Four previous Indiana Jones movies tried to wow us in 1981 (Raiders of the Lost Ark), 1984 (The Temple of Doom), 1989 (The Last Crusade) and 2008 (The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull). Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Last Crusade were very popular films, the other two not so much.
Many of us who stampeded to whichever next Indiana Jones was being released will admit that the appeal of the series is an action hero for the more cerebral among us. Indy knows his stuff. Clothed in leather jacket, bespoke hat, and carrying a handy whip, he risks life and limb to save precious historical artifacts from bad guys with nefarious purposes.
Dr. Indiana Jones is a brilliant archaeologist, following in his archaeologist father’s footsteps. (Sean Connery was perfect as Indy’s father in the third film.) Indy has saved bits of history all over the globe and put antagonists in their place. Forty-two years after his first film exploits, Dr. Jones is now a retiring professor. Subtly, a clock ticks in the background from the opening of the film, the ticking recurring throughout, reminding us that Indy’s not getting any younger. Yet, today, adventure will find him on his last day at work.
A memory of his arrives like a dream before he wakes that morning. It’s near the end of World War II, somewhere in Europe, as Nazis move stolen art and artifacts to a train to take to the Fuhrer in Germany. Indiana Jones manages to thwart the train’s progress, save his friend, Basil, and grab a 3rd century B. C. artifact in the process. Fast forward to 1969, when the late Basil’s daughter, Indy’s goddaughter Helena, shows up to ask about that artifact, the “Antikythera mechanism”. Though such a mechanism actually was found in a sunken Roman ship in 1901, this fictional artifact, when joined with its other half, apparently can turn back the hands of time.
Closeted Nazi sympathizers are after the artifact they once had in hand. Mayhem ensues. A parade is disrupted. An auction in Tangier ends in violence. There are chases using nearly every mode of transportation except camels. There is underwater diving for sunken treasure. All this action stops just long enough for them to translate ancient code leading to another discovery in yet another country. You get the picture. A surprise twist is worth waiting for near the end.
Is this as good a film as the earlier Indiana Jones movies? Probably. Few people would be bored with it. For those who know the character and remember his former sidekicks, there is warm familiarity and inside jokes. Mostly, this is a film about a vibrant man in his later years getting to have one last great adventure. And we are willing to be a part of it one last time.