I hoped that Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny would be the swan song for our beloved blockbuster archeologist. They needed redemption after their failure to see him out gracefully with Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. I know that some people were skeptical that an 80-year-old Harrison Ford could pull off another swashbuckling, body-bruising adventure. I actually thought this could work. After all, “It’s not the years, honey. It’s the mileage.”
I should say up front that the movie is not an unmitigated, disaster. It’s a mediocre summer action film that I’m sure some moviegoers will enjoy. As an Indiana Jones film though, especially the last one, it’s a disappointment. You can take this with a grain of salt — like most people of my vintage, I was raised on these films, so I have, er…complicated feelings about it.
This time around, it’s 1969 and Indy is a professor in New York. He is visited by his goddaughter, Helena Shaw (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), who wants his help finding the Dial of Destiny, a MacGuffin that her father went crazy trying to figure out.
We first see Indy in the prologue in 1944. It’s the end of the war and he’s tousling with Nazis. Much has been made of the digital de-aging technology used. Sure, it was probably some of the best de-aging I’ve seen, but it still wasn’t good enough. He didn’t have the Polar Express, uncanny valley dead eyes, but he looked like a well-rendered video game character.
My biggest problem with Dial of Destiny is that Indy gets lost in his own movie. A large chunk of it doesn’t feel like an Indiana Jones movie (they don’t even encounter or solve any archeological puzzles or riddles until over an hour and a half in).
But the bigger issue is Helena Shaw.
Don’t get me wrong, she’s a great character, a progressive woman, a money hungry scoundrel, like early Han Solo. And while Waller-Bridge is an amazing force of both acting and writing and does a great job with the character, the actress herself feels too contemporary for ‘69.
But that’s minor thing. The main problem with Helena Shaw is that most of the film feels like another back door pilot, which they already botched with Shia LeBeouf. She comes in with a big origin and even her own Short Round-style sidekick and probably the best character arc in the film. I’ll say it again for the people in the cheap seats: JUST TELL ME A GOOD GODDAMN INDIANA JONES STORY.
This movie could have easily been called Helena Shaw and the Octogenarian Sidekick. Indy is often relegated to shuffling around in the background saying grumpy things while she does all the heavy lifting. Our good friend Sallah (John Rhys-Davies) appears, but he’s also quickly sidelined. I wish the timing had have been better to bring the newly Oscar-minted Ke Huy Quan back into the fold; a character we know and love. You’d still have to write it as an Indy movie and not a commercial for the next three movies, but Short Round would be a great person to pass the fedora to after Indy’s exit.
As I said earlier, the old man hero looking back during the sunset of his life could have easily worked in this film. And they do address it, sometimes with emotional results. There are some great lines that Ford delivers that’ll put a lump in your throat. However, they could have gone way further into this. Without giving anything away, they do mention an idea with his son Mutt (LeBeouf) and I found myself wishing they had told that story instead.
Spielberg was missed greatly here. James Mangold is a perfectly cromulent director, with some great movies like Logan and Copland and a lot of middle of the road films like Ford V Ferrari and The Wolverine. While there were cool action set pieces and locations, a lot of the action felt forced or poorly executed. Spielberg is a genius; he will draw your eye to certain things and often he makes less into more. In Dial of Destiny, there were several action scenes where you couldn’t tell who was shooting at who or who was wearing what frogman suit.
Mangold also forgot about the humour inherent in an Indiana Jones movie. Indy drops some great, gruff one-liners here and there, but it didn’t have the playfulness of even the darker entry, Temple of Doom. If James Mangold could create such a brilliant swan song for Logan, why not for Indiana Jones as well?
Quick shout out to Mad Mikkelsen and his gang of henchmen. While it seems like low-hanging fruit to go get Mads for a villain role like this, he does an excellent job. Boyd Holbrook (playing a character similar to his role in Logan) and the hulking, 7’2 Olivier Richters are effective as well. While I’m throwing names out here, Toby Jones has a small, but important role as the elder Shaw. And much like Mads, when you need something like this done right, you grab Toby Jones.
Ultimately, it was a messy film (I mean, no spoilers, but what happened to the whole plot thread about why he couldn’t return to New York? They just ignore that it was even a thing, which is super weak, considering it would be easy to cut out the set up if they had to cut the story for time).
I may soften on Dial of Destiny when I see it again, now that I know where the story goes. God/Kali knows I softened on Crystal Skulls on my recent rewatch (though it still had too many problems to be even a good Indy movie, I at least wasn’t hurling objects and profanity at the screen).
The ending for our hero, while it had a nice surprise, didn’t have the poetic oomph of a final goodbye. I guess I need to take solace and satisfaction in the idea that Last Crusade already achieved that perfect ending as they rode off into the sunset. If I had my own Dial of Destiny, I’d create an alternate reality where the last two movies never happened and Last Crusade was the true ending.
All that said, Dial of Destiny was a late-stage freebie. It’s hard to be mad at a franchise that gave me three of the best movies of my life. So thank you to Lucas, Spielberg, Ford and company. And farewell to Henry “Indiana” Jones, Jr, who we shall always remember, was named after the dog.