Indy’s latest and likely last adventure proves to be a pitfall to the franchise’s modern legacy.
When Indiana Jones 5 was announced, I can’t say I was particularly reeling with excitement. After taking the saga into the realm of mediocrity and shear absurdity with Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – it seemed telling of a grim future for franchise. That being said, a follow up almost 16 years later felt rather unexpected yet, simultaneously, about 13 years too late. Skeptical me just wasn’t sure whether a now 80 year old Harrison Ford would redeliver the charm he once brought to the adventuring archeologist those many moons ago – though seeing James Mangold attached as director did provide me with slight reassurance. After the incredible Logan in 2017, it seemed Mangold was a man who knew how to properly send off a beloved character with a sense of fulfilment and bittersweet satisfaction.
Maybe Indiana Jones and The Dial of Destiny would be a film of introspection and meditation on the waning years of its title character – playing creatively with the notions of his mortality throughout the narrative – as a driving force behind his motivations and ethos. I can safely say the film does not follow this route almost at all. Instead, Indy’s later years simply denote him as a miserable old man for most of the feature’s run time more akin to bringing grandpa on holiday as opposed to the travels of an eager adventurer.
The film resolves around a race to find the parts of the Antikythera – an ancient dial engineered by Archimedes which may possess mystical time-bending powers. Always one step ahead is former Nazi Doctor Jürgen Voller, played by villain-on-speed-dial extraordinaire, Mads Mikkelsen. This entry also sees the introduction of Jones’ Goddaughter Helena Shaw (Phoebe Waller-Bridge). Dial of Destiny opens rather intriguingly in 1944 with a de-aged Harrison Ford battling Nazis on a train through Nuremberg . The action is decent though some parts of the sequence feel a like too contrived in regards to conveniences playing a little too well into Indy’s favour. Ford’s digitally altered face fails, however, to mask his breathy, frail voice which may not be as easy to disguise as his grey hairs and wrinkles.
As we jump to present times (1969), and the catalyst for a new adventure has been set in motion, the film begins to retread territory all too familiar for the franchise. Its the same old beats: characters go to location A to look for Item A, meet the villain, escape, go to location B to look for Item B, see the villain again, escape and so on and so on. Though it’s arguably a narrative pattern which has become tried and true for the series, seeing these play out all over again steers things a little too safe for the, now, 5th entry into the franchise. When it comes down to it, it’s a lack of identity which makes Dial of Destiny so mediocre as it brings nothing new in terms of its story and how it plays out.
In all honesty, the film plays more of an inferior version of the films that came before. The action, for instance, is significantly lacking in terms of both spectacle and practical expertise seen in the likes of Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Last Crusade. At one point, the characters race through the streets of Tangiers on Tuctucs but the editing makes the whole sequence feel like a spout of motion sickness for the audience with a certain lack of clarity regarding the actual happenings onscreen. To the film’s credit, there a few nail-biting moments scattered throughout which incited genuine surprise with decent action pay offs but aside from them, things played out a little too linear.
Another issue Dial of Destiny faces is that of its supporting cast. As previously mentioned, the now type-casted Madds Mikkelsen plays a baddie too familiar for the franchise. In respect to the rest of the franchise, generic Nazi villain hardly stands out in the crowd of indy antagonists. I suppose his defining trait is his nostalgia for the long-lost power of the German Reich? Phoebe Waller Bridge turns in a decent performance and her character doesn’t seem to necessarily overshadow Indy like I thought it would, however, her presence can be a little annoying at times. This is in no part to Bridge herself but likely the often corny lines and hack direction she is given. The film also introduces a new junior sidekick who I suppose is this entry’s Short Round but where the latter was a charismatic and loveable addition to Temple of Doom, Dial of Destiny’s ‘Teddy’ retains none of these qualities. Also, the performance of his character was just downright bad with stale delivery and paper plate emotional depth.
The third act also lampoons the film into a plane of stupidity rivalled only in the franchise by the alien encounter in Crystal Skull. The grand finale is so laughable it honestly feels like it’s written by naive fans instead of ‘professional’ writers. All in all, instead of bringing the saga’s legacy and title character full circle, Dial of Destiny mostly feels like the final lap of a 10k run – everyone is tired and just pushing through one more time for the sake of it being over. The film hardly ends with the sense of closure expected for the final entry for one of the biggest blockbuster franchises of all time. The development of its centre piece feels so minimal that its final moments remind me more of a sitcom episode coming to a close than a 2 hour 30 min epic. Let’s just hope Indy’s retirement is a permanent one. Still, beating up Nazis is something that never gets old – unlike Harrison Ford – evidently.