‘I’ ON CULTURE
The new film Indiana Jones and the Waiting Room Walker has just opened. Yes, I know that is not the name that is used (Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny) but come on, Harrison Ford is 80, and we see him doing incredible jumps, riding horses through New York parades and a whole bunch of other wild stunts. I mean, I’m a bit younger, and I have trouble getting up in the middle of the night to… well, you know.
Clearly, Disney, which now owns the franchise, is trying to find a way to make money at a time when most of the company’s movies have disappointed. The first three movies in the series were brilliant. Raiders of the Lost Ark was easily the best B-movie ever made, and the other two worked well. Then they had that nonsense about a crystal skull about 15 years ago, which pitched nostalgia. This film attempts to bring back the old fun. It does not really work.
After a somewhat extended opening sequence where a far younger Indy (Harrison Ford) fights Nazi villain Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen) at the end of World War II and ends up with one half of a device said to have been invented by Archimedes, which can maneuver through fissures in time (since there has been no time travel in Disney movies in recent years), we see Indy at the end of his career in 1969. Instead of the sexy explorer, he is now a professor boring the daylights out of his students as he finally retires. Then his goddaughter Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) drops in on him, and suddenly both the U.S. government and the Nazis are chasing him.
The chase, meaning the movie, is actually pretty good. Voller is a really bad guy and has a couple of nasty thugs with him. Helena, a con woman, who lies to Indy almost every time she speaks, gets the device and puts it up for sale. A great chase goes on, and Voller gets the device, but Helena knows where a clue to the other part lies. That leads to the Aegean Sea and old comrade Renaldo (Antonio Banderas), who has a boat where they can dive for the clue, and eventually they all wind up in Sicily, where the plot takes yet another turn.
Ford is an institution, one of the great old stars who actually could portray a hero without a lot of gimmickry (compare him to Robert Downey’s Iron Man, who needs a special suit). And watching him perform, even knowing that almost all the physical acts were done by stuntmen, and that in others, high tech put on a younger face, we can still feel a real thrill. But realizing he is near the end of his career, which means Indy is as well, is sobering. But his star power carries the film.
Waller-Bridge, however, really is a disappointment. Yes, she can do lines well, but when we root for Indy, we do it because he is a good guy. Throughout most of this film, Helena behaves horribly. She lies, she is in trouble with the law, and seems loath to change. Some critics say that she represents modern women. Those critics must have very strange relationships. There were rumors that Kathleen Kennedy, who as producer has already pretty much ruined Star Wars, was going to use her to finish off Indiana Jones. Becoming a better person by the end does not make up for earlier issues.
The rest of the cast is fine, many of them veterans of earlier Indy films, and they play their roles well. Mikkelsen makes an excellent villain but, frankly, I am tired of Nazis in movies, particularly decades after World War II. Ethann Isidore is a cute kid, adding a bit of a humorous touch, a sort of salute to Short Round from the earlier films.
But director James Mangold keeps the chases going, with lots of wild stunts, and even though the film does drag at times, it still is pretty good. Of course, not nearly on the level of the first three Indy films, but not terrible entertainment. The problem is that while the original(s) were brilliant B-movies, ones deserving of their status among movie greats, this one is actually a B-movie. The only thing lifting it above a basic movie is seeing the ending of the Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones story.
If you like Ford and Indy, see the picture in the theater. If not, wait for pay per view or streaming.