Opening tomorrow at a multiplex near you :INDIANA JONES AND THE DIAL OF DESTINY
(Dir. James Mangold, 2023)
“What are you, 80?” Shia LaBeouf’s Mutt Williams cracks at a 65-year old Harrison Ford in the last, least loved Indiana Jones flick, something about a CRYSTAL SKULL. That was a joke, but now it’s the truth as an 80-year old Ford reprises Dr. Jones for the fifth time in the big summer popcorn movie sequel that opens tomorrow.
I’ll report right off that INDIANA JONES AND THE DIAL OF DESTINY, which releases tomorrow, is better than CRYSTAL SKULL, but how much is debatable as it is still far from the engaging adventures the original trilogy presented. The fluid Spielbergian touch is noticeably missing in action scene after action scene – it simply doesn’t visually pop like even the last bad one did.
It feels off right from the start as it doesn’t have the traditional play on the Paramount mountain that has opened every previous Indy movie. Maybe this is to establish that this is a Mangold take on the franchise, it doesn’t make sense as it’s an established aesthetic, and its omission threw me off. They use the same font for the credits as the others, so why would they change that?
Then the next tradition, Indy’s first close-up, which began with one of the most bad-ass shots in movie history of the man with the fedora and whip stepping out of the shadows in the jungle in the opening moments of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, was spoiled months ago with pictures of how the AI de-aging was going to give us a lengthy opening sequence set in 1944.
The version of the younger Ford running around somewhere in Europe (I forget where) in the dying days of the Third Reich, again punching out Nazis, and saving historic artifacts from their grasp, is very convincing, but the sequence itself, which culminates in a fight on top of a train isn’t particularly exciting. It does effectively set up the film’s MacGuffin, Archimedes’ Dial, and the villain, Nazi physicist Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen, who fits perfectly into Indy’s world).
Then we’re in New York, 1969, and Indy is a cranky old man, who we regrettably see shirtless, going to tell his hippy neighbors to turn down their stereo blaring the Beatles’ “Magical Mystery Tour.” He’s told it’s “Moon Day,” and we also learn that Marion (Karen Allen) has left him, and his son Mutt is out of the picture (thank the Lord!). Dr. Jones is set to retire from Hunter University where the students are falling asleep instead of fawning over him like back in the day.
But the plot doesn’t really kick off until Phoebe Waller-Bridge enters as Indy’s goddaughter, Helena Shaw, who is after the Dial, and wants Indy’s help so she can sell it to the highest bidder – something our grizzled hero doesn’t approve of (of course, because “It belongs in a museum!”).
A reluctant Indy gets roped into the action, and we’re soon taken through a series of high-speed chase sequences starting with a Moon Day Parade scene, in which Indy takes down three assailants in succession, pretty good for an octogenarian!
I’ll refrain from describing any more of the action on screen, but one can guess the back and forth the Dial goes through from good guys to bad guys back to good guys - Jones: “You stole it.” Voller: “Then you stole it.” Helena: “And then I stole it! It’s called capitalism.”
The feared image of Ford portraying a broken-down Dr. Jones who is shown up by Waller-Bridge as his energetic, overly-hip goddaughter who even says in her defense that she’s “Beautiful and self-sufficient,” a cringe-worthy line for sure, isn’t entirely accurate, but I was disappointed that our adventure icon’s confidence was lacking. He’s faced death his whole life, and he’s just giving up to drink and watch TV now? Seems a bad choice for the character.
But Ford’s Indy, with his gruff but lovable lived-in persona, will still work, and have weight to folks like me who have known him for four decades. I can’t speak for the younger audiences, nor will I make any predictions about its box office - (I’ve never seen the internet so want a movie to flop like this one - if you don't believe me go to YouTube, and search Indiana Jones, and see what vitriol comes up).
Of course, since this is an Indiana Jones movie, we’ve got to visit dark, spooky, trap-filled caves, and the tomb of Archimedes in Sicily fits that bill. I don’t think it’s a Spoiler to say there’s a time-travel premise as that’s what Archimedes’ ancient artifact dials up, but I will say that it works well as the MacGuffin – i.e. much better than that Crystal Skull of Akator whatnot.
A good choice was bringing Salah (John Rhys-Davies) back for his third time around with Indy, as he gives great gusto to the beloved role, while bringing the movie much needed warmth at times.
Another welcome return is composer John Williams whose iconic scores really brought sonic gravitas to the series, and it greatly helps out here – audiences will surely get goose bumps when it first arrives in the opening.
While Mikkelsen, and Toby Jones as an old WWII friend of Indy’s fit neatly into the world George Lucas and Steven Spielberg created over 40 years ago, and I’m not sure that Antonio Banderas, playing a boat captain, was necessary. Waller-Bridge was too smug for my liking, and the idea that she would continue these adventures herself is really unappealing – I don’t think that even people who dig her in this will be dying for a Helena Shaw franchise.
So with its competent screenplay by Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, David Koepp (who co-wrote CRYSTAL SKULL), and James Mangold, INDIANA JONES AND THE DIAL OF DESTINY is a good, not great (one of my most used phrases on Film Babble Blog!) film that maybe is most notable for being a big summer movie in 2023 that is headlined by an 80-year old. That was something that was hard to shake at times, as it often felt like an old Harrison Ford film than a true Indiana Jones movie.
Mangold’s approach, direction, and tone for the entry just felt off for too much of the film, but maybe that’s because I re-watched all four Spielberg Indy films leading up to the screening I attended of DIAL. And like I said before, it’s better than the fourth one, but it doesn’t look better – cinematographer Phedon Papamichael is no Janusz Kamiński, I guess.
But I did enjoy this supposed last chapter enough to recommend, and it ends on a decent, if not fully satisfying note.
Now, please, let it end here!