Movie Review: “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny”


Harrison Ford and Phoebe Waller-Bridge in "Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny"

Seeing “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” was a unique experience. I can’t recall the last time I watched a movie and never felt fully engaged. Sure, there are moments of interest and excitement, and there are sequences that disappoint and fall flat, but outside of those few times, I never really felt much one way or the other. Director James Mangold’s newest film feels like the cinematic equivalent of the color taupe: it simply exists without being good or bad. I felt nothing during the majority of the latest “Indiana Jones” — not revulsion at the feeling of a franchise unnecessarily extended nor excitement to see Harrison Ford back in his classic fedora. The two-and-a-half-hour runtime doesn’t feel overly long, but there isn’t a propulsive pace to it either. The movie lives in a liminal, medium space where it’s both an aggressively fine way to spend your time and something you could easily skip without missing anything. “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” simply exists.

Mangold’s film is an epic enterprise, spanning time and the globe with multiple set pieces that blend practical stunts with CGI to varying degrees of success. Its lead is a beloved star in a terrific role that helped make him famous, all while espousing how horrible Nazis are and why they should be taken out at every turn. Which makes the fact that it’s so middling even more bizarre. “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” feels like the ultimate movie to do laundry to, not necessarily because there are lulls, but because it never reaches the height of engagement needed to sweep you up in the adventure. There are memorable sequences, but they are forgettable in execution, and there are jokes that land, but they are mostly greeted by a smile or a small chuckle.

Indiana Jones’ (Ford) last escapade in World War II found him teamed up with another archaeologist (Toby Jones) to retrieve Archimedes’ Antikythera, a highly sophisticated dial that seems to track all manner of time and space. The duo wrested it from the clutches of a Nazi scientist (Mads Mikkelsen) and returned home as the war finally came to an end. Now, almost 25 years later, Jones is alone and on the verge of retirement as a professor at Hunter College. The archaeologist’s daughter, Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), arrives looking for the dial, only to be tailed by the CIA working with that very Nazi scientist — a man who has found prominence in his work for the space program. Jones and Helena race across the globe to find the missing piece of the famed artifact and attempt to stay one step ahead of the scientist and his murderous goon (Boyd Holbrook).

The best symbol for this muddled film is the character of Indiana Jones. Excluding the WWII sequence that opens the movie, this is an elderly version of the beloved icon. Does that mean he’s too old to perform the same Nazi punching and treasure hunting? And is that why there’s a younger surrogate version of him in Helena who could easily lead a new franchise if the fates align? One would think so, except he’s still able to do everything that he did before — he just complains about being old while doing it. He’s signified as having aged and changed, but there’s still an attempt to keep the icon frozen in amber to how everyone remembers him.

Part of the issue may be that Mangold simply isn’t as good of a director as Steven Spielberg. The latter always excelled at capturing the awe and making those moments translate from the characters to audiences; we are just as captivated by these wondrous events and amazing discoveries as the people on screen. Mangold is a fine filmmaker in his own right and excels in many areas. He is particularly strong with his casting, his work with actors and his ability to cleverly (and clearly) orchestrate action sequences in entertaining manners, but that doesn’t translate into the very specific vibe of the franchise.

The latest Indy adventure feels like a ghost of itself; it has all the necessary pieces but without the emotional resonance needed to connect with viewers. The thrilling chases are devoid of any real thrills, the mysteries are low on intrigue, the villains are missing true venomous appeal and the heroes’ charms are sadly muted. “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” looks good on paper, and watching out of the corner of one’s eye, it certainly resembles an Indiana Jones adventure, but it’s ultimately lacking. The film isn’t bad nor is it good. It just is, and that may be the most damning thing about it.


Starring: Harrison Ford, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Mads Mikkelsen, Boyd Holbrook, Antonio Banderas, Toby Jones, Thomas Kretschmann, Karen Allen, John Rhys-Davies
Director: James Mangold

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