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Dan Webster reviews "Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny"

DAN WEBSTER:

When it comes to action movies—or, really, any movies—it’s important to just let your imagination flow. The common phrase associated with this process is known, of course, as "suspension of disbelief."

For example, despite there not being—nor ever having been—a real planet called Krypton, it’s necessary to accept the idea of such a place to then believe that a baby from there could grow up on Earth wearing blue and red tights and possess superpowers. As in, "it’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s..." well, you know.

That ability to think imaginatively is particularly important when it comes to the Indiana Jones movie franchise. From 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark, through four sequels, a prequel television series and tie-in projects involving games, comic books and novels, the exploits of Dr. Henry Walton "Indiana" Jones, Jr. (played primarily by Harrison Ford) have made for some of the most entertaining exercises in action-adventure ever created.

And let’s face it, also some of the most challenging, at least to anyone not willing to go with the franchise’s tendency to play fast and loose with the laws of physics. And nowhere is that tendency more on display than in the most recent—and perhaps final, at least featuring the presence of Ford—installment titled Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.

Set in 1969, the film opens with our hero nearing the end of his career. Even as his New York neighborhood rings with the still-fresh sounds of the Beatles—music that, to Jones’ ears, is played far too loud—the legendary archaeologist and college professor is now grumpier than ever. Not only is he about to retire, but he is estranged from wife Marion (played by Karen Allen), still grieving the death of his son and, maybe most important of all considering his past, no longer the fedora-wearing, whip-wielding man of adventure upon whom his reputation was built.

Then a figure from his past shows up, and we are transported back in time. That figure, Helena Shaw (played by Phoebe Waller-Bridge), is the daughter of one of Indy’s former colleagues, Basil Shaw (played by Toby Jones). Her appearance jump-starts two separate but conjoined plotlines.

The first is a throwback to the closing stages of World War II, a time when Indy and Basil teamed up to search for a rare and valuable relic called the Lance of Longinus. To do so, they have to fight their way through a band of thugs that Indy hates more than snakes: Nazis. Though that prize turns out to be fake, they discover an even more valuable relic, one half of the so-called Archimedes Dial.

And despite the efforts of both the Nazis and a German astrophysicist named Jürgen Voller (played by Mads Mikkelsen), they succeed. But then we find out, the device—and the fruitless search for its other half—drives Basil mad.

The second plotline returns us to the present and to Helen who, unlike her father or Indy, wants the Dial merely to sell it to the highest bidder. But her efforts are being shadowed by Voller, now considered a kind of Wernher von Braun character who has helped the United States land on the moon. With the help of the CIA no less, Voller, too, is seeking both halves of the dial because he is convinced that it will allow him to access—and prepare yourself for this—fissures in time. His intent: to go back to 1939 and murder Hitler so that Germany will have a better chance of winning the war.

Okay, that’s a lot to accept. Time travel? Really? It’s a testament to the cleverness of all things Indiana Jones that director James Mangold, taking over from Steven Spielberg, manages to make the notion feel at least acceptable. That, of course, and a script that features races through streets, planes on fire, rampant gunfire and numerous fistfights, not to mention the CGI de-aging magic that in the early scenes makes Ford look far younger than his 80 years.

Among the action, there’s a fair bit of death, both among some characters who have featured roles and the many faceless minions who do not. This dampens the film’s mostly light tone just a bit. Yet if the lack of reality plagues you, then just consider the words that the screenwriters put in Indy’s own mouth.

“I don't believe in magic,” he says at one point. Yet, then he adds, “I've come to believe it's not so much about what you believe, it's how hard you believe it.”

For Spokane Public Radio, I’m Dan Webster.

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Movies 101 host Dan Webster writes about movies and more for Spokesman.com/7blog.

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