Dial of Destiny Sends the Man in the Hat on One Final Adventure
There is plenty to appreciate about Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. James Mangold (Walk the Line, Ford v. Ferrari) has taken over the directorial duties from Steven Spielberg (who has stayed on as an executive producer alongside series creator and longtime collaborator George Lucas) and helped conceive the sequel’s mature, frequently melancholic screenplay. He brings an emotional weightiness to the material that’s somewhat unexpected and stages a gonzo climactic set piece that’s as suitably goofy as it is happily incredible.
The other item worth crowing about is 110% unsurprising, and that’s the comforting presence of star Harrison Ford. The actor’s love for the character of Indiana Jones is as obvious as ever, and the 80-year-old living legend throws himself into the production with emotionally magnetic gravitas. He traverses Mangold’s themes regarding aging, legacy, and familial tragedy with withered grace. Ford has always owned this character, body and soul, and you can tell he’s determined to make Indy’s last crack of the whip memorable, at least as far as his performance is concerned.
But while Mangold’s career overflows with one success after another — from his 1995 debut Heavy to a Hitchcockian thriller (Identity), a police procedural (Cop Land), a rip-roaring Western (3:10 to Yuma), and even a pair of Marvel X-Men adventures (The Wolverine and Logan) — Spielberg he is sadly not. While this fifth entry in the continuing adventures of Indiana Jones is handsomely mounted and proficiently executed, there is a certain energetic spark that’s missing.
Case in point: There’s an epic tuk-tuk chase sequence through crowded streets of Morocco, and from a technical standpoint, Mangold and his stunt team pull it off with suitable aplomb. But when compared to similar sequences in the previous motion pictures, like the exhilarating opening car chase in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom or Indy and Mutt’s rousing motorcycle escape in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, this one sadly comes up short. Mangold can’t muster up the same euphoric energy Spielberg did with such effortless mastery, nor can he juggle suspense and comedy with such delicate ease.
It does not help that Dial of Destiny moves in disjointed fits and starts. Lucas was inspired by the matinee serials of his youth when he and Philip Kaufman dreamt up the original story for Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Spielberg utilized the adrenalized sensation of watching Flash Gordon save the universe from Ming the Merciless or The Shadow bring down The Black Tiger when setting the pace for his 1981 Academy Award–winning classic. Mangold cannot bring equivalent momentum to this sequel, and at a whopping 154 minutes, there are frustrating moments where the action slows to a crawl and the film’s length becomes a problem.
Not to say I think Indy’s swan song isn’t worthwhile. It is. While I’m still not entirely sold on digital de-aging (I’d rather they just went the same route as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and cast a younger actor for the prologue), there’s a lovely segment set during the tail end of WWII, with our intrepid archeologist battling Nazis on a speeding train overflowing with stolen historical treasures from across the globe. There’s also a fun bit with a freshly retired Dr. Jones escaping the vaguely Aryan henchman of former Nazi scientist Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen) on horseback using the New York City ticker-tape parade for the Apollo 11 astronauts as cover.
The plot itself is rather standard Indiana Jones hooey. It’s 1969, and Indy’s globe-trotting goddaughter Helena Shaw (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) unexpectedly comes calling, looking for one half of an ancient artifact he found back on that WWII Nazi treasure train with her late father, Dr. Basil Shaw (Toby Jones), known as the Archimedes Dial. Since it’s fabled to have the power to unlock time itself, Helena is understandably not the only interested party hoping to get their hands on this significant piece of history, a list that includes the ruthless Voller and his dispassionately murderous lieutenant, Klaber (Boyd Holbrook).
It’s follow-the-archeological-breadcrumbs from that point forward, with Indy and Helena attempting to stay one step ahead of Voller while they also work out a few personal issues that have left the pair understandably estranged. Mysteries need to be solved. Riddles need to be deciphered. Planes need to be flown through bizarre energy storms, and dives to untold depths must be completed in three minutes or less.
The film hits its stride during the final act. It’s a race against (quite literally) time as Indy and Helena pull out all the stops to keep Voller from rebuilding the Nazi menace and potentially rewinding WWII back to its beginning. It’s an explosion of crazy ideas, fun visuals, and refreshingly personal revelations. It’s the only portion of the film where Mangold truly does seem to be channeling his inner Spielberg, and everything leads to an achingly heartfelt coda that brought an honest tear to my eye and allows Dr. Jones to hang up his whip.
I grew up with Indiana Jones. While Raiders of the Lost Ark will always be the high-water mark for the series, I’ve enjoyed all of the dashing archeologist’s adventures over the past 42 years. Whether he’s precipitously hanging to the crumbling shards of a dilapidated rope bridge in India, dangling on the side of a Nazi tank in the Syrian desert, or trying to avoid being consumed by angry Peruvian fire ants, it’s all worked for me.
While I have more reservations this time around than I have in the past, this still holds true with Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. Spielberg’s touch is missed, but Mangold does hold his own. Better, he delivers when it matters most, right at the end. The man in the hat is finally allowed to walk into the sunset for good. Cue the iconic John Williams theme.
Film Rating: 3 (out of 4)