Friday, June 16, 2023

Grumpy Indiana Jones and the Melancholy Journey Through Time

Your impressions on Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny will largely be determined by your threshold for how far an Indiana Jones film can go before nuking the fridge (so to speak). The Ark of the Covenant and the Holy Grail? Great. Sacred glowing stones? Weird, but sure, okay. But jumping into the realm of aliens or time travel through clocks is, for me, a bridge too far as the latest entry to the franchise ultimately feels as much as a successor to Angelina Jolie's Tomb Raider as Raiders of the Lost Ark.

The fifth film in the franchise gives us a grumpy old professor (Harrison Ford) on the eve of retirement pulled back into the field one last time by his goddaughter (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) on a quest that relates to the opening sequence set at the end of WWII aboard a Nazi train of relics. One of these is half a clock of Archimedes which, if myth is to believed, can provide time travel when fully assembled. (Feel those Tomb Raider vibes now? They'll only get stronger as the film heads into its final act).

The fun hijinks at the beginning featuring CGI Indy start off strong (even if the effect doesn't look quite right in certain lighting), but the film loses steam once catching up to an anarchistic Indiana Jones at the end of the 1960s. We get plenty of callbacks and cameos to other films, but Dial of Destiny can't quite ever capture the magic of Indiana Jones at his prime. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny isn't a bad film. It's a hollow echo we recognize, but even its best moments don't ring nearly as loudly or vibrantly as they did decades ago.

Along with Indy, this time around we get Waller-Bridge as girl he once knew who grew up into a woman he barely recognizes hunting down artifacts purely for profit. Helena Shaw could have benefited from keeping a few more of her rough edges as she becomes predictably warm-hearted as you would expect from a Disney film. We also get a kid (Ethann Isidore) thrown in, because why not, and Mads Mikkelsen as our obsessed Nazi scientist who, not unlike Belloq in Raiders, keeps getting the upper-hand on Indy but ultimately isn't nearly as smart as he thinks he is.

The film can't quite figure out what to do with law enforcement of the time, introducing a completely unnecessary CIA subplot making them culpable to the mad whims of a Nazi scientist and his murdering henchmen only to completely drop the matter once the story leaves the United States and heads overseas finally getting Indy back into his hat and whip. The somber tone of Indy's personal failures also cuts to the heart of the film often throwing a wet blanket on what fun it can muster. The film lacks the highs and lows of  indisputably dumb Crystal Skull, offering an more even, if less memorable, adventure. It's unlikely to cause much debate among fans because there just isn't all that much to get worked up about this time around choosing to play things safer with a heaping helping of nostalgia for fans as well.

I'd compare Dial of Destiny to a cover band that knows how to play the hits of its heroes but lacks the gravitas and understanding to adequately perform them. More than three decades later, the franchise still hasn't found a better ending than that of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade which is how I most like to remember Indy and his companions heading off into the sunset blissfully unaware on the mediocrity that will be forced on them, and unfortunately us, decades later.

Watch the trailer
  • Title: Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny
  • IMDb: link

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