Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny
"Dial of Destiny" does not achieve the heights of the first three installments, but it is a watchable sequel to the action-adventure franchise despite falling short of being great.
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For over four decades, nothing has brought out our adventurous spirit of ourselves more than the joy of watching Harrison Ford put on the famous fedora and carry his bullwhip once again as Indiana Jones. The brainchild of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas created one of cinema’s greatest action heroes to take down power-hungry baddies through a pulpy, sense-of-fun lens.
Because of that, "Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny" was one of the year's most anticipated sequels for good reasons. The first three, from 1981 to 1989, are instant classics in my book. "Raiders of the Lost Ark" opened the series in a big way in one of my absolute favorite movies of all time; "Temple of Doom" has its detractors for being too dark, but it’s an objectively underrated prequel, and "The Last Crusade" is an excellent father-son adventure that initially capped off the trilogy with a bang. But if you were like me 15 years ago and saw 2008’s "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" in theaters, I know how you feel.
To this day, the fourth installment has good ideas, but it ultimately leads to the most disappointing blockbusters I’ve seen.
Given that this is the fifth and last installment, one would wonder if there is a compelling need for a sequel to be released years later. Maybe not, but after the last one, I'll take anything to consider this the ideal mulligan. I’d rather have a sequel than somebody else portray the character. I was still optimistic despite the reactions to its Cannes Film Festival premiere; indeed, it came as a surprise how mixed the reviews were. But I didn’t think it was a reason to get bent out of shape since I wanted to experience the exhilarating feeling once lost.
Is "Dial of Destiny" a better sequel than the previous one? Yes, it is. But in comparison to the first three, does it naturally lend itself to becoming a flawless conclusion? Not exactly. Even if it's completely fine, the ride is entertaining while falling short of spectacular.
It opens during the tail end of World War II in 1944, where American archaeologist Dr. Henry Jones Jr., aka Indiana Jones (Ford), attempts to retrieve some stolen artifacts from Nazis along with his colleague Basel Shaw (Toby Jones). Soon they come across Nazi mathematician Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen) that same night, who has one-half of this mysterious artifact known as the Antikythera, which could have the possibility to change the course of history.
Flash forward to 1969, and we see a much older Jones living alone in his New York City apartment, where he had just retired from his profession as a professor of archeology at Hunter College during the age of the Apollo 11 moon landing. It’s been some time since he went on one of his crazy adventures. But then comes the arrival of his goddaughter/Basil’s daughter Helena Shaw (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), who he hasn’t seen in years and discusses how her father has been obsessed with finding the other half of the Antikythera. They set off on another globetrotting trip before Jürgen, who’s under a different alias and works for NASA, gets his hands on both of them.
It seemed unusual not to have Spielberg direct an "Indy" film because he's always been associated with them. But the thought of replacing him with director/co-writer James Mangold to lure back fans immediately piqued my interest and didn't make me nervous. Throughout his career, he has dabbled in various genres, as we saw him do wonders with biographical dramas ("Walk the Line," "Ford v Ferrari") to great comic book movies ("Logan").
He mostly overcame the challenges of making an "Indiana Jones" movie his own with the familiar beats we've come to expect from a major blockbuster of this type. You wonder what this could've been if Spielberg had been involved in directing; I couldn't help but wonder throughout. Making a sequel to a Spielberg movie isn't easy, but he almost plays everything safe from my perspective.
Harrison Ford's dedication to this role immediately shows that he still cares about one of my favorite movie characters, and we are witnessing a different side of him because of his advanced age. Even though he's now in his early 80s, I didn't believe he was sleepwalking his comeback, similar to "Crystal Skull." We have always viewed Indy as a vulnerable hero to root for, but this doesn't hide the reality that he is aging, living in the past, going through a lot of crazy dangerous things, or what's been going on in his personal life in between sequels.
Seeing him return as Rick Deckard in "Blade Runner 2049" or Han Solo in "The Force Awakens" was especially wonderful. Realizing this might be the last time we see him as this persona is bittersweet.
Throughout the 20-minute prologue showing Indy disguised as a Nazi and getting captured, you see a de-aged Ford that you probably saw in the trailers. Sometimes using digitally altered technology on older actors is never that perfect, and so it sometimes works in shots. At the same time, other times, it’s very distracting, especially when hearing Ford’s voice now as opposed to when he was in his 50s or the lighting in general. It isn’t very pleasant, but it didn’t take away from how well-directed it was.
You can always expect any of these movies to have a standout supporting character to join Indy on his adventure that starts not so great only to find a new, unique relationship, and in this case, Phoebe Waller-Bridge as Helena surprised me as a new addition with the great chemistry she shared with Ford. She has spent her entire life studying archaeology, so pairing her with someone virtually as knowledgeable about the subject as he is makes sense. Most people may assume that she is simply reprising the "Fleabag" character she played in this time and automatically think her character is one-note or unlikeable, yet her portrayal is never irritating.
Aside from Ford and Waller-Bridge, the supporting cast didn’t have much to do. Mads Mikkelsen can play villains in his sleep, and he was fine as Jürgen Voller, a scientist who wants to change the world but has the evil screen presence of a Belloq or Walter Donovan, albeit he was more memorable than Spalko. Not just him, don’t expect a lot from the likes of Antonio Banderas as boat captain Renaldo or Boyd Holbrook as Klaber. Even John Rhys-Davies returning as the charming Sallah felt more like a cameo, given his limited time. This should’ve given us more Sallah.
Though out of the new characters, I don’t suspect Helena’s street-smart sidekick Teddy (Ethann Isidore) will be anyone’s favorite since they very much tried too hard to make him this film’s answer to Ke Huy Quan’s Short Round, which didn’t work at all and never really made a connection within this journey with Indy and Helena.
The action, with the help of Phedon Papamichael’s beautiful cinematography and a new John Williams score, is undoubtedly fun attempting to capture the classic taste of the previous from a sequence with Indy on Horseback in the middle of a parade to the subway and a car chase through the streets of Tangier that’s thrilling. But they don’t hold a candle to being as memorable as the iconic moments from the first three since they felt more practical through their fantastic stunt work and almost swashbuckling grit to them.
Thankfully, there are no swinging monkeys.
That said, what ultimately makes "Dial of Destiny" a decent, not great sequel comes down to a story that has trouble capturing all that magic and awe. From a script by Mangold, Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, and David Koepp (who wrote "Crystal Skull"), it knows how to keep a familiar story intact with Indy on trial to find answers to a certain MacGuffin in a race against time. There’s not much attention with not so many stakes to make it entirely fresh, causing the story to struggle to feel unique in the long run. And with a runtime of two and a half hours (why are movies long these days, huh?), this had a pacing problem in the second act where there’s not a lot of action going on for when it's not as fast-paced as before. This could’ve easily been a tight two hours to polish the story up a bit.
The ultimate swing shows in the third act steered the wrong way for me, and in the weeks after I saw it, I can't say the direction it took didn't work for me, even when taking advantage of the fantastical side of all things considered. Everyone will leave thinking it's far better than "Crystal Skull," but I also believe everyone will leave feeling it's either a magnificent conclusion or fairly lackluster. I wouldn't be shocked if lifelong fans who want to sit back and watch an old-school movie enjoyed it. This isn't "Top Gun: Maverick" or "No Time to Die," but it gets the job done.
With a more compelling tale, this may have been one of the greatest of the summer. Overall, you can't go wrong with an engaging film starring a character we've grown to adore over the years.
“Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” didn’t “wow” me as much as I expected, but while I won’t call it one of my favorites in the series, it is a serviceably fun sequel. You can feel Spielberg’s absence, but I’ll credit James Mangold for recapturing the spirit of the original three in its action and Ford’s performance in a send-off I can respect.