On the occasion of Phoebe Bridgers winning multiple Grammys last night, I thought I would re-up this post from last July. The original post makes reference to an earlier entry in my “Drive in Saturday Tuesday Movie Review” series, in which I review movies I see at the drive-in, which don’t always have a Bowie connection. The series will pick back up again when drive-in season resumes in the spring. In the case of Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny ,there actually was a Bowie connection, which turned out also to be the start of a very circuitous road that brought me to Phoebe Bridgers, who also, as it turns out, has a Bowie connection. Anyway, this was one of my favorite posts from last year…
Here’s what I originally posted on 7/7/23:
One of the fun things about writing this blog is finding the Bowie connection as an excuse to write about something else (OK, most of the time I’m just posting about Bowie, but still…). Yesterday, I used the somewhat thin reason that “Space Oddity” is in the soundtrack to post a review of Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. I had been avoiding reviews of the movie until after I saw it and recorded my own thoughts. Since then I’ve read some reviews and listened to others on YouTube. And, oh boy, do YouTube reviewers hate the movie’s co-star, Phobe Waller-Bridge.
And that sets up what might be my most convoluted Bowie connection yet. Stay with me- forgetting the actress’s actual name I googled “Phoebe Bridge Bowie.” Sure enough there’s a bullseye connection- Phoebe Bridge has a song called “Smoke Signals” (see the posted video) that directly references Bowie, specifically Bowie’s death. On top of that there’s a guy in the video dressed like a zombi Think White Duke.
The only problem? Phoebe Bridge is not Phoebe Waller-Bridge. She’s actually Phoebe Bridgers. Different person. But, that’s not the end of it. By a tough-to-believe-but-nonethless-true coincidence, Waller-Bridge directed a different Bridgers video! So there’s the two-degree connection. And before I get off it, “Smoke Signals” is a pretty good song and the video is worth watching. A few days ago I didn’t know who Phoebe Bridgers or Phoebe Waller-Bridge are, and now my life is better for the double discovery.
Back to Indiana Jones. Based on the aggregation of 335 reviews as of July 5th, Rotten Tomatoes gives the movie a 68% approval rating — “certified fresh”— and an audience rating of 88%. The “critical consensus” summary is simply, “It isn’t as thrilling as earlier adventures, but the nostalgic rush of seeing Harrison Ford back in action helps Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny find a few final bits of cinematic treasure.” Fair enough. I glanced at some of the reviews. Most were positive but tempered. Leonard Martin didn’t like it, but he called Waller-Bridge’s character “likable.” There are a lot of reviews on that website and I just glanced at a few, but none seemed anything like the savaging of several extremely similar reviews that YouTube fed me.
The YouTube critiques focused on two main factors— logical inconsistencies within the movie and either the character of Helena Shaw or the actress who plays the character, Phoebe Waller-Bridge. I liked the movie very much. It spoke to me. Yes, from the opening scene in which the Paramount logo does not dissolve into the image of a mountain in the movie, this one is different than the four previous Indiana Jones movies, but that’s a feature, not a bug (at least for me).
But OK, if you look too close, the movie has plenty of logical inconsistencies. I wasn’t looking too close to notice most of them when I was at the drive-in watching it, but once some of these YouTube critics pointed them out, I see that yep, they’re there. This is the type of thing that sometimes distracts me from a movie, including past Indiana Jones’ movies. I read a review once that pointed out that Indy’s escape during the beginning of Temple of Doom featured a scene in which an inflatable life boat saves him from being splattered on the side of a mountain after falling out of an airplane. Within the context of that movie’s reality, it would have been more believable if he had busted out a magic wand and flew away. I can’t not think that whenever I see it. So, if loose ends, unlikely situations and implausible sequences are not your bag, I’ll give you a pass for not liking this movie. If you pick up on those things.
But Phoebe Waller-Bridge? Something else is going on.
I saw (more accurately, listened to), five or six YouTube reviews. I don’t know who these reviewers are or how many followers they have. I do know they think alike. For the sake of simplicity I’m going to focus on one, Nerdrotic, whose video seems to have high production value and who also appears to have an on-line presence beyond his own YouTube account.
Several of the reviewers including Nerdrotic use the same word to describe Waller-Bridge or her character— “insufferable.” Does that word secretly have anti-feminist connotations? It seems that what these reviewers, or at least Nerdrotic don’t like about Waller-Bridges or her character is that they perceive her to be a feminist. Throughout his review, Nerdrotic refers to her as an “insufferable feminist.” The movie, he says, is an “agenda movie” and also features a character— a black, female CIA officer who looks like a character out of the Mod Squad, who he calls “diversity girl boss.”
OK, I think I can see who has an agenda. Nerdrotic and his YouTube fellow travelers are doing nothing to dispel the stereotype of the incel nerds resentfully operating out of their mothers’ basements (including a female reviewer called, “Vex Electronica”).
Let’s get the CIA officer out of the way. The character plays a pretty small if slightly confusing role in the movie. I think her main purpose is to help set the scene that the movie jumped from 1939 to 1969. She looks like a stereotype from the late 60s. If you want to zero in on logical inconsistencies, she personifies a few— for instance, shouldn’t she be an FBI agent rather than a CIA agent? But that’s not Nerdrotic’s problem. His point, which he didn’t fully articulate but conveys by calling her “diversity girl boss” is that her inclusion in the movie is an artificial nod to its (unexplained) “agenda.” I’m slightly surprised that he didn’t find a way to derisively work the word, “woke” into the review.
Actually, one of the (many) other nearly identical reviews, by a guy called Thorias doesn’t hold back and calls the movie “woke” in part because of this exceedingly minor character. Why? Because for a very brief part of the movie, a black woman has some authority over white guys…who are… Nazis… It’s OK when Indy kills Nazis, but not even Nazis deserve to be scolded by a black woman. I guess that’s the point.
But if that’s these guys’ problem with the inclusion of this one minor character, what do they think of Raiders of the Lost Ark? That movie has characters who are black (Captain Katanga and some of his crew), Arab (Sallah, the Egyptian swordsman and other characters in the Egyptian scenes), Hispanic (Satipo— the character played by Alfred Molina), several unnamed Mongolians and Nepalese, as well as a bunch of Mesoamericans. All of the lead bad guys are white European men. Marion, Karen Allen’s character, is a strong female lead. Nerdrotic (and the others) must have hated Raiders.
But no, of course Nerdrotic didn’t hate Raiders. I guess this just isn’t the video where he explains what he liked about that earlier movie.
What he really doesn’t like is Phoebe. Her and producer Kathleen Kennedy. For the sake of brevity, I’m going to sidestep the question about Kennedy, who I think can rightfully be criticized for reasons having nothing to do with her gender or politics. Nerdrotic doesn’t seem to distinguish between creative failures and what he finds to be disagreeable politics. Exactly what “agenda” is served by Dial of Destiny? How exactly did that agenda corrupt the film?
Part of the critic’s critique seems to be based on what Phoebe did before this movie. She’s the “destroyer of franchises” (he says something similar about Kennedy). Oh really? I don’t remember ever seeing her before. Oh, look, she was in the last James Bond movie as well as the movie, Solo. Actually, no, she wasn’t. She co-wrote the last Bond movie and was a voice actor in Solo, so no, I didn’t see her before.
Hmm… Phoebe Waller-Bridge acts, directs and writes? She seems awfully accomplished. I guess that’s the real problem. That, and I guess her character in the hit show, Fleabag. I’m aware that such a show exists. I’m (now) aware that it received near-universal critical acclaim. I’ve never seen it. I’m not watching Dial of Destiny and thinking of her character in Fleabag, because I never saw Fleabag. More importantly, she’s an actress and can play different parts. Even if there are similarities between that character and Helena Shaw— they are two different characters.
As I wrote yesterday, the character of Helena serves a particular function in the movie aside from being Indy’s obligatory female companion— she’s both merciless and mercenary, just like the cold reality of the present. In a movie about time and aging, her character personifies the idea that the present can be an impediment for people who are either stuck in the past or ready to just give up. But once someone accepts that he (in this case, he) can make the most of of his present circumstances, those circumstances can be leveraged for a better future. That makes sense out of Helena’s pivot from being something approximating one of Indy’s (as well as the villain’s) antagonists to being the vehicle for his salvation. I don’t think we’re supposed to think of the movie as the story of her redemption— it’s the story of Indy’s redemption. Helena is essentially a catalyst.
But Nerdrotic sees the actress who plays Helena as “insufferable.” And feminist. Feminist because, I guess, she’s as aggressive and able as Marion was in Raiders and Crystal Skull? Albeit with a slightly different skill set? No, I think instead because of the actress’s past roles and/or personal politics, which I know next to nothing about.
Oh, and Nerdrotic repeatedly makes clear that he doesn’t think Phoebe is attractive. Because that’s important.
I guess what strikes me about the undercurrents of Nerdtronic’s review and the others that I got off YouTube is that the idea that the subculture that likes fantasy movies is polluted by retrograde, right-wing ideology. It’s a stereotype apparently based in fact.
As much as I liked Dial of Destiny— and I liked it very much, I admit it doesn’t rise to the “one of the best movies of all time” level achieved by Raiders of the Lost Ark. The only sequel I can think of that does that is the Godfather II (which, oddly, this movie pays homage to).* The review I posted yesterday focused on the positive, in a way I haven’t seen anyone else articulate, because I enjoyed the movie and got something out of it. But, fine with me if you don’t like it. Sadly, however I think there’s something more sinister to the on-line drubbing this thing is enduring.
But hey, while you’re here, watch to Phoebe Bridgers video. Its good!
* Footnote added 2/5/24: OK, OK… how could I have written this? The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the King and Goldfinger are all sequels. So are Rambo, Avengers: Endgame, Star Trek: Wrath of Khan, The Dark Knight and Bride of Frankenstein. And a bunch more. So, ignore that sentence about sequels.