There are some sprightly octogenarians around, but nobody tops Indiana Jones. When we meet him in this long-awaited finale to the series, it’s during the last weeks of World War Two. A digitally rejuvenated Harrison Ford is battling the Nazis, getting out of one close scrape after another, while setting up the key plot device for the rest of the film.
After twenty minutes of rip-roaring preamble it’s a surprise to be suddenly confronted with the titles and find ourselves transported to New York, 1969, where an elderly Indiana Jones is awoken by his noisy neighbours in the next apartment, with a blast of the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour. As songs go, it’s a bit too close to home.
Today is the day Jones is retiring from his professorship, but there’s no opportunity to put his feet up. Before he’s even made it home he is plunged into another round of sheer mayhem, thanks to the unexpected appearance of his goddaughter, Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), child of his old colleague, Basil Shaw (Toby Jones). It seems that Helena, whom Indy hasn’t seen since she was a little girl, has also taken up the profession of archaeology, and is desperate to see a famous relic Jones and her dad retrieved from the Nazis at the beginning of the film.
That artefact – or half-artefact, as the other part has still be found – is Archimedes’s Antikythera, which looks like the plastic insides of a old clock, but is in fact the golden Dial of Destiny that makes the entire plot of the movie go round. Those familiar with the previous four Indiana Jones adventures, will know there’s always a fabulous artefact involved.
No sooner have Indy and Helena laid hands on the Dial, than they are cornered by Nazi scientist, Dr. Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen), whom we last saw waving a gun on top of a speeding train filled with Nazi loot. Dr. Voller has endeared himself to the Americans by helping them put a man on the moon, but his real aim is to seize the Antikythera, and use it to change the course of history. He intends to ensure that the Nazis win the war, while he takes over as Führer. In brief, he is a textbook supervillain who exudes evil from eye-brows to toenails. You know the type. Voller is never seen without two murderous henchman who don’t believe in leaving witnesses.
The mad doctor can entertain these modest aims because he believes Archimedes’s device was able to find “fissures in time” – a feature that will come into its own towards the end of the movie.
The turn-up is that Helena is revealed to be something of a crook herself – an opportunistic dealer in stolen artefacts, who puts profit over the high ideals of archaeology.
After a chase sequence that it would take this entire column to describe, Helena escapes with the goods to Morocco, with Indy and Dr. Voller in hot pursuit. More chaos, more chases, and a working truce between Indy and Helena, now joined by her young companion, Teddy (Ethann Isidore), an unusual name for an Arab. Soon we’re off to Greece, for a spot of scuba diving, in search of more Archimedean bric-a-brac until Dr. Voller and his goons turn up and spoil the ambience.
Next stop, inevitably, is a deep dark cavern, in which Indy takes seconds to decode mysteries that have lain dormant since the time of Archimedes. More breathless adventure, more gymnastic and martial arts feats that would be beyond the powers of most 80-year-olds. And on and on, until the stunning – and utterly preposterous – conclusion to our tale. Then it’s back to Manhattan to wind up the entire Indiana Jones series in a satisfying way.
With an Indiana Jones movie you know exactly what you’re in for, even if Steven Spielberg and George Lucas are simply co-producers, with the capable James Mangold (Ford v Ferrari), in the director’s chair. I was tempted to watch the entire sequence again, from Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), through the next three chapters of 1984, 1989 and 2008. It would’ve helped me get all the small references intended to appeal to diehard fans, as characters from previous films make fleeting appearances. But there’s little point in poring over the Indiana Jones stories as if they were manuscripts in need of decoding. The pleasure of these movies is the non-stop action. It’s the difference between watching a live sporting contest and studying the history of the game. Most people, self included, are far more excited by what is unfolding in real time in front of their eyes.
From memory, this last movie in the series is not the best, but also not the worst. True believers will not be disappointed.
The films move along at such a clip we never pause to consider the countless implausibilities or the holes in the plot. It is, for instance, strange that Indy should have left Archimedes’s earth-shattering golden device lying around in a dusty university storage room for about twenty-five years, or that it took Dr. Voller so long to come looking for it. In the cinematic tradition of Hitchcock’s ‘MacGuffin’, the Dial is not to be approached with logic or common sense. It is simply the magical device that drives the story.
One wonders if any young person ever pursued a career in archaeology after watching an Indiana Jones movie only to find themselves squatting for months in a ditch dusting off bits of broken pot. There should be a series like this for every sedentary profession. Why couldn’t Indiana Jones be a chartered accountant?
For many viewers the major appeal of this final Indiana Jones fantasy, will be to see Harrison Ford, who turns 81 this month, in action hero mode for the last time. An added attraction may be a final, stirring score from John Williams, who is now 91. It is a suitably triumphant performance from an actor who wears his age so lightly. Perhaps as a retirement project he might consider running for President of the United States.
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny
Directed by James Mangold
Written by Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, David Koepp
Starring: Harrison Ford, Phobe Waller-Bridge, Ethann Isidore, Mads Mikkelsen, Antonio Banderas, Toby Jones, Boyd Holbrook, Olivier Richters, Shaunette Renée Wilson
USA, M, 154 mins
Published in the Australian Financial Review, 1 July, 2023