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Reflections on Indy

"Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny " by K G Kline

Grade: B+

"It's not the ark, but it will have to do."

There are moments in life we remember forever. Our first kiss. The birth of a child. A final goodbye. For those of us growing up in the 80's, (and I count myself among them), you likely would include the first time you saw "Raiders of the Lost Ark". Chances are you remember where you saw it and probably who you saw it with. I like to call these moments "bookmarks on our heart". They help us remember life's chronology. For many, this weekend will be one of those bookmarks as we say our last goodbyes to Indiana Jones. He leaves our lives after being a part of them (on and off) for over forty years. That alone makes "Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny" mean much more than the average film. No matter what we may say about it, it's not just a movie.

When Disney paid George Lucas a royal sum for the rights to the Star Wars films they got an added bonus. It also came with one half ownership of the Indiana Jones franchise. At that point it seemed inevitable that there would be another Indy film, but there was a problem. The other half was still owned by Steven Spielberg, and he made it clear that he had little interest in making another film, and if it was to happen only Harrison Ford would play the title character. On the plus side, Ford was rumored to be open to another Indy film if he liked the script. Fast forward to 2022 and the stars finally aligned (literally) in a way that permitted Disney it's trophy. For the first time Spielberg wouldn't direct. He was busy filming his life story, but after giving his blessings Ford donned the hat and whip one final time and "Dial of Destiny" was born.

Is it good? Is it not-so-good? Is it terrific? The best answer is that it's all three. The first hour, set in France in 1945, finds Indy (with the help of de-aging software) fighting Nazis for the legendary spear that pierced Christ's side. A fight ensues (imagine that), and we find our hero fighting the lead Nazi on top a moving train while passing through mountain tunnels. (This will be an awkward problem for "Mission Impossible" when it comes out in August, because it has the exact same fight.) The de-aging is very effective at making Ford look just a bit older than in "Raiders", but sadly that's where the praise stops. Disney has a habit of taking Lucas and Spielberg's love affair with 1930's action serials and turning them into something dark and serious. They do it here too. The writers never figure out that an Indy film should make you laugh, then make you cheer, then make you do both at the same time. The fun is simply missing for much of the film's somewhat dark and tedious first hour.

Then it goes darker.

Those old serials had a reliable format. The good guys always win in the end (more or less). The bad guy always get what's coming to them. And all the good guys survive to fight alongside our hero in the next story. They may get beat up, captured, threatened, tortured with voodoo, captured again, and beat up again, but they will always survive. I wish someone would have explained this to the folks at Disney. "Dial of Destiny" plays more like a Daniel Craig-era Bond film than an Indy film. If "Raiders" is Indy's "Goldfinger", than "Dial of Destiny" is his "Skyfall". At times it's a dark, somewhat depressing film with a high hero body count. There's a moment when two good guys are killed in cold blood that makes you pause and ask if this actually IS an Indy film.

Good news. Around hour two it takes a welcome turn when the heroes reach Greece and we start seeing some actual tomb raiding (they were once called "Raiders", after all), Plus, Indy's partner and female costar Helena, starts taking up more of the story in act II. She's no Marian Ravenwood or Willy Scott, but she also isn't constantly in distress, so there is that. With a fifty year age gap there's no chance of a romantic relationship, and its absence deprives Ford of those romantic comedy lines he does so well. It's something the film never overcomes. Helena isn't a bad character, but she's far too cunning and unpredictable to be truly likeable, at least in the same way Marian was.

The film finally finds its magic when the pair travel in a stolen German bomber to a place I won't give away. It's here, more than in any of the previous films, that Ford truly owns Indy. He shines, showing a side of Indy we've never seen before, and that alone makes it worth the trip.

It was supposed to end there, but critics who saw the preview screening at Cannes crucified the writers for the film's ending, and an additional fifteen minute closing scene was shot in late spring. They were right. It's the best part of the film, and one of the best scenes in any Indy film. It closes the story with a cheer and a tear, and for some of us, perhaps more than a single tear.

Indiana Jones is the last of the 80's franchises still holding onto it's original cast. With the release of "Dial of Destiny" an era of our lives comes to a close. Like "Return of the Jedi" or the last episode of "M*A*S*H", we'll always remember the moment we said goodbye.