Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023)
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023)

Genre: Action and Adventure Running Time: 2 hrs. 34 min.

Release Date: June 30th, 2023 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: James Mangold Actors: Harrison Ford, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Mads Mikkelsen, Boyd Holbrook, Antonio Banderas, Toby Jones, Thomas Kretschmann, John Rhys-Davies, Shaunette Renee Wilson, Ethann Bergua-Isidore

 


 

T

he Paramount mountain logo is no longer significant, despite still appearing in front of this Disney/Lucasfilm release, though Indiana Jones’ trusty bullwhip and weathered fedora are instantly iconic imagery – alongside the use of Nazi antagonists as the go-to source of villainy. Here, the Lance of Longinus is intended to be the Führer’s ultimate relic as World War II comes to a close. But Professor Henry Walton “Indiana” Jones Junior (Harrison Ford), aided by pal Basil Shaw (Toby Jones), are aiming to acquire the ancient artifact for the sake of preserving a piece of history – a monumental antiquity that belongs in a museum. They do indeed recover the holy spear, but it turns out not to be the treasure they so desired. Instead, they’re turned onto the Antikythera mechanism, an orrery believed to be from mathematician and inventor Archimedes, which could potentially be used to conquer time itself.

This cold open action sequence employs a de-aging technique for Ford, which looks spectacular, provided his movements remain limited. Unfortunately, as soon as he speaks, it’s evident that not only does the voice fail to line up (it’s unavoidably deeper and gruffer), but also his lips can’t quite seem to purse correspondingly; there’s only so much this cutting-edge computer augmentation can achieve. It’s getting better, but it’s certainly far from flawless. Still, many familiar elements borrowed from past Indiana Jones episodes play out, including impersonation, infiltration, and attempted execution. Once again, the severity of the Nazis comes across with a conflicting effectuation; countless times throughout this picture, killers with guns must refrain from firing, so as not to disrupt the delicate balance of whimsical conflicts, the slapstick humor of specific action scenes, and the fact that the villains are exceptionally heinous evildoers. With modern filmmaking sensibilities, it’s a tough sell to continue to depict Nazis as goofy opponents.

Perhaps most unfortunate of all, however, is Ford’s age; at 80, he’s simply unable to be convincing as an action star. And when the lead hero can no longer assure a level of authenticity in the numerous fights and shootouts and car chases, it’s virtually impossible for an action film to succeed. Several sequences make use of stunt doubles and clever editing, but the moments that rely on pure CG are downright pitiful. In the earlier chapters, Indiana Jones engaged in plenty of battles with his fists and guns and whip, on horseback, in boats, across shaky bridges, and on top of tanks; here, his action-packed escapades resort heavily on tremendously over-the-top concepts (though, thankfully, none as outrageous as surviving a nuclear blast in a refrigerator). Some of the worst orchestrations resemble ideas from the “Fast and Furious” saga, which is notorious for its utter lack of realism; for Jones, the gravity-defying feats are wholly unfitting. “This is not an adventure … those days have come and gone.”

Without sensible action and stunts, there’s not a lot to fall back on. The formula for storytelling attempts a recognizable faithfulness in its archaeological daredevilry, from the introductory shots’ transition to Indy’s quieter professorial routines to a wimpy lackey to a wry epithet as he offs a toady. But the “present day” setting of the moon landing era as Jones shifts into retirement struggles to feel like an earnest follow-up to his former endeavors. And since the series never fruitfully passed the baton on to a suitable replacement, this fifth entry conjures an estranged goddaughter, Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), to handle some of the derring-do – yet she’s so unsympathetic (her first act is to leave Indy to die at the hands of gun-toting goons) and irredeemable (she’s never actually interested in obtaining the Archimedes dial for anything other than a quick auction) that she regularly feels as if one of the various villains out to rewrite history with a fantastical weapon. The script is also focused on making sure that every one of Indy’s allies is murdered, even when it barely serves as a plot point beyond pure cruelty.

A substitute adventurer is desperately needed, but Indy is forced into retreading familiar territory anyway, from getting shot at to leaping from precarious ledges to careening through narrow streets in rickety conveyances. His mismatched road-movie partnership with Helena even adopts a distinct “Temple of Doom” vibe with the inclusion of a diminutive sidekick (paired with the typical elements of corpse-filled crypts, claustrophobic spaces, and oversized bugs). What’s worse, however, is the lazy storytelling through ludicrously contrived coincidences; 99% of the picture is merely the villains pursuing the heroes, then the heroes following the villains, then the villains once again tailing the heroes (and it goes on for nearly 30 minutes longer than any of the prior films). And despite the size of the Aegean Sea or the population of Sicily (more than five million, in fact), every corner turned finds one party bumping into the other, only to flee across the hemisphere, where they’ll run into each other again within just a few seconds of inhabiting the same continent.

Plus, toward the finale, when the anticipated supernatural component is revealed, it’s as outlandish as the one from “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”; instead of the reasonable nudge against viewers’ suspensions of disbelief, like the intimate, isolated exhibitions of the Ark of the Covenant’s opening or the identification of the Grail, this one is cataclysmic. It’s uniquely tricky for this series when both the hero and the premise are equally farfetched. By the end, it may be modest fun to reunite some of the characters first seen on the big screen four decades ago for a cinematic farewell (against the mesmerizing theme music by John Williams), but “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” isn’t nearly strong enough for that to have been a sufficient reason for another feature-length sequel.

– Mike Massie

  • 4/10