INDIANA JONES AND THE DIAL OF DESTINY
FILM REVIEW: INDIANA JONES AND THE DIAL OF DESTINY
Release Date: 28th June 2023
Directed by: James Mangold
Cast: Harrison Ford, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Mads Mikkelsen, Boyd Holbrook
Written by: Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, David Koepp, James Mangold
Cinematography: Phedon Papamichel
``recaptures a bit of the old magic``
It’s been 15 years since the release of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and time has done nothing to improve the reputation of that much-hated entry to the franchise (full disclosure: I loved Crystal Skull, so feel free to stop reading now). With a now 80-year-old Harrison Ford in the lead, and James Mangold (Walk the Line, Logan) replacing Steven Spielberg in the director’s chair, it’s doubtful that Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny will ultimately fare any better. Dial of Destiny is like a second cup of coffee in the morning. It’s nice to have, but it’s not necessary.
Things kick off with an all-important, tone-setting first act flashback to 1944 in the final days of World War II. Indy and Basil Shaw (Toby Jones) are trying to rescue another biblical artefact stolen by the Nazis, and end up stealing the Archimedes Dial from Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen). Jump forward to 1969 on the eve of the Apollo 11 astronauts return, and Indy is about to retire from a run-down New York university, far less respectable than Marshall College. Shaw’s daughter Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) shows up looking for the Dial, but so do the Nazis. Cue one last Macguffin-chasing, globe-trotting adventure.
Alarm bells start ringing from the opening title. The traditional dissolve to the Paramount logo is gone, now replaced with “A Disney/Lucasfilm Production”, which feels more like a warning than a credit. The Macguffin is a better fit for the franchise than crystal skulls and saucer men from Mars, although at a certain point it all starts to get a bit “Nazi Dinosaurs on the Moon”. But at least there are no aliens this time.
The most admirable aspect of Dial of Destiny is Mangold’s ability to resist replicating the past. Ford’s portrayal of this much-loved character is a very different take that may leave some wondering what happened to the Indy they knew and loved. But it makes perfect sense in the context of the character’s development, and where he now finds himself at the age of 70 (the camera adds ten years) in the year 1969. This is about a man in the twilight of his years who has lost his place and sense of purpose. There is an air of melancholy hanging over proceedings that, while unexpected, is not unwelcome.
The first act with a digitally-de-aged Ford (I’m still against this practice on ethical grounds, but I’ve seen worse) allows Indy to do what he does best; punching Nazis to John Willams’ majestic score. Unfortunately Dial of Destiny suffers from the same overuse of CG effects that has infected every single blockbuster of the last decade. Despite assurances that practical effects would be used where possible, the action sequences are marred by horribly artificial CG effects that render all the effort and hard work pointless. The worst examples are a lengthy chase on horseback through the streets and subways of New York, and another lengthy tuk-tuk chase through Tangier.
It must be said that the action is pretty low energy, but this is only fitting given Ford’s age. Mangold doesn’t try to make Ford look like he can still run, leap, swing and punch like a man half (or quarter) his age. That would be ridiculous. The action has been tempered accordingly. If only this approach had been applied to the overall look of the big action set pieces as well, it all would have gelled together so much better.
Mikkelsen makes a deliciously unpleasant villain, and Waller-Bridge throws herself into the role with Audrey Hepburn moxie. She has good chemistry with Ford, and certainly gives it her all. However, the sassy dialogue is sorely lacking the wit and spirit of Karen Allen’s Marion. Elsewhere, there are far too many supporting characters in play. Boyd Holbrook’s CIA agent-turned-Nazi conspirator is largely pointless, and in the Spielberg tradition of annoying children characters, Ethann Isidore takes up the torch with gusto. All of these unwanted ingredients bring little to the soup, but shift the focus away from Ford, which is frustrating.
It goes without saying that Spielberg’s magic touch is sorely missed, but Mangold is a solid director who proves that he’s not beholden to the past. He’s not afraid to try his own thing. Of course, this means that Dial of Destiny often doesn’t feel like an Indiana Jones movie, but the same can be said for the rest of the sequels. It suffers from the same problem as Temple of Doom, Last Crusade and Crystal Skull, which is the inevitable comparison to Raiders of the Lost Ark. The sequels are all fine movies in their own right, but they will always fall short when compared with a movie that is perfect in every way. Nothing can or will ever compare. In that regard, Dial of Destiny is no different.
Ford has said that this is definitively his last outing in the fedora. For all its faults, Dial of Destiny is a moving send-off. Ultimately, it manages to recapture a little bit of the old magic. Honestly, a little bit is enough. And the last ten minutes could not be more perfect. I think I had something in my eye.