There's something about Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny that I truly loved.
Much like a good majority of you I'd imagine, I was more than a little wary as I entered the movie theatre ahead of my nearly 2-1/2 hour journey with Indiana Jones, a likely final journey given Harrison Ford is 80-years-old now and I can't fathom that he nor I will be alive should the studio one day choose to revive this esteemed raider of the lost ark for another generation.
The last time around was 15 years ago, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, a low point in the series that made it increasingly unlikely we would ever see Jones again. Spielberg has bowed out of the directing chair, though James Mangold (Logan) has stepped in with enough swagger, nostalgia, and sentimentality to turn Dial of Destiny into a surprisingly satisfying affair.
There are times it seems as if Mangold is intent on giving Dial of Destiny the nihilistic edge that made Logan such a top-notch cinematic experience and easily the best of the X-Men films. He doesn't succeed, of course, and it's that awkward balance that partly keeps Dial of Destiny from becoming the great film that it flirts with being. The action in Indiana Jones has always been more swashbuckling than savage, though this time around the kills hit just a wee bit harder and I found myself more than once flinching and struck by a particularly mean-spirited kill that conflicted with the film's otherwise nostalgic and even sentimental tone.
So yeah, Dial of Destiny isn't a perfect film. It certainly doesn't live up to Raiders of the Lost Ark, though how many films really do?
The truth is that Harrison Ford feels different in Dial of Destiny. He's lived in this character long enough to know what makes him work and he really leans into that with a sense of dignity, respect, and more than a little awe. Ford is 80-years-old now, yet he also knows that we love him and we love him as Indiana Jones. They are a match made in cinematic heaven and even with all its flaws watching Dial of Destiny is a little piece of paradise.
In an extended opening sequence, we're treated to the semi-controversial de-aging of Ford in a dazzlingly presented World War II piece involving our beloved Indiana Jones, those dastardly Nazis, and their effort to pilfer ancient artifacts with extraordinary powers. It's a familiar Indiana Jones set-up that works because Jones is Jones, Mads Mikkelsen is deliciously evil as Dr. Voller, and Toby Jones, as Basil Shaw, can do no wrong. It's true that the sight of a significantly de-aged Harrison Ford is more than a little jarring, though it never pulled me out of the action and it actually made everything else that follows, at least for me, that much more effective.
Skipping ahead to 1969, Indiana Jones is older. Much older. He's recently divorced from Marion (Karen Allen) and living a crotchety existence in New York City. He's about to retire his post-adventure gig as an archaeology professor at a local college, though one need only watch one of his classes to realize that he's for the most part already checked out. Then, Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), who just so happens to be his goddaughter and the now adult daughter of old friend Basil, shows up in one of his classes and it's clear that we're back in the saddle for another Indiana Jones adventure.
The search for the Archimedes Dial dominates Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, though Jones seems more invested in keeping it away from everybody else rather than actually possessing it. This is the first Indiana Jones film not directed by Spielberg or written by George Lucas, a fact that comes into play despite Mangold's best effort to make it not come into play. The script is written by Jez and John-Henry Butterworth along with David Koepp and while it's not a bad script, far from it, Lucas understand every nuance of this universe and Spielberg knew how to bring it all to life. There's something at times a little fumbling about watching newbies tackle over 40-year-old characters. We know, of course, that Mangold knows how to bring this type of material to life and he does add a freshness to the action sequences, however, that swashbuckling nostalgia and emotional resonance is undeniably missing at times.
That said, I simply can't deny it. I enjoyed every single moment of this overly long nearly 2-1/2 hour movie. While I wouldn't begin to place Dial of Destiny anywhere near Raiders of the Lost Ark or Last Crusade, I would easily sit through it again before I'd sit down with Crystal Skull and maybe even Temple of Doom. Dial of Destiny may not have given me everything I wanted, but it gave me everything I needed to say goodbye to a character that I've grown up with since my high school days.
Ford is simply a delight here with ample doses of swagger, rugged sentimentality, and surprising affection. The real prize, however, is Phoebe Waller-Bridge, an absolute joy as Helena with an energy and enthusiasm and swagger that shares a perfect rhythm with Ford. We may never see Ford again, but I would watch Waller-Bridge over and over and over again. I've at times been disappointed with Ford's female counterparts in the Indiana Jones here but this match-up is absolutely inspired.
While it has always been true that Harrison Ford is front-and-center of the Indiana Jones films, they've also always been strong ensemble efforts. The same is true here with Toby Jones's turn as Basil a definite winner, John Rhys-Davies returning as Sallah, and Antonio Banderas doing nice work as Renaldo. Ethann Isidore is here as the obligatory Indiana Jones kid, though this time around he's more partnered up with Waller-Bridges' Helena.
For over 40 years, Indiana Jones has cinematically satisfied. It's a rarity to make a decent sequel. It's practically unheard of to create five genuinely entertaining motion pictures within one series. As dependable as Indiana's fight for good over evil, the Indiana Jones films have entertained us over and over again.
As my time with Indiana Jones was winding down and the final notes of the magnificent John Williams score was enveloping me, I smiled and reflected upon my own life over the course of 40+ years and had to give a little thanks that I lived long enough to see Harrison Ford devote the vast majority of his acting life to such a memorable, iconic character.
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny may not be a perfect film, but Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is a rousing way to say goodbye to one of contemporary cinema's most beloved characters.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic