This past Friday night, I had the pleasure of seeing Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. Without spoiling it, I will say that if you disliked Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (I enjoyed it), you will be happy. It contains plenty of nods to the other films, and has some funny moments that are due to the time (the bulk of the movie takes place in 1969) and also deals, in a realistic way, with Indy’s age (he’s 70) – more on that in a minute.
It also falls in line with the rest of the films in the saga: Indy doesn’t play a strong hand, as most protagonists do, in the fate of the story. Usually, a supernatural force does that.
This is a recent criticism, at least from what I have seen, to the film series. Usually they are from young millennials and Gen Zs, such as Athena Scalzi, daughter of renowned author John Scalzi.
What she, and I’d wager many other, young cinephiles fail to realize, or perhaps are ignorant of, is that Indiana Jones is a character inspired by the serials of the 30s and 40s, where such deus ex machina and elements were common.
She was also, and I admit this is conjecture, raised on the Marvel films, where men and women with superpowers and other unique gifts utilize them to save the day or the world.
But that’s not Indy. In fact, George Lucas deliberately made him different from the heroes of his childhood serials – like Flash Gordon and Doc Savage.
He’s a lot like us.
For every weekend fighting a Thuggee cult, there are countless months in which he’s just at home on a Saturday eating soup in front of the TV. He’s a professor. He grades papers and gives lectures, and attendance lectures. All the trappings of academia and mediocrity.
Since he doesn’t have superpowers, Lucas, Philip Kaufman and Steven Spielberg needed to give their hero other attributes to help him succeed. For Jones, they gave him heart. He doesn’t always win the fight. In fact, he gets his ass kicked on the regular. He doesn’t take a thrashing and walk away like nothing happened. He aches. He gets hurt. He makes mistakes.
In fact, that’s one of the main characteristics of Indy. He just won’t stay down. Maybe even when he should, he keeps fighting.
We’ve all had our asses kicked at some point. Maybe not in a literal way, but at some point you will face those odds that seem insurmountable. Unwinnable. Someone faster, or smarter…or just more powerful than yourself.
And in the case of these films, that power is usually a supernatural force that makes itself known. And, what Ms. Scalzi is unlikely aware of, was part of what the 30s and 40s serials were known for. So naturally, they made their way to Indy’s world.
In Raiders, the Ark of the Covenant’s destructive power was turned on the Nazis. In Temple, the Shankara stones took care of Mola Ram. Donovan fell prey to the false Holy Grail. And Irina Spalko thought, incorrectly, that she could know all the interdimensional beings knew.
And in Dial…well, you’ll have to see the film.
The larger point, is, this happens in life as well. There are always things that are out of our control that happen to us. Despite our best efforts, fate, the universe, or unseen forces do what they do. Sometimes they help, other times they don’t. Maybe we can take a cue from Indy and stay down, but keep fighting.
Maybe that’s one of the lasting themes of that saga.