Movie Review: Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny
After fifteen years of retirement, Indiana Jones has grabbed his hat and whip and returned to archaeology.That’s the recurring theme in his latest outing. Is Indy’s heart still in the hunt for hidden treasure? And will fans care?
Here’s a review of Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, which tries to recapture the glory of 1980s Indiana Jones.
About the Indiana Jones Franchise
Any conversation about the current Indiana Jones film must acknowledge the past.
At times, this movie feels like an aging rock band attempting to rekindle its glory by playing its greatest hits.
Before you say, “That sounds terrible,” I’ll add one fact. The band is the Rolling Stones, and they’ve still got it.
That same statement applies to Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones.
In 2008, critics denounced the actor for his lethargic performance in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
Of particular interest is the infamous refrigerator scene wherein the archaeologist escapes a nuclear blast by riding a cooler down a mountain slope.
Here’s where I’ll readily admit my bias. I’m the target demographic for Dial of Destiny, as I grew up with Indiana Jones.
Also, I’ll add that I’ve recently rewatched all the films in the franchise, and here’s where I say something borderline blasphemous.
When you watch the start of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom immediately before Crystal Skull, you’ll notice something.
The much-derided fridge ride scene pays homage to the opening escape sequence in Temple of Doom.
People who liked the latter should enjoy the former. Why didn’t they?
The style of storytelling didn’t change, but the viewers evolved. One film came out 24 years before the other.
Audiences changed in what appealed to them. Some grew up and thereby outgrew the madcap, over-the-top hijinks of Indy and his friends.
People tend to forget this due to the film lodged between them: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
In my entire life, I cannot recall 25 other films that virtually everyone enjoyed the way that they did with the Ford/Sean Connery buddy picture.
When most Indy fans think about the franchise, they remember Raiders of the Lost Ark and Last Crusade.
About Dial of Destiny
So, a review of Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny should recognize the purpose here.
Director James Mangold is living out the dream of any filmmaker within 20 years of his age. He’s directing an Indiana Jones flick.
Only one other person can claim that feat, and it’s Steven Spielberg himself. Even George Lucas never (officially) helmed an Indy movie.
In a way, Mangold has created fan fiction, a loving and fond look back at a style of cinema we simply don’t witness today.
Indiana Jones may have gotten older, but he’s still fighting the same battles.
Always grumpy and reluctant to change, the character is now a throwback to a past era. The film leans hard into this premise.
In every instance, Jones underscores he’s a relic. He’s riding a horse when everyone else is on a motorcycle or driving a car.
When Indy breaks out his legendary whip, countless villains in a room aim their machine guns at him.
At this point, Indiana Jones IS the historical artifact.
Mangold clearly has the time of his life exploiting this idea, and Ford seems to love it as well.
For fans of the Indiana Jones franchise, you need to read no further. I can assure you that this film will provide you with comfort and happiness.
The problem is that The Walt Disney Company must market this film to everyone else, which isn’t easy.
Crystal Skull came out 15 years ago and wasn’t remembered fondly. The last Indy movie generally accepted as great debuted in 1989.
How old were you then? Exactly.
Talking about the groundbreaking greatness of Indiana Jones would be like explaining why people once loved hair bands. If you weren’t there, you’re never gonna get it.
The Daughter in Dial of Destiny
Mangold does something quite clever in his loving rehash of Indy’s greatest hits.
Dial of Destiny introduces a new character quickly, and this individual, Basil Shaw, is quite noble.
He’s a fellow archeology professor who gets dragged into an Indy adventure…in 1944.
Twenty-five years later, Dr. Jones encounters Basil’s daughter, Helena, who isn’t anywhere near as noble as her father.
Helena’s story arc somewhat mirrors – and intentionally so – that of Dr. Elsa Schneider in Last Crusade.
Which will win out in the end, Helena’s greed and lust for a better life or her paternal influences?
You see, Helena isn’t just Basil’s child but also Indy’s goddaughter.
The plot provides Helena with a sort of Indiana Jones starter kit in that she has her own Short Round already.
Teddy is Helena’s sidekick and quite the accomplished thief. The two of them run several scams.
Indy’s disapproval when he discovers this will remind everyone of the first time they failed a parent.
You may wonder where Indy’s beloved, Marion, and their son, Mutt, are.
I can assure you that Dial of Destiny has accounted for the absence of these characters.
So, the story becomes a struggle for Helena’s soul as Indy battles the Nazis one last time in a search for a treasure of unexpected potency.
What Works in Dial of Destiny?
During interviews, Ford has made his feelings abundantly clear that he adores Phoebe Waller-Bridge.
That translates to the screen to a remarkable degree. Their banter feels genuine and plausible.
At several points in the film, characters face almost incomprehensible events, ones that should make anyone pause and say, “Err, is this really happening?”
The absurdity of some of these developments won’t work unless you’re invested in the characters, and I’m happy to report that I was.
I’m not joking when I say that I cannot wait to watch the film again. If it were available on Vudu right now, I’d buy it.
I feel that way because something about the character of Helena imbues Indy with life again.
While I’m not averse to Crystal Skull the way that some are, it lacks that magical relationship that Indy had with his father, with Marion, and even with Willie Scott.
Helena, Indy, and Teddy restore some of that alchemy, which makes sense. Indy has always worked best when his allies are less virtuous/more fallible.
Also, the action sequences in this story work extraordinarily well.
Without spoiling, the mystery of the Dial of Destiny resolves itself in a stunning way, one I doubt anyone could possibly guess.
That final battle is just…well, it’s perfect. Mangold and the other writers clearly put a lot of thought into what Indiana Jones would want at this stage of his life.
Then, they retrofitted an entire mystery around that premise. And it works.
Finally, the villain warrants special mention. Mads Mikkelsen is perfect in this role as a “reformed” Nazi scientist working for the American government.
Even though this character is clearly evil, his motivations and actions will keep you guessing. And his thugs are engaging, too.
What Doesn’t Work in Dial of Destiny?
Honestly, I would say the flaws aren’t significant, although they are noticeable.
There were two instances where I felt that the story directly contradicted itself.
As an example, one form of payment was seemingly forgotten in a matter of seconds, leaving Helena desperate for money again.
I presume some final choices in the editing process led to this snafu, but it took me out of the film for a moment.
Also, there’s one character in the film portrayed by a relatively recognizable actor.
I wish they’d cast someone less famous because I spent too long debating whether it was him. (It was.)
I’ll add that an ongoing criticism of Indiana Jones, James Bond, and the like is how many bullets miraculously miss them.
At some point, I’d like it if a director found a nice balance between Indy’s inexplicable ability to repel bullets and John Wick’s inability to miss a shot.
Another criticism isn’t mine. A dear friend, a cinephile, disliked the film and took issue with the special effects, which he considered outdated.
I’d figured the aesthetic was intentionally retro, but it bothered him. So, I’m throwing it out there as a word of caution.
Finally, I’ll add that a couple of the villain’s henchmen are…too dedicated to the cause.
At one point, I rolled my eyes at how little they adjusted their behavior during dramatically changing circumstances.
Without spoiling the moment, something happened during the final fight that really bugged me.
This one’s pretty simple.
If you’re an Indiana Jones fan, the final film will give you warm fuzzies.
You’ll remember all the things that made you fall in love with the character in the first place.
Oh, and since Mangold is a Spielberg fan rather than the director himself, he can even toss in some Goonies tributes as well.
For those who are on the fence about the character or who don’t want their hearts broken, you don’t have to watch this film in a theater.
You can safely wait until it’s on Disney+, which will probably happen around October.
However, Indy fans should take a trip to the local cineplex. You don’t want to wait on a story this satisfying.
I give Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny an 8.5 out of 10, and I think my grade is more likely to go up than down after repeat viewings.
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