Indiana Jones and The Dial of Destiny
An actor is spectacularly lucky to land a role that becomes iconic. The type of character that becomes larger than the product they originated in and becomes synonymous with the person who played them, even by people who haven’t seen the movie. This is a rare occurrence in the 130-year history of the cinema. Remarkably, Harrison Ford has two. The first is intergalactic smuggler Han Solo. The second is legendary archeologist Indiana Jones. Ford got to give Han his send-off in Star Wars – Episode VII: The Force Awakens, 38 years after he had played him initially. Now he has probably done the same for Professor Jones, 42 years after originally donning the famous fedora.
The fifth entry in the series, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, keeps the tone, pacing, storytelling and sense of humor of the franchise. It definitely uses nostalgia to bring its audience in but, unlike legacy sequels such as Ghostbusters: Afterlife, it has more to offer than that. While there are references to Raiders, Temple of Doom, Last Crusade and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, those moments aren’t specifically about the references. Thankfully, this isn’t a “wink, wink, remember?!” kind of nostalgia. It is more about seeing an actor we like playing a character we have enjoyed for decades in a story that feels familiar, mostly in the right ways. It is generally pretty fun to watch.
The year is 1969. Indiana Jones, hunter of lost artifacts, is becoming a bit of an artifact himself. He’s retiring as a professor and doesn’t really do adventuring anymore. Then, his goddaughter shows up out of nowhere, dragging him into one last quest involving a mythical object and scheming Nazis.
Fittingly, the key thematic element of The Dial of Destiny (143 minutes, without the end credits) is time. Indiana believes his is running out, while the villain, a Nazi physicist, wishes to turn it back. The first scene set in 1969 (following a lengthy prologue set during WWII featuring an awkward-looking de-aged Harrison Ford) establishes that a lot has changed since viewers were last in this world fifteen years ago. Life has continued and it has taken quite the big toll on our globe-trotting hero, emotionally more so than physically. Loss weighs on him and it is interesting to see how the movie juggles that with the relatively light tone. Ford suggests the past we haven’t seen with his trademark gruffness and a weariness that is new to Indy. It is a good performance, in part because of the way the filmmakers take advantage of our long-standing connection to both character and actor.
Most of these movies are named after the object Indiana is fighting to acquire. In this case, the titular device was built by Archimedes and some think it may have the power to turn back time. As a macguffin, it works for setting the plot in motion and giving the characters a reason to go on an adventure. However, it is also useful for getting our aging hero to reflect on his past (to an extent, the audience is encouraged to do this, as well). For him, turning back time would mean undoing mistakes that hurt the people he loves. That adds an emotional core that gives this a slightly different spin, even if it does boil down to Indiana Jones’ knowledge and resourcefulness versus the selfish arrogance of his power-hungry enemies (of course, that is still fun to see).
The story is okay. It does what it needs to in terms of putting all the pieces where it wants them. I’m not inherently a big fan of prolonged action sequences, yet somehow this franchise consistently produces exciting ones. Here, there is a good chase through a train, as well as a clever car chase. The difference between these and most summer blockbusters is that these tend to start with Indiana Jones attempting to accomplish something (usually escape or steal), which leads to the bad guys trying to stop him. There is a purpose; it isn’t just spectacle for its own sake. The stakes and consequences are clear and relatable. Actually, that might be the entire charm of Indiana Jones. He isn’t a warrior; he’s a scholar with a love of discovery whose hobby keeps putting him in danger. The “regular guy” quality of Harrison Ford is a large factor in him creating these iconic characters.
If Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny truly is goodbye (let’s face it, it should be), this is a fine farewell. This series has two great movies (Raiders of the Lost Ark and Last Crusade), two so-so entries (Temple of Doom and Crystal Skull) and, in the middle, Dial of Destiny, which is pretty entertaining. Though I am always talking about wanting to see things that are new, all I hoped for out of this was a final adventure for a beloved character I grew up with that was faithful to what has made his popularity endure for so long. This definitely scratched that itch.
3½ out of 5
Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones
Phoebe Waller-Bridge as Helena
Mads Mikkelsen as Dr. Voller
Ethann Isidore as Teddy
Toby Jones as Basil Shaw
Boyd Holbrook as Klaber
John Rhys-Davies as Sallah
Directed by James Mangold
Written by Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, David Koepp and James Mangold