Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny hasn’t received quite the warm welcome many expected. After Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was lambasted by fans, some would say undeservedly, James Mangold (Logan, Walk the Line) stepped into the director’s chair to give Indy one final adventure. Steven Spielberg’s shoes are monumental to fill, but Mangold’s track record speaks for itself.
Following the fierce debate around Lucasfilm’s Star Wars sequels, this seemed like a sure thing for the embattled company. For one thing, it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival over a month before its theatrical release. That confidence may have been premature, however, as the film premiered to mixed results at Cannes.
Since more and more people have gotten to see the film, the reactions have begun to lean more positive. Nonetheless, it still doesn’t appear to be the critical hit the folks at Lucasfilm wanted it to be. This tracks with what Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny really is. James Mangold doesn’t aim to reinvent the wheel or lean too much on nostalgia. This film is instead a cut above serviceable and a most successful classic adventure for the titular character that perhaps could’ve used more ambition. What worked and what didn’t work? Read on to find out.
[Warning: Light Spoilers and Impressions of Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny are below!]
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is a fine adventure yarn
At the start of this story, Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) lives a solitary life. Marion (Karen Allen) has left him, many friends and family members have passed, and he spends his days drinking and unenthusiastically lecturing to his bored students. Just when it seems his adventuring days are behind him, a figure from his past shows up to entice him on one last jaunt across the Globe. His god-daughter Helena Shaw (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) clues him into the location of the other half of Greek mathematician Archimedes’ dial, which Indy and her late father (Toby Jones) sought for its mysterious power. As the two go looking for the other half of the dial, ex-Nazi turned NASA scientist Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen) pursues them.
The script (by Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, David Koepp, and James Mangold himself) does a fine job stringing together puzzles and action sequences all the way to the finish line. An opening sequence set in 1944, almost hampered by a shoddily de-aged Harrison Ford, sets up the MacGuffin, villain, and the personal nature of Jones’ mission splendidly. Even better is a first act that really allows the audience to feel the age of Indy in 1969. His lack of will to live is potent, and once Voller shows up it’s off to the races. Snappy, witty dialogue keeps the thing chugging along until the second act where things slow down considerably.
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny focuses so much of its energy during this period on side-obstacles for Indy and Helena to overcome that it almost feels like padding to reach the film’s epic-length 154 minutes. Quite a few of these, namely a scuba dive to retrieve an artifact, couldn’t been excised to make this a more streamlined picture. Moreover, the actual historical significance of the dial gets lost in all the noise. Thankfully, things tighten up for a strong finale that should provide closure to those who have spent time with this franchise.
Harrison Ford leads a game cast
One thing is crystal clear throughout Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny: Harrison Ford really wants to be here. More than any of his recent reprisals of iconic roles, Ford puts his full heart into his last round as Indy, serving up the same brand of charm through each small interaction and bombastic set piece. He embodies the character, fully. His commitment reminds the audience that this is no cash grab and that this is a real-deal, approved Indy movie.
Ford is surrounded by great talent on all sides. Phoebe Waller-Bridge makes for a bang-up companion, her cynical character out to sell artifacts for money. This leads to a magnificent arc for Helena, where she gets to become the curious adventure that Indiana himself once was.
Antonio Banderas shows up for a brief, fun supporting role as does John Rhys-Davies, reprising his role as Sallah from Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Last Crusade. Faring less well is a new kid sidekick character, Teddy. Ethann Isidore does the best with what he’s given, which isn’t much, as his character lacks definition beyond being a Short Round stand-in.
Faring much better is Mads Mikkelsen as the movie’s cold, conniving villain, as does Boyd Holbrook as his sniveling henchman Klaber. The cast is stacked with great actors giving compelling turns, showing that even when the film might be wrong-headed, it certainly has its heart in the right place.
Wonder runs thin in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny
Steven Spielberg did not direct Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny and that is very apparent throughout the runtime. Now, James Mangold is a phenomenal director who can stage a hell of an action sequence. Look at the film’s tremendous opening sequence in and around a moving train or a mid-film car chase where the fight choreography is electric. Unfortunately, his film looks dull.
In prior Indiana Jones outings, the new locales he’s visited are treated with an almost reverence by the visuals. Each part of the adventure is an adventure in and of itself. Director of Photography Phedon Papamichael produces some crisp, neat images that sadly don’t really stick around in the brain. Pair that with the fact that most of the scenes are set in murky night-time locations and it becomes a real problem.
That extends to a big problem with much of the film: a lack of wonder. On paper, the story is really exciting, but that excitement never leaps off the page. New threats, locations, and what have you are merely devices to keep the engine of the plot going, whereas in the past an Indiana Jones story drew you in with the exposition surrounding its historical artifacts just as much as it did with the high-octane thrills. Mangold nails the “boom! bang!”, missing the “wow” in the process. A third-act sequence that should feel fantastical plays, instead, like a pretty good set piece. That’s a real shame.
Fortunately, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny has it where it counts. It may not be the grand return to form many are hoping for, but how could it be? But when that John Williams score kicks in, and Harrison Ford is mugging his way through another ridiculous situation, you can’t help but smile.
James Mangold, Harrison Ford, and company deliver a fun bookend to the Indiana Jones stories that doesn’t need to end things off with a bang. It gives Indy one last victory lap, and that’s just fine.
My rating for the film:
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is now in theaters! Will you go see it? What is your favorite Indiana Jones movie? Let us know on social media or The Cosmic Circus Discord!