Film

Punch a Nazi: The morally certain joy of Indiana Jones, from Raiders to the Dial of Destiny

No one punches a Nazi like Indiana Jones, and in new movie the Dial of Destiny he's back doing what he does best.

Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) getting ready to whoop those Nazis in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) getting ready to whoop those Nazis in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. Photo: ©2022 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM

The opening credits have not long left the screen in Indiana Jones’s latest rollicking adventure, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, before our (magically de-aged) hero punches a Nazi square in the face. It is – after all – his speciality. Since he fought a fascist man-mountain around a moving propeller plane in 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark, Harrison Ford has made an art form of pounding Third Reich cartilage across their smug faces.

In the black-and-white morality of Indiana Jones, the Nazis have provided the perfect Big Bad. He’s only strayed from Nazi-bashing twice… and they’ve been the two least-appreciated outings for the dashing man with the fedora and whip.

A magically de-aged Indiana Jones
A magically de-aged Indy. Photo: ©2022 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

Seeing Indy move east, 1984 sequel Temple of Doom is the most controversial of the movies – having been criticised even at the time for its portrayal of Indians as either helpless or nefarious, and for its ‘white saviour’ narrative. There are a number of lessons for Hollywood there. But the main one the franchise learned was: it’s just much less fun when the people Indy is punching aren’t in league with Hitler. Nazis are safe punching bags. By 1989’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, both Indy and his dad (played by Sean Connery) were back punching – and bedding – Nazis.

After a long delay, Indy returned in 2008. By this time, Steven Spielberg had reportedly decided he could not satirise the Nazis after directing Schindler’s List. And so, in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, we hit the ’50s. The Cold War is on and commies (including Cate Blanchett sporting a bob for the ages) have taken over villainy duties. The result is a fun movie – I’ve a whole lot more time for it than most – but it has not found its way into fans’ hearts in the same way as the original trilogy. “Nuking the fridge” joined the lexicon – roughly synonymous with “jumping the shark” – as a reference to one scene in which Indy escapes a nuclear blast in a kitchen appliance.

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is primarily set in 1969. The Beatles and Bowie play on the radio and we strap in for a spectacular set-piece chase through the New York welcome parade for the victorious Apollo astronauts after they walked on the Moon. Still – with Spielberg stepping away from directing duties for the first time – new director James Mangold is free to go back to basics. Our main villain is a dyed-in-the-wool Nazi.

The backstory of physicist Jürgen Voller (played by an impressively slimy Mads Mikkelsen) bears a striking similarity to real-life Nazi scientist Wernher von Braun. Like the real “father of the American lunar program”, Voller is a Nazi who has assimilated into American society. In the movie, he claims the Apollo success for his own.

Whereas von Braun had a complicated relationship with Nazism, and went on to a career in NASA and a religious conversion that was at least in part to assuage his guilt for his years working for Hitler, Voller plays the kind of Nazi you really want to punch. Straight out of the gate, he’s racist towards the Black bellhop in the plush hotel he’s been put up in… and soon we find he’s desperate to return to white nationalist totalitarianism. Punch him, Indy!

Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen) Photo: ©2022 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

It all makes absolute sense within the pulp magazine-inflected cinematic world of Indiana Jones, and the Dial of Destiny is an enormously satisfying conclusion to the Nazi-busting saga. As Indy’s goddaughter Helena, Phoebe Waller-Bridge is a worthy successor to the great female leads of the series, and her more capitalistic take on morality throws Dr Jones’s old school conviction into sharp relief. When Indy punches a Nazi, it’s striking a blow for democracy, heroism and morality. And he’s more than likely going to win the day.

As von Braun’s story shows, the real world is more ethically grey.

Back in 2017, in the wake of Donald Trump’s inauguration, neo-Nazi far-right leader Richard Spencer was being interviewed, on-camera, in the street. Part way through the video, a fist comes out of nowhere and cracks him right in the face. The Nazi got punched!

In the wake of the assault “punch Nazis” became a motto for left wingers online. To our pulp-fiction brain it makes perfect sense. Indeed, during the promotional tour for Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny Ford was asked to weigh in on the “is it ok to punch a Nazi?” debate. Asked if Indiana Jones would punch a Nazi in real life, he said he’d be first in line. “He’d push ’em out of the way to get in the first punch,” Ford added. “As well he should.”

Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) and Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) in Lucasfilm's Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.
Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) and Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) in Lucasfilm’s Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. Photo: ©2022 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

Of course, Harrison Ford is not Indiana Jones – much as this disappoints 12-year-old me – and in the real world, punching Richard Spencer did little to halt the rise of the far-right in America or over here. In fact, experts on extremism suggest that meeting white supremacists with violence may only strengthen their cause.

So – satisfying as it may be – in real life, we can’t fix everything by punching a Nazi in the face. For us, the consequences would be vastly more complicated. Indy may take a few dings along the way, but there’s never any doubt he’s doing the right thing – and so, his adventures are a break from the increasingly complicated world we live in. The sort of world in which a Russian mercenary might briefly be feted by progressives just because there’s half a chance he might rid us of Putin. That’s the very reason why it’s so good to watch Indiana Jones do what he does best. When you punch a Nazi, you want to make sure they stay down.

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is in cinemas from 28 June 2023.

@laurakaykelly

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Furiosa director George Miller on the function of stories and why Mad Max is a 'cautionary tale'
Furiosa
Film

Furiosa director George Miller on the function of stories and why Mad Max is a 'cautionary tale'

The Garfield Movie review – we're not feline the tubby orange tabby's full CGI makeover
Garfield in The Garfield Movie
Film

The Garfield Movie review – we're not feline the tubby orange tabby's full CGI makeover

Made in England: The Films of Powell and Pressburger – Scorsese's tribute to duo who inspired him
Martin Scorsese and Michael Powell, 1981.
Film

Made in England: The Films of Powell and Pressburger – Scorsese's tribute to duo who inspired him

Filmmaker Melanie Manchot explains how her drama Stephen can offer hope to addicts
Stephen Giddings in Stephen
Film

Filmmaker Melanie Manchot explains how her drama Stephen can offer hope to addicts

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know