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'Dial of Destiny' Whips Indy Back Into Shape

"Give 'em hell, Indiana Jones!"

Let's cut to the chase: Dial of Destiny is better than Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. A lot better. And while a few familiar faces show up to help the story along, the movie stands on its own without relying on nostalgia bombs.

But Dial of Destiny is a little different than anything in the franchise. It'll feel like old times when you're swept up in the adventure, but the new director, James Mangold, has managed to step out of Spielberg's shadow instead of following directly in his footsteps. The final entry in the franchise is sometimes a fine return to form and sometimes a novel, unique take on the adventures of Dr. Jones.

Indy's adventure begins in a dreary place: he's retiring from the university and not impressed with what's left of his life. Teaching has gotten boring. Marion has left him. Their son is gone. Since archaeology doesn't pay well, and since he keeps putting his cool finds in museums, the great Indiana Jones has only a shabby apartment to show for his life's work. But this is an Indiana Jones movie, so it doesn't take long for an ancient artifact to get into Nazi hands, and only Dr. Jones, renowned professor of Archaeology, can stop them. When the plot kicks off, it feels like going home.

It was fun being faked out by the opening. At first, we think the Spear of Longinus is going to be the artifact of choice. As you know, it's supposed to be the very spear used to pierce the side of Jesus at the crucifixion, and legend states the guard holding it (whose name is "Longinus") was cured of his blindness when some of Jesus' blood hit him in the eye. Mind you, it's not clear how a blind guy got the job of Roman guard or where this legend came from (it's not in any religious book) but it's an important tale for historians, because it's been re-told, written down, and painted countless times. That spear is more famous than most of what's actually in the Bible.

The spear of longinus has been done, of course. Lots of stories have been told about Hitler nearly finding the spear and suddenly losing it under mysterious circumstances, which is maybe why it turns out to be a fake. Right off the bat, Dial of Destiny weaves history and legend to create a unique story.

(Did you know that "longinus" means "spear?" Well, technically it means "long." Which is what spears were called. It's also where we get the word "lance." In older times, people didn't differentiate between lances and spears. They were all just long, pointy sticks. Anyway, the spear of Longinus is essentially the "Spear of Spear.")

Did I mention I'm a history nut? Not only that, but I went to grad school to get a master's degree in medieval studies. Why? It probably has something to do with the time my mom brought home a movie called The Temple of Doom, which I'd never heard of. Gather 'round, kids, and let me explain the good 'ol days, when you didn't know anything about the movies coming out, especially country folk like me. You just went to the video store (this was pre-Blockbuster) and grabbed whatever looked cool.

We put the movie in the VHS player (after rewinding it, because some derelict hillbilly hadn't done his job) and I was instantly enchanted by the rugged historian who punched bad guys. To this day, I favor brown leather, prefer a satchel to a backpack, wear a beaten fedora, hate Nazis, and can't seem to button my shirts all the way. Heck, my name is Jones. I'm practically Indiana. Right?

Anyway, Dial of Destiny absolutely recaptured the adventurous spirit of the original films. Rest easy; Indy is back.

The plot is pure magic. The Nazis have discovered a time travel recipe from Archimedes, and every hair-raising stunt puts them one step closer to changing the timeline in their favor. It also feels like a combination of Time Chasers and Quest of the Delta Knights, both very fun movies with practically no budget. Indiana Jones films are basically what happens when a movie like that actually gets funding. (Here. Check out the Archimedes scene from Delta Knights. It's corny as all get out, but I have a soft spot for fun, ambitious movies, even when they bite off more than they can chew.)

But the good times in Dial of Destiny are all bittersweet. Indy is only back long enough to say goodbye. It's Harrison Ford's last romp as our favorite professor, so every moment of fun feels a little sad, because we know each daring escape might be the last.

If you've read my reviews, you know I like to geek out over technical details, but only because those details are how the art is really made. If you're a fan of Indiana Jones, you'll notice a difference in how this movie looks. The lighting is more muted than the Spielberg films, and the action scenes go on a bit longer than they should. Some will enjoy the change, because it brings Indy into a more realistic space, but I miss the dramatic, pulp book cover-style lighting of the originals. Even people who don't notice cinematography details will walk away knowing that this movie felt a little different, but it's not a big enough change to ruin anyone's fun.

Final Analysis: Indy's final adventure is a good one. And in a day when producers rarely let a good thing end (because they'd rather milk every ounce of joy from it), it's refreshing to see one of our on-screen heroes settle down for a well-deserved rest. I rate it five out of five Roman siege weapons.

Adam D. Jones is a writer, historian, and cat wrestler. He's also something of an archaeologist himself, having recently dug a hairball from the bathroom drain.


  1. Adam, you made me want to see the movie, and I wasn't sure I wanted to. :)

  2. I'll be curious to see your reaction. I loved it, but that's because Indy's my hero. I'm sure a lot of people aren't as pleased with it.

  3. What's this "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" you mentioned? I'm not aware of such a film existing.

    There are three Indiana Jones movies, and now this new one, which is therefore the fourth.

  4. D'oh. You're right. I must have made up a movie that doesn't exist...

  5. There are still only 3 Indiana Jones movies. Thankfully this is doing so badly at the box office we will be saved from any potential further movies starring the utterly insufferable Pheobe Waller Bridge. Personally I'd give this a 2 out of 5 if I was feeling generous. What an utterly depressing and soulless film.

  6. I must admit that my take is much more like skyemaidstone's than Adam's. I love both the third movie (because, you know, Sean Connery AND Harrison Ford) and the first. The other two I am not as fond of.

    This one falls somewhere in between. I thought it was badly in need of an editor. The scenes went on FAR too long, so much so that while I should have been entranced with what was happening, I was looking at my watch to calculate the remaining time.

    The reason that three and one work for me is that Indiana has a partner that I really care about and want to spend time with (Marion and Dad). Helena just didn't work for me. I curious why, when the producers had Antonio Banderas and Toby Jones on board, they chose someone not even close to their league be showcase.

    But, I always say a movie is worth my time if it makes me laugh out loud or it makes me cry. The last scene in the kitchen made me well up. The callback was wonderful and the emotion was palpable.

    Will I watch this again? Probably not, but I'm glad that Indiana Jones had a nice send off. Now, off the stream the third while I eat dinner...


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