Movie Review: Indiana Jones And The Dial Of Destiny
It’s been 15 years since we last encountered Indiana Jones, the whip-cracking archaeologist made iconic by star Harrison Ford, director Steven Spielberg, and George Lucas, who conceived of the story while seeking to update the classic adventure serial. Audiences fell for the brainy, blunt and brave Indy in his globe-trotting adventures explored in the original trilogy, which started with Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981.
Even the fourth instalment, arriving in 2008, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, was profitable and warmly received despite its goofy story. It’s no surprise that in a filmmaking landscape where legacy sequels, or “legasequels,” roam the box office, the powers that be would take ol’ Indy out for another spin. Ford had returned to both Star Wars and Blade Runner to positive reactions, so it made sense to get the band back together for one more gig, to see if there’s any juice left to squeeze.
Enter Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, in which James Mangold takes the reins from Spielberg, continuing a burgeoning trend of older men in leading roles in action films. I call it “geriaction”. (Think of Ford (81), Tom Cruise (61), Keanu Reeves (58)) Mangold also co-wrote the script with Jez and John-Henry Butterworth, and David Koepp, and, true to the spirit of the legasequel, it’s about time travel — the story reflecting the nostalgic desire of both filmmakers and audiences to utilize movies as vehicles to revisit the emotions we felt when we were young.
Lucas and Spielberg used “Indiana Jones” to recreate the feeling of their favourite childhood serials, and Mangold is tasked with delivering a film that brings us back to that feeling of falling in love with Raiders of the Lost Ark back in the ’80s. He approaches the task so literally that he seems to have overlooked the goal of simply making a great adventure movie.
Armed with an obscene $295 Million budget, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny hits the nostalgia button from minute one, with an almost creepy, fetishistic reanimation of Indy’s appeal. These reminders of what was are like constant elbows in the ribs, as if the filmmakers are saying, Remember this? You like this. It’s cameos from beloved characters, reminders of Indy’s wellknown idiosyncrasies (he hates snakes and enjoys punching Nazis), and do-overs of famous bits from the previous films.
They try so hard to recapture the original charm but haven’t actually thought about what made it charming in the first place, and the result is a sloggy, dull sequel that’s more “Bogus Journey” than “Excellent Adventure.” It opens with a sequence that takes place toward the end of World War II, as Jones and fellow archaeologist Basil Shaw (Toby Jones) sneak around piles of treasure looted by Nazis, trying to liberate a few historically significant — and potentially powerful — baubles.
Fast forward to the late ’60s, where Indy is a grumpy professor in New York City. He has no groupies, no wife and no child when a strange woman, Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), ambushes him at a dive bar. She’s Indy’s goddaughter, the daughter of dear departed Bas, and she wants a mysterious dial crafted by Greek mathematician Archimedes that her dad stole from the Nazi loot train.
Can Indy help her? He doesn’t have much of a choice when they’re suddenly pursued through the city by two bloodthirsty blondes with buzz cuts (Boyd Holbrook and Olivier Richters). These menaces are in the employ of Dr. Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen), a shadowy figure from Indy’s past and a rocket scientist/former Nazi who needs the dial to “fix Hitler’s mistakes.” Yes, the plot itself is a rather overused pop culture meme.
Mangold is a slick filmmaker, and in Dial of Destiny, he alternates the nostalgia bumps and surprise cameos with extremely fast set pieces; the entire film feels like one long car (horse, boat, tuk-tuk) chase. All of the action sequences are capably crafted and still a total snooze. As Indy and Helena — and a precocious teenager (Ethann Isidore) they pick up in Morocco — dart around the globe retrieving various items, the bad guys chase them and relieve them of said items.
Helena quips annoyingly, Indy grumbles predictably, and Mangold stuns us into a stupor with his perfectly competent filmmaking. It is a crushingly dull film until it becomes jaw-droppingly cartoonish in the final act. Perhaps a swig of something familiar in an air-conditioned theater will be just the ticket for a summer weekend. However, this dose of “Indiana Jones” is a disappointingly diluted version of this favourite hero that has the power to put a fan off the franchise forever.