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Review: Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

Taking over for Steven Spielberg, director James Mangold previously sent Wolverine off with Logan and has now directed what is Harrison Ford’s final time in the fedora with Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.  While obviously not at the level of any of the original trilogy, it is a massive improvement over Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and a fun, if overly long send-off for Indy.

Set mostly in 1969, Dr. Henry Jones Jr. aka Indiana Jones (Ford) is retiring from teaching at his latest post, Hunter College, when his goddaughter Helena Shaw (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) arrives seeking information about the Antikythera aka the Dial of Destiny, which her father, and one of Indy’s adventuring partners, was obsessed with.  The Dial allegedly has the power to predict the appearance of fissures in time, allowing one to time travel.  A former (and current) Nazi scientist, Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen), is also after the dial and a classic race for the artifact is on, with the twist that Helena is more interested in the Dial’s monetary value than its historical significance.  The movie feels much more like a classic Indiana Jones movie than Crystal Skull and the Dial is a fun McGuffin that introduces sci-fi elements but still keeps its historical significance.  The opening in 1944 is an exceptional Indiana Jones mini adventure, despite the digital de-aging of Harrison Ford, which looks good but the tech is still in the uncanny valley and still noticeable and jarring at times.  I’m not sure exactly what could have been cut but there probably could have been some trimming somewhere as the movie is close to 2 hours and 30 minutes long and it could have probably worked closer to 2 hours or less.  There are some fun cameos and references to prior Indiana adventures, including quite a few Temple of Doom references, and there are also some emotional beats as Indiana is not in the best place personally when Helena comes to see him.

Outside the prologue, which is full of Indy fisticuffs and whip-cracking action, Mangold seems to have wisely realized that Ford probably can’t do extended fistfights like back in the day, so he crafts a lot of vehicular chase sequences that are still thrilling but rely less on Ford’s physical abilities.  It’s not a Liam Neeson situation where they try to imply he can still fight with gratuitous amounts of editing and stunt double usage.  There’s a fun chase through New York City during the ticker tape parade for the Apollo 11 astronauts and another great sequence in Tangiers where Indy and Helena are being chased by two different antagonistic parties in a tuk-tuk.  The movie also feels much more grounded and practical than Crystal Skull, which almost literally turned into a video game at times, especially in the middle sections with stuff like the trucks sawing through the jungle or Mutt swinging with monkeys.  There’s still CG but it’s used much better here and it manages to keep the movie feeling like a classic adventure while doing things the original trilogy couldn’t do.

Maybe it’s something with the prospect of it being the last time, but Ford feels more engaged in Dial of Destiny than in Crystal Skull (cue the “part-time” line reading), similar to how it felt with his last main go around as Han Solo in The Force Awakens.  He does a great job of playing the darker and tragic place that Indy is in at the beginning of the movie with the wise-cracking adventurer we all know and love.  Phoebe Waller-Bridge is fine as Helena and is set up as a sort of alternate path Indy could have gone on, someone who studied archaeology but became the grave-robbing treasure hunter he’s been accused of, only interested in profit and not preserving the history of the artifacts they are finding.  They arguably go a bit overboard with her smug cockiness and there is a point where I think she literally leaves Indy to die from eels underwater, so not the most likable character but as an antagonistic foil to Indy, she’s OK.  Mads Mikkelsen isn’t doing anything too different from a lot of the villains he’s played in recent years, but he does it so well that I don’t mind.  He’s a cold, calculating, ruthless villain who believes he’s superior to everyone around him and nothing or no one matters except his goal.  Boyd Holbrook as Mikkelsen’s main henchman is fun but he doesn’t quite get to cut loose as much as I would have wanted.  When he was the main villain for Mangold in Logan, he had so much personality and this kind of feels like a lesser version of that.  There are a couple of characters that feel kind of superfluous, including Ethann Isidore as Teddy, who is basically Helena’s Short Round but lacks any of the personality and charisma of Ke Huy Quan, and Shaunette Renée Wilson as Mason, a CIA agent who is assisting Voller with his hunt for the Dial early on, a plot that is extremely underwritten and adds unnecessary confusion, especially since it gets resolved fairly quickly.

Dial of Destiny doesn’t reach the heights of any of the original trilogy, which is an absurdly high bar for any movie, but it is a huge improvement over Crystal Skull and I’m glad that this is now the swan song for Indiana Jones and he got one final, fun adventure to go on.  The movie is a bit overstuffed and overly long but there’s plenty of Indiana Jones action, humor, and treasure hunting to most likely satisfy fans of the franchise.

Where to watch Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

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