2023 | PG-13 | starring Harrison Ford, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Mads Mikkelsen, Toby Jones, Antonio Banderas | directed by James Mangold | 2h 34m |
The year is 1969. America has just gone to the moon and 80-year-old archeologist and professor Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) fumbles through his latest class lecture until his goddaughter, Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) approaches him about finding her father Basil (Toby Jones)’s life work, the dial of Archimedes. Soon a group of Nazi’s in hiding lead by German scientist Voller (Mads Mikkelsen, born to be an Indiana Jones villain) are racing the duo around the world for the Dial, with Voller’s plan to go back in time, correct the mistakes made by Hitler and win World War II.
If I had a Dial of Destiny, I would go back in time and turn Indiana Jones into a series, instead of a trilogy. Indiana Jones should have been the American James Bond with new actors stepping into the fedora and having adventures of all kinds all over the world, allowing different directors to experiment with the formula the way Bond has gone through different incarnations. Instead, we get a Spielberg trilogy that is held sacred and the entire thing hung on the charm of Harrison Ford. The resulting sequels, this and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, have fumbled desperately to get the magic back with in increasingly disinterested star, instead of creating new and exciting adventures.
Dial of Destiny is a classy and sophisticated answer to the question “How do you make a globetrotting action movie, when your star is in his 80s?” The film pairs him up with a spunky side-kick (two actually) and has enough scenes of our hero sitting and driving or standing and talking in rooms as to cleverly gloss over that he’s no longer doing the punching, whipping and fighting he once did. We get an elaborate opening with a CGI de-aged Ford and wide shots of stunt men on speeding train roofs to patch the film together. For the most part it works with surprising smoothness, even if the movie itself is lacking that spark of Spielbergian adventure.
At the helm this time is director James Mangold, who knocked everyone’s socks off with the terrific adult comic book movie Logan. He does an adequate job here, even conjuring up a classic Indiana Jones-style environmental action scene in the opening minutes where young Indy meets a noose and a bomb slips through a hole in the floor. Most of the rest of the film is puzzle-solving – with a lengthy detour into a fun, well-executed tuk-tuk chase through Tangier (even if Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning’s mini-car chase through Rome does it better). For the most part, however, Dial of Destiny is a lot of standing around and talking.
It doesn’t so much bother me that the Indy we meet at the beginning of the film is something of a loser. That’s basic storytelling, we need him in a rut for him to overcome in the next adventure. It’s a trope nonetheless. When you realize the “broken man who lost everything between films” afflicts every character from Indiana Jones to Dewey Riley in Scream V there is something going on here. That he would somehow lose Marion and Mutt would be callously written out of the franchise with a line of dialogue is harsh.
So what do we replace Mutt with? With Ford out of the physical action department the movie should have cast Indy as the brains and paired him up with some brawn. Think the Jackie Chan movies of the early 00s, Rush Hour and Shanghai Noon, where Chan’s fighting skills were paired up with a motormouth American who talked their way out of things to make up for not being able to throw a punch. Instead, Indy is slow and old and paired up with Phoebe Waller-Bridge to be the brains and the brawn. Waller-Bridge isn’t writing her own role this time, so for the first time in her career she doesn’t write herself as an insert character everyone in the movie is trying to sleep with. Yet she’s still obnoxious, as Indy’s Goddaughter who regularly double-crosses our hero and leaves him for death to chase her own fortune. Instead of unlikely friends, the two seem to hate each other. There is a cold, emptiness at the center of this film where a warm mismatched partners story should be.
Helena Shaw is Disney’s latest in a long line of bungled attempts (The Jungle Cruise)to recreate the devil-may-care wildcard of Jack Sparrow. Mangold, Kathleen Kennedy, Bob Iger – listen up. Watch Chris Pine pull this off effortlessly in Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves and take notes.
Then we get to the third act, which is simply insane. It’s not entirely out of character for a series that deals with God, everlasting life and aliens, but it’s still a eye-popper. On paper, this probably looked like a swing for the fences, but the way it plays out is stand-offish, deciding to stand back and not get too crazy at the precise moment it probably should have just gone into full B-movie fun schlock. If you’re going to Jump the Shark, your final film is the time to do it.
And that’s the biggest problem with this movie. Instead of having Indy’s ending be the ride off into the sunset from Last Crusade we’ve gone back to this well two more times to drain every dime out of this franchise. I’ll say it: Dial of Destiny is slightly better than Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Spielberg magic and all, but it’s more magic trick than story and it’s too callous to be fun.