'Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny' review: Iconic franchise ends on iffy note
Courtesy of Disney/Lucasfilm
At 80, Harrison Ford understands there’s no time like the present (or the ability to cash a fat paycheck) which is the latest foe the infamous Indiana Jones faces in “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.” Sure, the iconic fedora wearing explorer and hip archaeologist professor has faced his fair share of bad guys, including a casual flirtation with Adolf Hitler, but “Dial of Destiny” pits the aging veteran against himself as he fully embodies the “get off my lawn” persona while Indy is stuck on a loop searching for life’s greatest mystery. If “Dial of Destiny” were to teach its audiences anything, it’s that no amount of versatility and quick-on-your-feet thinking can starve off the ticking biological clock. It may also teach studio executives that perhaps they should leave a good franchise alone. But when has that ever stopped them?
After the last Indy adventure, 2008’s “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” was met with, let’s say, a mixed response (I was firmly in the camp that it worked as a pulpy B-movie homage to Steven Spielberg’s classic alien pictures), you’d think the whip and hat would have been hung up for good, but the franchise/streaming era has a certain way of resurrecting the dead, and “Dial of Destiny” is being touted as the finale of this blockbuster franchise. I’ll believe it when I see it.
Primed with an appropriate amount of fan service, shady government agents, Nazi’s and a wild 45 minute finale that subverts physics and the space time continuum, “Dial of Destiny” plays like a greatest hit factory of everything fans have cherished about the character, complete with the swooning John Williams score that’s still magnetic, which is to be expected after the aforementioned “Crystal Skull” irked the fandom by exploring interdimensional beings.
And that’s probably why, “Dial of Destiny” sadly plays things safe, an episodic adventure that’s missing Spielberg’s flair and attentiveness to scale. Here, the baton has been passed to director James Mangold (“Logan”) and through himself and co-screenwriters Jez Butterworth, John Henry-Butterworth, and David Koepp cook up decent material reminiscent of the original trilogy, it’s reliance on crummy de-aging CGI (the first 25-minutes maximizes this technology to distracting heights and proves it’s something that’s just never going to work) mixed in with laughable digital effects where Harrison Ford is clearly not riding a horse through Times Square and the lackluster inclusion of Indy’s goddaughter (played by Phoebe Waller-Bridge) and you get an iffy IP-based product that might change people’s harsh attitudes towards “Crystal Skull.”
Nevertheless, the movie does open in a flashback, 1944 to be exact where the young, digital Indiana Jones is trying to snag the Lance of Longinus that’s been stolen by Nazi’s who believe it has untapped, magical powers. But that’s not what the diabolic Professor Jurgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen) is really after, instead using the Longinus as a scapegoat for the real prize: the Antikythera or, better known as, Archimedes’ Dial. Well, half of it anyway.
Cut to 1969, where everyone is celebrating the historic moon landing, and Jones is staring down the barrel of retirement before getting approached by his goddaughter, Helana Shaw (Waller-Bridge) who is asking a-lot of questions about the Dial and how she may have found the other half’s known whereabouts. (Something that could have major implications about the state of the world as they know it). Of course, Voller, now known as rocket designer Dr. Schmidt, is looking for the Dial too, enlisting bumbling CIA operatives (one of them is named Alabama, played by Boyd Holbrook) and using government resources to track it down.
Essentially, the Dial is a giant macguffin that gives another half-baked reason for Indy, who has sworn off that life for good, to jump back in the saddle for one last go-around. The movie certainly keeps a steady pace and, running a series long two hours and 34-minutes, seldomly drags. Mikkelsen makes a great screen Nazi, Ford can still throw a punch while delivering cheesy punchlines, and, as any Indy fan would say, there’s always going to be major nostalgic value from seeing one of cinematic history's most storied hero's up on the big screen. But with that comes great responsibility. Say what you will about “Crystal Skull,” at least you walked away feeling like you saw something. In “Dial of Destiny,” there’s such a frantic, hurried urgency that comes with each passing scene, it can only afford to give a new character, played by the great Antonio Banderas, approximately two minutes of screen time.
Any 21st century “Indiana Jones” adventure never had a prayer of recapturing the magic we all had seeing Indy race against the boulder in those opening moments of “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” which by all accounts is a near masterpiece. But you’d hope there would be more substance than seeing Ford, who is more than capable of playing the role in his golden years, showing up and cracking the whip one last time. Let’s hope the brass at Disney keep their word and leave this storied franchise alone for good.
INDIANA JONES AND THE DIAL OF DESTINY opens in theaters everywhere Friday, June 30th.