Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, 2023.
Directed by James Mangold.
Starring Harrison Ford, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Mads Mikkelsen, Antonio Banderas, John Rhys-Davies, Toby Jones, Boyd Holbrook, Ethann Isidore, Karen Allen, Shaunette Renée Wilson, Thomas Kretschmann, Olivier Richters, Martin McDougall, Alaa Safi, Nasser Memarzia, Anna Francolini, Billy Postlethwaite, Holly Lawton, Guy Paul, and Harriet Slater.
Archaeologist Indiana Jones races against time to retrieve a legendary artefact that can change the course of history.
Indiana Jones is a relic. A legend born into the 80s as a throwback to the matinee adventures of George Lucas’ childhood. He once existed in a bygone world of bruising beat-downs and boulders, where every punch reverberated and each whip cracked, but he now finds himself exploring a cinematic landscape made up predominantly of green-screen and CGI. It’s a backdrop which threatened to swallow up the iconic adventurer in 2008’s Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but like all good heroes he’s attempting to dial back his own destiny for one final hurrah as the man in the hat.
Anybody hoping that Dial of Destiny would come close to the magnificence of Spielberg’s original trilogy have been drinking from the wrong Cup of Christ. Movies like those just don’t exist anymore. It’s a fact. When was the last time an action-adventure film depicted a real actor crossing a real bridge? The on-location practical film-making elements of Raiders or Romancing the Stone have been replaced with a sound-stage alternative or space on a hard-drive. That’s what dictates the veneer of a modern action film. In that respect Dial of Destiny is closer to Crystal Skull than The Last Crusade. Importantly, in terms of the quality of film, it aligns with the latter a lot more often than it does Indiana Jones’ lamentable fourth outing.
Things begin with a wobble akin to the bridge from Temple of Doom, because while there are thrills to be found in Harrison Ford leaping across the carriages of a moving train while pursued by Nazis (Indiana Jones Bingo, anyone?), this is a different kind of Harrison Ford, one digitally de-aged to provide a flashback that will propel the film’s narrative. Admittedly impressive in some moments, you soon have to do a double-take to make sure he isn’t riding The Polar Express, because repeated instances of the uncanny valley effect threaten to derail the entire sequence.
Dial of Destiny really kicks into gear when the action shifts to Beatles and Bowie accompanied 1969. Albeit it these days it’s a much slower gear, with Indy swapping out-of-control mine-carts for comparatively pedestrian tube carriages. He’s still teaching, even if his passion for it appears to have dwindled, that is until he is challenged by an inquisitive new student who turns out to be his Goddaughter, Helena, played by Fleabag‘s Phoebe Waller-Bridge.
As great as the character of Indiana Jones is, Harrison Ford is never better than when paired off against somebody; Karen Allen’s Marion Ravenwood and Sean Connery’s Henry Jones are the franchise’s fortune and glory, and while Waller-Bridge never reaches those heights, when Dial of Destiny pauses for breathe there is enough of a spark between the two that it carries some emotional heft by the time we fade-to-black. Recognisably snarky, it’s when she channels Ford in the archaeological-adventurer stakes that you really warm to her character.
The rest of the supporting cast take a back seat to the duo; Mikkelsen’s villain feels like an amalgamation of what has come before, yet never indelible enough to scare like his predecessors once did, while Boyd Holbrook’s lackey is introduced with the potential to shock, before he vanishes into the background, occasionally popping up to offer up some stock bad-guy dialogue. However, the biggest waste is Antonio Banderas, who appears in the film’s most superfluous action sequence set beneath the ocean, which does feature a great snake call-back, but he only gets a couple of lines, and then exits stage left. He feels like a competition winner.
None of that really matters though, does it? We’re all showing up to Dial of Destiny to tip our fedora hats to Harrison Ford, and he doesn’t disappoint. He depicts this Jones in exactly the way you’d expect his laconic action-hero to be during the dawning of his age; tired, sad, still living in the past, but shards of the old Indy still break through like the light streaming into the Staff of Ra. A delightful summary of his previous feats as he painstakingly climbs a wall immediately snaps you back to Temple of Doom, while a Marion-monologue conjures up memories from Nepal. Ford is the real treasure of the film, and sometimes, amidst the CGI-spectacle of the set-pieces, you kinda wish we were simply watching a two-hour lecture from Dr. Jones.
Having proven himself more than capable of delivering a fitting epitaph to a pop-culture icon with Logan, director James Mangold shoots Dial of Destiny through a Spielbergian filter, with vehicular chases punctuated by moments of whip-versus-gun comedic beats, and pull-this-lever, solve the clue adventuring buoyed by a real sense of fun. It’s true that at times these moments can feel like fading echoes from catacombs explored in the past, but there’s childlike wonder to be found in watching Ford spout exposition before sliding down a ramp that has appeared in the floor.
Perhaps even more divisive than Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’s bonkers ending will be the big swings Dial of Destiny makes during the finale. It’s true that Indiana Jones has always been flecked by the mythical and fantastical, some are quick to forget that, but this shoots for the moon in a way that’s befitting of the where the story wishes to position the character and his legacy, but could be a leap of faith too far for those who believe this series of films ended with Indy riding off into the sunset in 1989. Thankfully Mangold manages to rein things in for a more intimate coda, because it’s the smaller moments in which this truly excels; grizzled asides, and reflections on a life well lived hit harder than any Nazi punch.
Dial of Destiny might not be able to hold a flaming torch to the original adventures, but then again, what can? Runaway rickshaws, rickety bridges, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge ensure that Harrison Ford hangs up his hat in whip-cracking fashion. So long, Dr. Jones.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★ ★
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