The last Indiana Jones movie with Harrison Ford in the starring role (apparently) and the first Indiana Jones movie to be directed by someone other than Steven Spielberg (it's James Mangold at the helm for this adventure), Indiana Jones And The Dial Of Destiny comes along with the advantage of simply having to be better than Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull. I just wanted it to be on the same level as that film, another that I seemed to enjoy more than many other people.
This is a fun time at the cinema, thank goodness, and any tentative fears I may have had were assuaged within the barnstorming, extended, action sequence that opens the film. There has been a theme in recent years in these franchise instalments, something I have no doubt mentioned before, an idea that, in a world that looks to have passed them by and rendered them obsolete, it is the older “dinosaurs” (although that has been literal, as well as metaphorical) with the strength and ability to save us from some new threats. While this film gives us quite a bit of that, and a number of jokes about the age of our central character, it is also a loving send-off to someone who has been part of the pop culture, and part of our lives for over four decades. It reassures him, and audiences, that having time away from adventuring doesn’t mean life stops. It just means that you can realise how much you can help people in other ways. The fact that this messaging is couched in a script that still doles out a good share of very enjoyable dialogue, entertaining action scenes, and nods for the fans to smile at makes it a perfect conclusion to what has been, in my view, an amazingly consistent blockbuster series.
I suppose I should summarize the plot. After that opening sequence, featuring a de-aged Harrison Ford that sometimes looks like the best de-aging I have ever seen, and sometimes looks like a character was photoshopped in from one of the first couple of Uncharted videogame cut-scenes, we get to the main storyline. Dr. Jones is retiring. He is alone, and tired. Visited by his god-daughter (Wombat, played by Phoebe Waller-Bridge), he ends up dragged into an adventure to find both parts of a fabled device created by Archimedes (it has a different name onscreen, but it’s the titular dial of destiny). This leads to a number of chases as our heroes try to evade the henchmen of a very determined Nazi villain (Dr. Voller, played by Mads Mikkelsen), who we saw being beaten by Indians Jones in part of the opening set-piece.
With no offence intended to him, director James Mangold does a decent job here, and has experience of directing a “hero walking into the sunset movie” with Logan, but I couldn’t help wondering just how well Spielberg might have treated this material. Perhaps due to the age of the star, or perhaps due to the complexity of the stunts, most of the big action beats are slightly over-edited, and there are not enough grin-inducing/fist in the air moments. No truly iconic hero shots, sadly, although some moments come close to giving off that indefinable aura of pure cinema magic (Wombat and Indians looking around a tomb being the best, in terms of that shot composition and lighting combo). Mangold also helped write the script though, alongside David Koepp, Jez Butterworth, and John-Henry Butterworth (I though Waller-Bridge had also been asked to polish some dialogue, but I could be misremembering), and this is where the film excels. Indiana Jones And The Dial Of Destiny is a perfect example of how to blend together a lot of fun and some serious themes (Nazism, obviously, but also regret and gradually losing a sense of purpose, as well as a few other key emotional touchstones). This is the Indiana Jones we have all known and loved for the lifetime of the character, but everyone is very much aware that he’s not immortal, or indeed infallible. His legacy will endure though, both onscreen and off.
Ford is great in the role, which seems like the most redundant thing to say. He has always been perfectly cast as Indiana, and he seems to enjoy embracing the chance to show the true age of the character, particularly when he gives a touching performance in one brief scene that stands head and shoulders above almost any other acting he has delivered in the past decade. Waller-Bridge is a decent foil, an antagonistic equal to our hero, although the character feels like it has been slightly reshaped to make her as essentially Waller-Bridge-ian as can be. And young Ethann Isidore plays Teddy, a boy with excellent pickpocket skills who makes our central pair into an even more plucky and resourceful trio. Mikkelsen is the kind of baddie you want, in line with other greats who have been before him. He’s cold, full of self-belief, and intelligent enough to think one step ahead of the heroes until he eventually realises that he actually hasn’t thought things through as thoroughly as he should have. Boyd Holbrook is a gun-happy henchman, and very good he is too, and Olivier Richters is a man-mountain also doing what he can to help Mikkelsen achieve his main objective. There are small roles for Toby Jones, Antonio Banderas, both doing work that makes you wish they were involved in the adventure for longer, and a couple of people that fans of the series will be delighted to see onscreen, even if only for a minute or two (you may already know who joins in with the fun, but I am not spoiling any potential surprises here).
For those maybe a bit tired and jaded of vapid blockbuster entertainment seemingly designed just to connect other blockbusters together into a money-making blockchain, effectively, then Indiana Jones is here to rescue you. The film reminds us of how much fun a finely-tuned summer movie should be, and it also comes along at just the right time to say “it’s always okay to punch a Nazi”. Fare thee well, Doctor Jones. You may not have always (ever?) kept the spoils of your adventures, but you were festooned in fortune and glory.
If you have enjoyed this, or any other, review on the blog then do consider the following ways to show your appreciation. A subscription/follow costs nothing.
It also costs nothing to like/subscribe to the YouTube channel attached to the podcast I am part of - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCErkxBO0xds5qd_rhjFgDmA
Or you may have a couple of quid to throw at me, in Ko-fi form - https://ko-fi.com/kevinmatthews
Or Amazon is nice at this time of year - https://www.amazon.co.uk/hz/wishlist/ls/Y1ZUCB13HLJD?ref_=wl_share