A few weeks back, one of my best friends and I went to see the new INDIANA JONES movie on release day. Besides the fact that the movie theater was only 20% full (Another topic for the future), the movie was given mostly negative reviews. As the film has matriculated through our culture the past couple of weeks, the score has balanced out to a more realistic median. But since the movie is likely going to lose money for Disney and LucasFilm, how much of an impact did this vocally loud group of negative reviewers have on this film? This is a topic that has fascinated me over the past couple of years. Back in 2018 when the Wes Anderson ISLE OF DOGS came out, he was accused of cultural appropriation by multiple journalists. Despite the fact that the filmmaker went out of his way to hire voice actor Kunichi Nomura to review the Japanese cultural aspects of the movie for authenticity. Like is often the case in our anti-intellectual present-day outrage culture, the opinions on this movie seemed misguided. Another recent example was LICORICE PIZZA, a movie about growing up in the mid-1970s in the Valley of California. A character who is portrayed as an opportunist for anyone who has half a brain uses a derogatory Asian accent to talk with his wife. When we meet him again, he is doing the same thing with a different Asian wife. This became enough of a controversy that TIME Magazine featured it in an article. Movie reviews and film analysis have only gotten worse since then. After giving a brief summary of my own personal review of the new INDIANA JONES, I will look into two factors which have destroyed present day film reviewers and is causing the industry to make political and social statements that are misguided and alienating. Feel free to comment back with your own opinions on this issue.
INDIANA JONES and the DIAL OF DESTINY is a good film. Since there are four other movies to compare this current iteration to, let’s do a quick INDIANA JONES story checklist.
Adventure film with memorable set pieces: CHECK
Story based around a historical relic from the past that may have supernatural or religious elements: CHECK.
Indiana Jones has a notable and memorable sidekick: CHECK.
The villains of the movie are Nazis: CHECK
The soundtrack is done by John Williams: CHECK
The DIAL of DESTINY feels like an Indiana Jones movie. The main difference for fans of this series is that this franchise has existed for 42 years, and the protagonist (Harrison Ford) has reached his 80s in real life. So, his action scenes minus the 25-minute opener that takes place at the end of World War II with a de-aged Indiana are slightly more toned down. But once the movie gets started, it never stops. The plot revolves around a device called the Antikythera (Based on a real life historical mathematical device) that has been broken up into two pieces so its power can never be used. Indiana’s competition for this device is Dr. Jurgen Voller played by the irreplaceable Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen. After the film opens, the race is on to acquire both pieces of the device, combine them into one entity which will activate it, and use the power of the Antikythera to change history. One of the biggest surprises to me was actress Phoebe Waller-Bridge who goes along with Jones on the journey while having her own personal motivation for acquiring the device. The movie is entertaining and when the device inevitably activates at the end (SPOILERS), the ending takes an incredible risk that pays off the many years that Indiana Jones has studied and tried to acquire historical devices as an archaeologist. Some of the common criticisms of the movie is that Indiana is a broken man. From my point of view, this is wrong. As a character who has aged into his later years and has plenty of personal regret, this key development of his character is important as it explains his mindset at the end of the film when he finds himself in a different time and place. My only complaints about this film are minimal. Mads Mikkelson is such a wonderful actor especially in many of his native Danish films that he feels wasted again in this movie. Like DOCTOR STRANGE and the third FANTASTIC BEASTS movie, an actor that can engage in complicated character studies feels very one dimensional as a Nazi scientist. There is another young teen boy in the Short Round tradition that also feels like a waste. That is why this film feels most comparable to me with TEMPLE of DOOM. While the Ark of the Covenant in RAIDERS of the LOST ARK and the Holy Grail from LAST CRUSADE had religious elements, the Antikythera also has supernatural elements revolving around an ancient Greek scientist and time travel. This is comparable to the historical Sankara Stones in TEMPLE OF DOOM which activate when Indiana speaks the name of Shiva. The outlier of these films is still the worst of the five, INDIANA JONES and the CRYSTAL SKULL, which added an alien supernatural aspect to the movie that actually feels out of place with the classic Indiana Jones story. But these are minor complaints. This is a very good movie that dives into the nostalgia you had for many of the characters from the previous movie while wrapping the film series up satisfactorily.
So why is Indiana Jones not doing well in the theater? Media corporations are a main part of the problem. Too many corporations especially on the entertainment side seem very interested in pushing social and political change through entertainment. No matter how you feel about politics from a conservative side (STRANGE WORLD) or liberal angle (See the aforementioned ISLE OF DOGS and LICORICE PIZZA above), people are just not interested in discussing political or social justice issues inside of animated or adventure movies. Plus, these criticisms allow the studios to blame incorrectly a “racist” or “closed-minded” audience instead of grappling with the fact that the movie was flat out bad.
STRANGE WORLD: 5.7 out of 10 on IMDB
LIGHTYEAR: 6.1 out of 10 on IMDB
This allows Disney or the talent involved to blame the poor performance on a particular social problem while ignoring the fact that the movie as a whole is not very good. In twenty years when the present-day politics has evolved to something completely different, how many people are going to revisit LIGHTYEAR and brag about how fantastic the movie was? From an evergreen perspective, the movie will not be remembered as a classic of American cinema. That is the goal that every film should be striving towards. This is why CASABLANCA 84 years later is still a watchable and entertaining film.
Finally, we have to acknowledge our degraded review culture. Here are three reviews (Here, Here, and Here) of INDIANA JONES that are so badly written, I thought these came out of MAD Magazine. Whether being lectured about “Black people dying first” in the first review which apparently is part of an imaginary scorecard or the movie failing the pointless and imaginary Bechdel test with social justice commentary in the second review or this hilarious quote that taints an otherwise solid review from the LOS ANGELES TIMES,
“For the most part, “Dial of Destiny” tries to steer clear of the exoticizing First World gaze and monkey-brained racist stereotyping that has so often marred the series.”
movie reviewers are so full of shit now that they don’t realize how their social justice rants paint them as out-of-touch, self-important adults who all regret getting that Bachelor of Arts degree at their university. These aren’t even the worst cases. Go to YouTube and enter in the search, “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny Review.” Here is what you get. Most of these reviews are negative. These reviewers have a huge influence with many videos sitting between 500,000 views to multi-millions in a few cases. While some like CRITICAL DRINKER and DEEPFOCUSLENS are great reviewers with an often insightful and hilarious perspective, most of these videos are just click bait. Here is my summary of most of these individuals, “Let me find something I don’t like and make a big deal out of it.” In the case of one of my favorite podcasters Kevin Smith and his FATMAN BEYOND podcast, the focus seemed to be on WHAT THEY BELIEVED THE FILM SHOULD BE instead of analyzing what the film actually is. So many people love these films from our childhood because not only were they well made, but they were entertaining. We have reached a point in our postmodern culture where we can’t even appreciate the things our culture gives us anymore because it doesn’t fulfill an escalated standard inside our nostalgia-tinged minds. See THE LAST JEDI as another example of this. Until our culture starts to evolve or snap back on this new normal, movie analysis and film reviews are going to continually be ruined by self-involved parasites. And if the film industry does not wake up to this problem soon, streaming a film may become the only way for you to see the next blockbuster.
Next week: My review of the Russian novel THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV. Have a good week everyone!
EXPERT OF SOME