The man with the hat is back in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, but is it a fitting swan song?
PLOT: An older Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) finds himself whisked into one last adventure when a Nazi he battled in WW2 seeks a mythical dial called the Antikythera which may have the ability to find fissures in time that could change the outcome of the war.
REVIEW: We should count ourselves lucky that we have three perfect Indiana Jones movies, no matter what happens. The fedora-wearing archeologist will always be considered one of the most iconic characters ever, and Harrison Ford’s place in the pantheon isn’t being threatened. Yet, resurrecting the character in the 21st Century hasn’t been easy. Steven Spielberg and George Lucas gave it a whirl with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and fans had a fit. Everyone hoped Ford, who was game for one last go-round as the character, would get a fitting send-off with Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, with Logan’s James Mangold standing in for Spielberg. Sadly, it’s not a whole lot better than the last movie.
Here’s the thing – were this just another adventure movie, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny would be fine. It’s well-made and slick, but the action is repetitive, boring and the same kind of CGI spectacle you get in every superhero movie. Given that Ford is in his eighties now, it’s not outrageous to think that he can’t do the things he was once able to do. But, so much of the action is bland and cartoonish that you can’t help but wish they had just left well enough alone – or instead allowed James Mangold free reign, which he can’t have been given here. It would have been a lot more exciting had the premise been lower key, and the action more grounded, allowing Ford to display his still potent physicality is a more realistic way.
Indeed, there are moments in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny where you can see what Mangold is going for. The movie starts with a much-hyped sequence that features a de-aged Harrison Ford going up against Nazis on a train—elements of this work. The de-aging looks good but not perfect. It looks extraordinary in still images, but there’s a weird look to it when Ford is in motion. Odder still, 40-year-old Indy speaks with the gruff voice of 79-year-old Indy. Even still, this sequence is the only memorable action beat with a pulse, thanks mainly to John Williams’ score, Toby Jones as a likeable sidekick, and real menace from Thomas Kretschmann as the Nazi Colonel (something the rest of the movie lacks).
Where Mangold’s film is at its best is in the early scenes, showing Indy, now living in a cramped apartment, alone, grumpy and depressed over the end of his marriage. He’s facing mandatory retirement, with students that find him boring, as opposed to the ones that hung on his every word in Raiders of the Lost Ark. He’s a man out of sorts in the late sixties, with him at one point zapped out of a drunken nap by his neighbour blasting The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour, to Indy’s dismay.
While some may wonder whether they would want to see a movie about a depressed Indiana Jones, Mangold’s direction, coupled with the dialogue and Ford’s excellent performance, makes you wish it had been a lower-tech movie with more grounded action. Alas, pretty soon after, they jump right into massive chase sequences and globe-trotting. The film starts to meander, with Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s character lacking focus despite being the second lead. She’s the daughter of Indy’s old sidekick and, unlike Indy, wants to use her knowledge to get rich – damn the consequences. Her early scenes establish her as highly questionable, allowing Indy to be framed for murder by the bad guy, and not caring much about the whole slew of innocent corpses they leave in their wake. This is actually promising, because it would have given Indy a real anti-hero to team up with. But, it feels like she was revised in reshoots to be nicer. She’s better in her early scenes, where she’s set up as kind of a female Bellocq, than later, when she becomes just another sidekick.
Another problem is the kid sidekick. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom has the best kid sidekick of all time in Short-Round. They virtually clone the character, with Ethann Isidore, a streetwise kid who, in the climax, flies a plane like Anakin Skywalker in the Phantom Menace though fissures in time. That’s how off the rails the movie goes. It’s a deeply silly addition to the film which was probably added to bring in a kid audience who, let’s face it, may not even know who Indiana Jones is.
It’s also long. The other Indiana Jones movies are all close to two hours and are breezy rollercoaster rides. This has long, dull stretches, and it feels like it was made to be watched in chunks on a streaming service, despite the big screen trappings. What’s surprising is how bland the bad guys are, with Mads Mikklesen’s Voller not getting enough screen time or real menace. Boyd Holbrook, whose been great in other movies, is bland as his henchman (essentially playing the same role he did in Logan), and you don’t even get any super gory deaths, as per the usual Indiana Jones style. Even Crystal Skull had one of the big guys get devoured by red ants. This has a high body count, but the deaths lack any impact.
Meanwhile, guest stars like Antonio Banderas show up in roles so tiny you wonder why they bothered to cast a name like him in the first place. The technical side of the film is good, with Phedon Papamichael trying to recapture the visual style of the Spielberg movies, but it’s so dark that the action is tough to make out. I’m not exaggerating when I say pretty much none of the action beats have any impact at all. Even Crystal Skull had some excellent action. We make fun of the nuke the fridge moment, but we remember it. There’s very little action in Dial of Destiny that can be called truly memorable
If Dial of Destiny were just a regular movie, it would be fine – but it’s not a regular movie – It’s Indiana Jones. It needs to be better. Everyone involved was capable of making a great Indiana Jones film, but this feels like just another middle-of-the-road would-be blockbuster. To me, this is by far one of the most disappointing movies to come out in recent years. They should have ended the franchise with Last Crusade.
Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/indiana-jones-and-the-dial-of-destiny-review/