Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny: Entertaining Satire

By Timothy Furnish Published on July 14, 2023

When Marx wrote that history repeats, “first as tragedy, second as farce,” movies hadn’t been invented yet. But let’s apply that assertion to the Indiana Jones films. Then extend it a bit.

Classifying the First Four Indiana Jones Movies

Raiders of the Lost Ark is, of course, the unsurpassable original. Temple of Doom is then the tragedy. Not only does Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones II undergo the suffering of Thuggee enslavement. The movie was tragically disappointing. The Last Crusade is farce — but in a better way than Marx meant. It’s the most comedic of all five films. And Sean Connery as Indy’s dad steals the show, regularly putting “Junior!” in his place. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, sticking with Marx’s stage categories, is magical realism, what with its aliens shoe-horned into a Cold War setting.

Where Does the New One Rank?

Now comes the final (?) installment in the franchise (or at least the last one with Harrison Ford, according to him). This one qualifies as satire. Why? Because it holds up our archaeologist protagonist to ridicule. That’s not all it does. But Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny certainly rips the metaphorical hero’s cape — or, in this case, academic hood — off of Indy and shows us his foibles. And it does so with much less grace than his father did in Last Crusade. Alas. Not that Dial of Destiny is a bad movie. In fact, I’d rank it as the third best in the franchise. Behind Raiders and Last Crusade, but ahead of Temple of Doom and Crystal Skull.

Dial of Destiny: Recap (with Spoilers!)

[Spoiler alert!] Here’s the plot. It’s 1969, and Professor Jones is finally retiring. Just then a former colleague’s daughter, Helena Shaw, appears and talks him into showing her a precious artifact he’d squirreled away. Half of the “Dial of Destiny,” which is actually Archimedes’ Antikythera. Indy and her father had stolen it from the Nazis in early 1945. This MacGuffin — like the Ark of the Covenant, the Grail and even the Crystal Skulls — is a real device, which may have been an ancient astronomical computer. No one knows for sure. But here it’s posited as a device for mathematically calculating when rifts in time will open.

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Shaw steals it from Indy. Then cue the Nazis — yet again. Turns out one of NASA’s rocket scientists is a World War II German bad guy. That too is factual. But in this case one of them, Jürgen Voller, wants to change history — by using the Antikythera to go back and replace Hitler, avoiding Der Führer’s “mistakes.” And with the help of sympathetic CIA officers (of course!), Voller pursues first Shaw, then she and Indy as they reluctantly join forces. From New York City, to Morocco, Greece, then finally Sicily.

In the Cave of Dionysius on Sicily, Indy and Helena find Archimedes’ tomb — and the missing half of the Dial. But Voller and his lackeys show up and take it. Then everyone gets on a plane to fly into the rift back to 1939. But of course in good Mary Sue fashion, Helena gets on board by driving a motorcycle fast enough to jump onto the landing gear and get inside right before takeoff. Unfortunately for the Reich, Voller miscalculated and they fly back to 212 BC. Just when the Romans are besieging Hellenistic Sicily. The nascent Nazis are killed. Indy wants to stay in the past with Archimedes, but Helena coldcocks him. (Did I mention Mary Sue?) They then return through the rift, using another plane that her sidekick Rahim had followed them back in. Indy winds up back in his New York apartment, and he and Marion reconcile. The End.

The Good Parts

The good.

  • They didn’t try to replace Harrison Ford. He is, and always will be, Indiana Jones.
  • Phoebe Waller-Bridge was quite likable as Helena.
  • Mads Mikkelsen was more than two-dimensional as a bad guy. And had one of the best lines in the movie. “What is history, but a series of losses. Usually someone else’s.”
  • Sallah! Marion! And several call-backs to the other movies.
  • Antonio Banderas as Indy’s Greek diver friend Renaldo.
  • Believable MacGuffin: the Antikythera/Dial.
  • Indiana Jones showed an emotional side never before seen — even with his father in Last Crusade: admitting to the pain from his son’s death and his inability to comfort Marion afterwards.
  • Time travel! Romans fighting Greeks! Archimedes!
  • A functioning German He-111 plane in 1969. (I love World War II planes.)
  • No coeds have “I love you” written on their eyelids during Dr. Jones’ class.

The Bad, and Ugly, Parts

The bad.

  • Too much CGI. Did you learn nothing from The Hobbit movies?
  • Much of the film was really dark and hard to see. Especially the beginning, underwater, and cave sequences.
  • Too many chase scenes: on the Nazi train, through NYC, through Tangiers, Mary Sue on the motorcycle.
  • Nazis? Again? Are they the only villains of the 20th century? At least they weren’t wearing MAGA hats.
  • Why is Dr. Jones still teaching at 80? Did he stop contributing to his TIAA- CREF? Did he never get tenure?
  • They wasted Banderas, a fine actor, killing off his character with only about nine lines of dialogue.

The ugly.

  • Indiana Jones at 80? Did we need to see that?

Indy Will Live Forever — or Disney Will Die Trying to Make Him

Remember in Raiders when Indy told Marion “it’s not the years, honey; it’s the mileage.” Well, here it was the years. Indy comes off as old, bitter, disillusioned, wanting to live in the past (literally!), and fated to be replaced by a younger (and female) model. Is that really the way to treat the #2 cinematic hero of all time? (And let’s be honest: he’s really number one, political correctness aside.) His legacy should have ended with riding off into the sunset.

I’ve loved Indiana Jones since 1981. I was so smitten by the movies that I almost went to graduate school in archaeology at the University of Chicago. I reconsidered when I found out they don’t issue a fedora and bullwhip with your degree. (And how much UChicago cost.) So maybe I wanted to like this movie. Still, considering how bereft Hollywood is of ideas, we could do worse than a paean to a true movie icon. Even a satirical one.

 

Timothy Furnish holds a Ph.D. in Islamic, World and African history from Ohio State University and a M.A. in Theology from Concordia Seminary. He is a former U.S. Army Arabic linguist and, later, civilian consultant to U.S. Special Operations Command. He’s the author of books on the Middle East and Middle-earth, a history professor and sometime media opiner (as, for example, on Fox News Channel’s War Stories: Fighting ISIS). He currently writes for and consults The Stream on International Security matters.

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