REVIEW: Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023, dir. James Mangold)

Certificate: 12A

Running Time: 154 mins

UK Distributor: Disney

WHO’S IN INDIANA JONES AND THE DIAL OF DESTINY?

Harrison Ford, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Mads Mikkelsen, Antonio Banderas, John Rhys-Davies, Shaunette Renée Wilson, Thomas Kretschmann, Toby Jones, Boyd Holbrook, Ethann Isidore, Olivier Richters

WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?

James Mangold (director, writer), Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth and David Koepp (writers), Simon Emanuel, Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall (producers), John Williams (composer), Phedon Papamichael (cinematographer), Andrew Buckland, Michael McCusker and Dirk Westervelt (editors)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

In 1969, an aging Indiana Jones (Ford) heads out on one last adventure…

WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON INDIANA JONES AND THE DIAL OF DESTINY?

“It’s not the years, honey. It’s the mileage.” Such words were once spoken by Harrison Ford’s Dr. Henry Jones Jr. (or Indiana Jones, as he’s better referred), and over the years this iconic hero has racked up plenty of mileage. His on-screen adventures, often steered by director Steven Spielberg, have seen the whip-cracking, fedora hat-wearing archaeologist travel around the world seeking out treasures from religious history, encountering supernatural forces from Indian voodoo to interdimensional beings, and every now and then punching almost every Nazi that he comes across, all the while giving us a character that is still very much human with his own fears and desires. It’s little wonder, then, that Indiana Jones is often considered perhaps the greatest hero in cinematic history, if not one of the greatest – so much so, in fact, that anything to do with the character is as closely gatekept and observed as Lucasfilm’s OTHER big franchise.

That gives Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny a lot to live up to, not just because it’s been billed as the fifth and final outing in the series, but also due to the fact that it doesn’t carry as much hype as previous entries. Part of that is because Spielberg isn’t in the director’s chair this time round, though he is still credited as an executive producer, and while replacement filmmaker James Mangold has had a pretty strong streak as of late with films like Logan and Le Mans ’66, Spielberg’s absence is, to some, akin to replacing Harrison Ford with another actor; it just doesn’t feel the same, no matter how hard they might try. Furthermore, there’s the factor of Ford himself; nobody ever expected the actor to keep playing the role forever, but at eighty-years-old he’s also not as agile as he once was, so the idea of seeing an aged actor return to a very physically demanding role with lots of stunt work and explosive set-pieces is seen by most as some form of elder abuse. Again, to reiterate, these are not my personal opinions, but those of people who don’t seem as excited to see this film as they might have been back in the day.

But let’s go back to that iconic Indy quote for a moment: the years are insignificant to the actual mileage, which in layman’s terms amounts to the age hardly mattering so long as nearly everything else is in working order, and Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is a firm reminder that our beloved hero (and the circumstances around him) may have changed, but that hasn’t dampened the appetite for adventure, with this film gifting both him and the audience with a hugely entertaining and delightfully pulpy final ride into the sunset.

The film certainly opens like a good old-fashioned Indy adventure, with a prologue set in 1945 as a younger Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) – de-aged using some not half-bad CG technology – and his sidekick Basil Shaw (Toby Jones) infiltrate a Nazi treasure plundering in search of some lost artefacts, among them a mysterious dial known as the Antikythera, created by historical mathematician Archimedes. Years later, in 1969, Jones is living in a small New York apartment, having apparently separated from his wife Marion (whom he married in the final moments of the previous film), and about to retire from teaching archaeology. He’s soon approached by Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), Shaw’s daughter and Indy’s goddaughter, to help her retrieve the Antikythera for her own gains, but they are being pursued by former Nazi Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen) and his henchmen, who seek to use the dial’s mysterious powers to correct the mistakes of the past.

For much of it, Dial of Destiny is a classic Indiana Jones adventure, hitting all the expected notes – the mysterious and powerful historical MacGuffin, the Nazis being villains, big elaborate booby-trapped caves, and so on – without straying too far from the formula. There is clear enthusiasm and energy behind the camera, with Mangold recapturing a lot of Spielberg’s playful nature for plenty of action-filled set-pieces, while credited writers Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth and David Koepp keep the narrative going at a reasonable pace that retains that original adventurous spirit (the film’s 154-minute running time, by far the longest of the series, often whizzes by as a result). The production design is strong, Phedon Papamichael’s cinematography features some pleasing visuals – though, of course, nothing can truly replicate the work of the late Douglas Slocombe who famously lensed the first three films – and, of course, there’s a rousing John Williams score to keep the momentum high.

Meanwhile, you have Harrison Ford seeming extremely comfortable being back in his most popular character’s get-up, and it is a treat seeing him bring as much enthusiasm to the role as he did during his earlier years. His Indy deals with a fair bunch of stuff in this film, least of all the fact that he’s becoming more of an ancient relic himself in a rapidly changing modern world, to where even his university students are hardly paying attention to his impassioned lectures (the days of lovestruck female students writing “LOVE YOU” on their eyelids are long since gone). Unlike in the previous movie Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, that stuff isn’t really played for laughs, and instead serves as an interesting launchpad for ideas surrounding this hero as he tries to figure out where he belongs in the world, as well as wrestle with the feelings of regret and grief that have come from some personal, and fairly recent, tragedy. Ford does extremely well to convey these feelings and gets to share plenty of them with an equally enjoyable Phoebe Waller-Bridge, as the two actors share believable mentor-mentee chemistry that, once again, feels like classic Indy.

As adventurous and enjoyable as a lot of it is, Dial of Destiny isn’t top-tier Indiana Jones material, as it does share some of the same problems as the similarly divisive previous entry. For one, there is an overabundance of CGI which, while often impressive (especially with the de-aging of Ford in that opening sequence), feels out of place in the more practical world previously established in the original trilogy, and it is so noticeable whenever the filmmakers lay on the graphics that it does take you out of the movie at times. Certain characters are also brought in and quickly discarded, as either a pointless addition to the plot or a blatant stab at nostalgia. As an example of the latter, John Rhys-Davies is back for a handful of scenes as Indy’s friend Sallah, but it’s no more than an extended cameo that’s really just there to earn some applause from the audience, and he’s quickly gone again once they’ve settled down.

Then, there’s the third act of the film, which like Crystal Skull is proving to be a make-or-break moment for a lot of viewers, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t understand why. It does dive into some absolutely barmy and out-there concepts, even for Indiana Jones, and the ridiculousness of it all might be too much to ask for some people. From my perspective, though, I was happy enough to go along with it, as in some ways it is still in keeping with the pulpy and fantastical nature of this series (I mean, it’s not like the other movies, even Raiders of the Lost Ark which is still by far and away the best one, were entirely grounded in reality either), and it was still just as entertaining as everything else leading up to it. If anything, I had a bigger problem with the actual ending of this film, which is fine enough but concludes things on a very safe note, opting for some rather easy sentiment in the final moments.

Did this movie need to happen? Aside from giving Crystal Skull haters a more proper ending for the character, probably not, but that doesn’t make Dial of Destiny in any way pointless, as it does give audiences one final chance to go on a proper adventure with an iconic hero, and for the most part it’s a fun and jovial ride that captures a lot of Spielberg’s spirit while going in its own, occasionally far-reaching, direction. Once again, it’s not the years, it’s the mileage, and this movie proves that Indiana Jones has plenty more miles left in him.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is an enjoyable if flawed old-fashioned adventure with Harrison Ford’s iconic archaeologist, which has plenty of fun moments that feel like classic Indy, but also an overabundance of distracting effects and a third act which is bound to be divisive with audiences who aren’t willing to go along for the ride.

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is showing in cinemas from Wednesday 28th June 2023

Click here to find showtimes near you!

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