THE STORY – Daredevil archaeologist Indiana Jones races against time to retrieve a legendary dial that can change the course of history. Accompanied by his goddaughter, he soon finds himself squaring off against Jürgen Voller, a former Nazi who works for NASA.
THE CAST – Harrison Ford, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Antonio Banderas, John Rhys-Davies, Toby Jones, Boyd Holbrook, Ethann Isidore & Mads Mikkelsen
THE TEAM – James Mangold (Director/Writer), Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth & David Koepp (Writers)
THE RUNNING TIME – 142 Minutes
The dial has been turned back as we’re returning to the “Indiana Jones” franchise for one last adventure in “Indiana Jones And The Dial of Destiny.” Marking the first entry not to be directed by Steven Spielberg (nor does George Lucas have any screenplay credit), the reigns of this beloved franchise have been given over to James Mangold, who has wowed audiences with his last few films, including “Logan” and “Ford v Ferrari.” This also marks the first “Indiana Jones” film to be released under Disney since they purchased Lucasfilm in 2012. It’s been widely discussed how much “Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull” disappointed longtime fans of the franchise in 2008. Now with Mangold, Kathleen Kennedy, and most importantly, Harrison Ford, dedicated to delivering the iconic movie character a final sendoff worthy of the decades of admiration, he’s received, how does “Indiana Jones And The Dial of Destiny” live up to this expectation?
It’s 1969, and life has changed for our favorite adventure-seeking, fedora-wearing archaeologist. He’s without anyone meaningful in his life and is about to retire as a professor at Hunter College. He also has to deal with his loud, obnoxious hippie neighbors who blast their music too loud for the grizzled older man who, now in his twilight years, has taken to the bottle now that he’s living a lonely existence. Not only has his personal life changed, but the world has changed around him as the space race enters a new era with astronauts landing on the moon. Content to dig deep into the earth to better understand and discover its past, it’s clear the world has moved on from the adventures of Indiana Jones. Until one day, his brilliant, feisty, and capable goddaughter Helena Shaw (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) re-appears in his life and sets him off on what will be his final adventure.
The film opens up with a thrilling 20-minute opening prologue set during World War II where Jones, disguised as a Nazi (and with Ford de-aged to look like his younger self using the latest CGI technology), gets captured and placed on a train where he uncovers the Nazi’s attempt to find a lost artifact through intimidating Helena’s father Basil Shaw (Toby Jones) which could lead to disastrous effects if fallen into the wrong hands. Those wrong hands belong to Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen), a former Nazi who encountered Jones and Shaw on this fateful night and is now working with the United States Government, whose team is led by Mason (Shaunette Renée Wilson) to track down this mathematical tool invented by Archimedes which has the ability to turn the hands of time. With the past outcome of WWII hanging in the balance, Voller and his men, led by his right-hand man Klaber (Boyd Holbrook), will travel the globe and stop at nothing until they find anyone who may lead them to the dial of destiny.
“Indiana Jones And The Dial Of Destiny” looks and sounds like an “Indiana Jones” movie, and it sometimes feels like one too. The missing component is Steven Spielberg, for as talented as a director James Mangold is, he cannot measure up to the cinematic brilliance that Spielberg imbues into each of his projects. And to be fair, there are few who can. Mangold has always been a reliable studio-for-hire director, lacking in his style and directorial stamp, and that’s precisely how “Indiana Jones And The Dial Of Destiny” feels most of the time. It pays homage to the past films and retains the franchise’s love of action, humor, and spirit. Still, it’s lacking the magic Spielberg brought to these films, whether it was a well-executed action sequence or a camera move that spun your brain. Those wondering if this movie has anything as outrageous as the science fiction elements found in “Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull” will surely get something similar in the third act of “Indiana Jones And The Dial Of Destiny” but at least here it’s rooted in the themes of the film and allows Harrison Ford to gracefully give this character the dignified bow he’s always wanted him to have. Composer John Williams’ familiar-sounding but comforting score only helps to make this nostalgic film feel right at home with the others in the franchise.
Ford, now 80 years old, handles the role’s physicality as best as possible. Much of it is hidden through clever camerawork and visual effects. However, the visual effects sometimes distract rather than aid almost every major set piece. Whether it’s the de-aging work on Ford in the prologue or the blurred backgrounds during two chase sequences, one taking place during a parade in New York City (which eventually ends up with Ford comically riding a horse along the subway tracks) and the other in the streets of Tangier, or the film’s final act aboard a military aircraft (Don’t worry. It at least looks better than “Uncharted” did earlier this year), there’s always something a little off. The action is always serviceable and is to be expected in an “Indiana Jones” film, but it never rises to a distinguishable level worthy of the franchise’s heights.
If “Indiana Jones And The Dial Of Destiny” works for you, it’s most likely because you’re enjoying Ford’s return to the role that made him (along with Han Solo in “Star Wars”) one of the biggest movie stars in the world, the return of beloved characters such as Sallah (which amounts to little more than a two-scene cameo from John Rhys-Davies) or the introduction of new ones, notably Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Helena Shaw. Old-school fans may prefer Ford, but Bridge practically steals the movie right from underneath him with an intelligent character who isn’t afraid to dive into danger. Some may roll their eyes at the film’s attempts to draw out some of her comedic ability displayed in “Fleabag.” Still, the film never goes overboard with it, and its playful nature feels suitable in a franchise that was always meant to be escapist entertainment. Unfortunately, Mads Mikkelsen isn’t given enough material to make his Nazi villain stand out enough, and Antonio Banderas is completely wasted in a brief section of the movie as a longtime friend of Jones’s who helps him, and Helena dive to the bottom of the ocean to find the next clue to solving where the artifact may be.
Mangold’s love for the Indiana Jones character is fully on display, and Ford is 100% committed to doing the best he can to close out this significant chapter in his life while he still can. However, Mangold’s safe but affectionate approach results in a final film that doesn’t take risks or dazzle but manages to provide ease and stability. In many ways, it feels like another nostalgic film from the mind of George Lucas that Kathleen Kennedy later produced, “The Force Awakens,” which delivers exactly what the powers that be think dedicated fans want but will likely suffer an unfair reputation because of it. There’s no turning back the hands of time to fix this one. “Indiana Jones And The Dial Of Destiny” may not be the finest film of the franchise, but it’s far from the worst. It’s solid entertainment with a legendary character riding off into the sunset one final time.