“Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” answers several burning questions right away.
- Is Harrison Ford, in his late 70s at the time of the production, too old to play the iconic swashbuckler? Shockingly, no.
- Is the de-aging technology sufficient to make audiences believe we’re watching a 40-something Ford in the film’s prologue? Absolutely.
- Is Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the subject of many pre-release rumors, the film’s Mary Sue figure? No doubt.
It’s also clear the saga’s fifth film is both competent and uninspired, flirting with excellence before succumbing to mediocrity. It won’t inspire the backlash of its predecessor, nor will fans view it as worthy of the first three installments.
“Dial of Destiny” starts strong, delivering brisk character beats and blistering action.
The prologue finds a younger Indiana Jones (a de-aged Ford) scrambling to recover an artifact swiped by a Nazi scientist (Mads Mikkelsen). Indy and his archeologist partner-in-crime (Toby Jones, the best new franchise character by a mile) narrowly escape the Nazi menace and, along the way, get their hands on the titular Dial.
Or at least part of it.
The device, created by Archimedes, is rumored to let users travel back in time. The artifact has been split in two, and when the film flashes forward to 1969 Jones and the remaining Nazis want to unite the pieces.
For Jones, the artifact – say it all together now – “belongs in a museum.” Mikkelsen’s character has more nefarious plans for the doohickey.
Indy teams with his goddaughter Helena (Waller-Bridge), who has less noble reasons for acquiring the Dial. To quote ABBA – “money, money, money!”
Director James Mangold (“Ford v. Ferrari”) takes over for Steven Spielberg and can’t help fan-servicing himself into a corner. We get lines recalling the franchise’s better moments, cameos meant to fire up our nostalgia circuits and even a new sidekick in the Short Round tradition.
Sadly, young Teddy (Ethann Isidore) never makes us forget Ke Huy Quan. The script does the child star few favors, treating him like a plot device, and a shoddy one at that. Making him pilot an airplane is one of the third act’s biggest eye rolls.
And it has plenty of company.
The lad is more authentic than Helena, who is smart, can brawl like a Marine and knows every detail about the Dial, ancient history and whatever else the scene requires.
She’s the Ultimate Mary Sue with one exception. The “Fleabag” alum has charisma to burn, making some of her character’s tics more endearing. It’s still galling for franchise fans to see Indy become the Damsel in Distress while Helena repeatedly rides to the rescue.
Much has been made of the CGI-heavy action sequences, but seen in the context of the film they’re less distracting than advertised.
Mangold is no slouch in the action department (“Knight and Day,” anyone?) but his visuals can’t compete with what Spielberg delivered in the first three Indy films. There’s no one “wow” sequence you’ll be talking about after leaving the theater.
We’re still talking about Indy escaping that rolling boulder from “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
“Dial of Destiny” offers some compelling reasons to make a fifth film after “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” soured many on the series. An older Indiana Jones could deliver something novel, a combination of wisdom and regret for his colorful lifetime.
The story aggressively time stamps the action via a parade for the U.S. landing on the moon as well as the late ’60s anti-war protests. Both are introduced early, then discarded.
An early laugh comes when Indy tells his neighbor to turn down the music. It’s a “get off my lawn” moment that could yield something potent. Alas, a screenplay credited to four scribes, cares more about setting up an endless array of chase scenes than telling us more about our legendary hero.
Indy and Helena bicker throughout the film, but it feels mostly lifeless. She’s Mary Sue-ing on full blast, and we’re not allowed to see her flash sorrow for her money-grubbing lifestyle.
It’s ironic that Helena mocks capitalism but cares about cash above all. Projection, anyone?
— Mark Hamill (@MarkHamill) June 15, 2023
Mangold may deliver solid, if not spectacular action, but he routinely undercuts the sequences with “Fast & Furious” style logic. Plus, the film assumes a repetitive pattern where our heroes travel to a critical spot, and the baddies miraculously show up five or so minutes later.
The hunt for the dial leads Indy to a veteran diver (a wasted Antonio Banderas). Together, they accomplish their task in such short order it’s laugh-out-loud ludicrous.
“Dial of Destiny” stumbles upon a fascinating finale for our hero, something we never see coming but feels like a perfect fit given Indy’s back story The film quickly scraps it for a traditional, and sappy, denouement.
Happy trails, Indiana Jones!
HiT or Miss: “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” is neither a “Crystal Skull”-sized letdown nor a return to the franchise’s glory days.