It is 1944 and adventuring archaeologist Indiana Jones is in a familiar predicament: the Nazis have caught him attempting to scupper their nefarious plans. After breaking free of their vile clutches, Jones and his accomplice Basil Shaw discover the fascists have found the Antikythera mechanism, a device created by Archimedes that supposedly reveals time fissures. Jones escapes, foils the enemy's schemes and steals the mechanism- seemingly putting the matter to bed. Some 25 years later, however, Jones is thrust back into action when his goddaughter Helena comes looking for the Antikythera; with an underground group of die-hard Nazis on her tail. Will Jones and Helena manage to save the day before time runs out?
Directed by James Mangold and written alongside Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth and David Koepp, 'Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny' is an uneven sendoff to one of the greatest characters in film history, that all too often feels like it came from the 'paint by numbers' school of filmmaking. Mangold tries throughout to recapture the magic of the original trilogy of Jones pictures, and occasionally succeeds; such as in the thrilling opening set in 1944, or a touching reunion between Indy and his estranged love at the end of the film. Furthermore, it is consistently enjoyable watching Harrison Ford on screen as Indy once more, even if he is a more downcast fellow this time; and the odd reference to adventures past is sure to make fans of the series grin from ear to ear.
However, the narrative is weak, the characterization of secondary characters is scant at best and- weirdly- at times it seems as if Indy is the sidekick in his own film. Helena Shaw, from the moment she comes on screen, is treated as the real star of the show, despite her being a decidedly unlikable lady. A spoiled and arrogant heiress, she is constantly rude and dismissive of Indy, when she isn't being reckless and impulsive, putting herself and others in danger for her own selfish motives. As written, the character has little to no respect for history or culture, seeing everything as a means to an end. She contrasts starkly with Indy, whose humble respect for his profession and legacy endears him to audiences. Helena, on the other hand, is a self-centered cad, who tries to upstage our hero at every turn. Why Mangold thought she should be made the (arguable) central character when this is Indy's last outing is beyond comprehension, not to mention being irritating and disrespectful to a cinematic legend.
Alas, Mangold's poor characterization isn't confined to her alone. 'Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny' not only provides us with a discount Short Round in the form of Helena's associate Teddy- a kid more irritating than mischievous- but a discount Major Toht too, in the form of Professor Voller- a Nazi scientist so generic even the incomparable Mads Mikkelsen can't make him interesting. Neither of these new iterations of old characters are very compelling, nor well rounded; and their inclusion in the film feels like a desperate attempt to out-do and re-create times gone by. Furthermore, the few familiar faces that occasionally pop up feel shoehorned into the plot, and Voller's troupe of henchmen are bland and forgettable.
Unfortunately, 'Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny' contains underwhelming visuals as well, which look cheap compared to the likes of 'Raiders' or 'The Last Crusade.' Much like with the previous 'The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull', there is a phony digital sheen to everything on screen that takes one out of the movie completely, and the questionable CGI is jarring throughout. Comparing the first three movies with the last two, it seems digital processes don't fit an Indiana Jones vehicle, they are the kind of epics that demand to be shot on film with practical effects. Moreover, the exaggerated effects and artificiality of proceedings hamper whatever realism Mangold was trying to foster with his downbeat narrative and allusions to real world history.
The main problem with 'Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny,' though, is its lack of originality or charm, which the previous films- well, the first three, anyway- had in spades. Mangold seems content to rely on recycled tropes and clichés to forward the story, making this adventure feel like familiar ground instead of fresh fun. The film uses the similar formula of Nazis, ancient artifacts, exotic locations and supernatural elements that we have seen before, but without the wit, creativity and excitement that made them memorable; meaning this iteration of Indy comes as more of a whimper than a bang.
Are there some elements deserving of praise in the film? Of course. Harrison Ford is consistently excellent and engaging as Indy, carrying the adventure squarely on his shoulders with his usual ease and charm. Furthermore, John Williams' epic score is stirring and- though her character is unlikable- Phoebe Waller-Bridge brings a nice blend of snark and enthusiasm to proceedings, sharing a good chemistry with Ford. Had they a better script to work with- and if Mangold's characterization wasn't so one-dimensional- they might have made a memorable duo. Additionally, the action is generally well realized- though tends towards the overblown- and there are moments and batches of dialogue that'll have fans of the series entertained, even if they are a bit few and far between.
However, 'Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny' just isn't great. As an adventure movie, it is too downbeat, and as a final entry in a fantastic series, it is too weak narratively to make much impact. Though it makes for a better overall package than 'The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,' it's not by much. The character of Helena Shaw is hard to warm to, the villains are forgettable and the visuals are underwhelming. In short, Indy, Ford and the fans deserved a better movie than 'The Dial of Destiny,' a muddled misadventure proving that time waits for no man; not even Indiana Jones.
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny
Action / Adventure / Sci-Fi
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2 hr 34 min