The Fedora, the whip, that iconic John Williams theme……Indiana Jones movies have seared their way into our cinematic consciences over the past 40 years, a beautiful reminder that movies can be entertaining without a tsunami of special effects.
Even with the amazing advances in the special effects industry, nothing can ever quite beat a well-choreographed action set piece, a daring stunt, or a giant boulder cannoning towards the screen that is so clearly not made of pixels!
Harrison Ford, Steven Spielberg and John Williams (as well as many others) delivered three pitch perfect examples of this type of adventure movie, and one not quite so perfect, but nonetheless entertaining one with Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. That was supposed to be the great archaeologist’s swansong, ambling off into the distance, Fedora and all, after marrying his one great romance and finding a family. A fitting finale…..sweet, charming, old-fashioned, just as it should be.
One might think that the sensible idea would have been to leave it there, regardless of how tantalising the idea was of Ford returning one last time. However, as with all the great film franchises of the 80’s these days (see also: Star Wars, Alien, Terminator, Karate Kid etc), logic lost, and money prevailed, and the resulting finale feels like the aging hero himself……tired, slow, and without that spark that made the originals so wonderful.
In the director’s chair for this one is James Mangold, who has success in giving aging cinematic icons the send-off they deserve (Logan), so any trepidation about the great Steven Spielberg not helming this one were swiftly put to one side. Dial of Destiny kicks off in the same vein as Raiders and Last Crusade, with a series of terrifically choreographed and daring set-pieces allowing the movie to get up and running very quickly and lay the ground work for the story ahead.
This time we meet Thomas Kretschmann’s (always reliable) dastardly Nazi, as he attempts to steal a train load of valuable archaelogical finds for Hitler, even as the war is coming to an end, with Nazi Germany on the brink of collapse. We are also introduced to the movie’s chief villain, Mad’s Mikkelsen’s Voller, and Toby Jones’ (criminally underused) bumbling Englishman Basil Shaw. Then there is Indy himself, now dramatically de-aged, and lets just say the best of this footage was sadly seen in the trailers.
Whilst the de-aging process is very impressive, it has been done much better before, and one can’t help but think that the dramatic age difference between Indy now, and Indy de-aged, is too much of an age gap to reverse, as the effect here is mildly uncanny and becomes off-putting after a while (and its a long while spent with this younger Indy). Nonetheless, the train sequence is excellent, and some solid maguffin-explanation is carried out by Indy and co in this opening salvo.
Fast forward to moon landing day in ticker-tape covered New York, and Indy is now living in a small, dingey looking apartment, ranting at his young neighbours and consuming alcohol-laden morning coffee. The contrast between Ford’s character at the end of Crystal Skull and here is huge, and it takes some explanation later in the movie to fill in the inexplicable gaps that have led to such a downturn in Jones’ fortunes. Maybe Mangold was trying to create the same vibe that he had so successfully done in Logan, but the characters of Wolverine and Indiana Jones are worlds apart, and such a drop for the great archaeologist seems a stretch.
Mikkelsen’s chief bad guy reappears on the scene, now backed by Jones’ own US government in a superb bit of chameleonic scheming, and a band of secret service agents and mercenaries that are determined to see the former Nazi achieve his aim of turning back the clock, and righting the wrongs (as he sees them) of the past. So far, so slow, as the movie moves at a fairly glacial pace, with even the set-pieces struggling to muster up much excitement, which is a first of Indy movies.
In comes Phoebe Waller-Bridges energetic goddaughter to inject some youth and energy to proceedings, which she undoubtedly does, and soon we are whisked off to a multitude of beautiful places, looking for the next clue that will help Ford, Waller-Bridges and newcomer Ethan Isidore locate the titular ‘Dial of Destiny’ before Voller does.
The plot itself is a by-the-numbers adventure plot, with all the globe-trotting tropes to go with it. Bar the third act, which has proved incredibly divisive, the movie itself as an all-together safe feel about it, not wishing to push any kind of boundaries or break much new ground for any possible future Indy movies to explore.
The much talked about finale (no spoilers!) is a touch whacky, but it does at least break new ground and it makes for easily the most entertaining and exciting period of the movie, and in hindsight maybe the movie would have been better placed spending more time adopting this mad-cap approach, as at least it would have given audiences something meatier to chew on and Indy something new to explore.
Alas, even the excitement generated in this finale is short-lived, and comes to an abrupt end that seems to be the result of lazy writing, and instead we end the movie, and at the time of writing, the franchise as a whole, on a quiet, not particularly moving note, albeit with one neat call-back to Raiders.
What is most disappointing about this movie is its one-dimensional characters, with the exception of Ford himself and perhaps Boyd Hollbrook’s delightfully nasty US agent. Mikkelsen is as reliable as ever, but his character Voller is a fairly one note villain, and the same could be said of Waller-Bridges Shaw, who sadly just comes off as an emotionless and annoying addition to the world of Indiana Jones.
Much was made of Shia Labeouf’s attempt in the previous movie, but Helena Shaw is far more grating on the nerves, as whilst she does inject much needed humour and energy at times, she seems devoid of any kind of raw emotion in key scenes. Strong performances from the likes of Shaunette Renee Wilson, Toby Jones and as mentioned, Boyd Hollbrook, are either cut far too short or taper off towards the movies end, and one familiar face is jettisoned from the movie just as we are beginning to get to know them!
John Rhys Davies’ cameo as long time friend Sallah also seems unnecessarily shoe-horned in. So its left to Ford himself to shoulder much of the movie, which as always, he does admirably, aided by that effortlessly brilliant John William’s scene and enough nostalgia to stop the movie from becoming a real drag.
Ultimately though, Dial of Destiny cannot create the feel and magic of the old days, which is a problem that Kingdom of the Crystal Skull had to grapple with too, and actually manages with much better than this effort. It’s an unfortunate and unjust way for Ford to bow out in what is, for many, his greatest role. The legendary actor has always shown particular love for this character, and it’s that love and affection for the role that shines brightest in this movie, and for that he should be applauded. It just goes to show, that like many of the artefacts Indiana Jones has unearthed across the years, some relics should be left in the past, untouched, and preserved for us to marvel at for years to come.