Friday, June 30, 2023


The most incredible part of Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is how quickly it promises little, and how thoroughly it proceeds to under-deliver even on that. The deficit of imagination starts from the first shot. Remember how Spielberg’s great adventure serials would always immediately signal their exuberant visual playfulness with clever transitions out of the Paramount logo and into the action in ways that cue us to the fun to follow? Raiders of the Lost Ark fades from the studio’s painted mountain to an actual one—a flourish announcing an exciting adventure filled with cleverness. Temple of Doom goes to an engraving on a gong—the better to tell us the following will be loud, splashy, over-the-top clamor. Last Crusade fades into Monument Valley—a Western throwback telling us it is back in the zone of a comfortable lark with real imposing danger—while Kingdom of the Crystal Skull reveals a gopher hill—the better to signify the following picture will confound expectations with a mix of the self-referential and self-critical. Dial of Destiny, a much belated sequel helmed by James Mangold, and for which the raison d’ĂȘtre seems to be simply to cash in on one last chance for 80-year-old Harrison Ford to wear the fedora and wield the whip of everyone’s favorite action-archeologist, does something else entirely. New corporate owners mean we first see the Disney castle. Then we see the Paramount logo, followed by the Lucasfilm crest on a black background. We then cut to: a suitcase. There’s no attempt at making it a clever fade in or even a cute match cut. It just starts. I know it seems a small detail on which to focus, but the longer the movie went on, the more it seemed to typify the whole approach. Here’s a movie that cues us right from frame one to expect less.

The only one giving his all in this fifth and presumably final Indiana Jones movie is Harrison Ford. Every unadorned close-up of his aged face is full of pathos and experience that sells years of adventuring nearing its end. He’s now mostly done with field work, on the eve of retirement from his professorship, and feeling out of place in 1969. But of course a MacGuffin from his past—an ancient Grecian dial that just might have something to do with time itself—is suddenly the source of eager hunting from an ex-Nazi (Mads Mikkelsen, perfectly slimy) who’s hoping to beat a younger rogue archeologist (Phoebe Waller-Bridge, gratingly insincere) to its enormous powers. Good old Doctor Jones is the only one who can help. Or get in their way. Or both. It takes a long time for Indiana to get back in the whip-cracking spirit, and he often is without his trademark hat. He’s really, truly tired of all this. (There's nothing on that idea wasn't said more elegantly and effectively in Crystal Skull. We're in repeat territory here.)  But save the world he must, though Ford’s better at sympathetically selling the weariness and reluctance now than the hard-charging action, which is left to a de-aged CG version of himself in an interminable flashback prologue or computer-assisted stunts in the present tense stuff.

Mangold, whose Logan and 3:10 to Yuma show he can make sturdy adventure elsewhere, does this no favors by shooting everything too close, and in a phony digital sheen slathered over, while cutting quickly with modern zippy animated stunt people. Early limp chases on a train and through a parade look so false and play so low-energy it’s hard to get the pulse up to care. The Foley work might be the familiar thwacks and thunks with each booming punch and echoing gunshot, and what a treat to hear John Williams once again scoring a movie with his lush orchestrations. But the pacing is all off throughout—too smooth and routine and so blandly choreographed that it all slides right off the eyeballs in an instant. Ford is the only element that feels real, even and especially when everything’s growing flimsier around him. There are a few fine gambits here—the fantastical final act, especially, is bound to be divisive, though I liked it, if more for the attempt than the weak execution. But this whole movie is weak like that, simply tired and underdeveloped thorough and through. It’s loaded with clunky plot points, scarce characterization for most side characters, and with barely an interesting image, let alone a compellingly staged action beat. Previous Indiana Jones pictures were rollercoasters. This one just coasts.

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