bridge, Indy himself, now in the twilight of his life, struggles with regrets that come with the time he’s had and contemplates what he would change if he could.
The dénouement, which I won’t reveal, is clever and surprising. The appearance of an old fan favourite from the series provides a moment of unexpectedly powerful pathos at the end. And it is a moment that entirely befits a conclusion to this great explorer’s final adventure. Indy is back with a bang, one last time.
The Conversation via Reuters Connect