Harrison Ford has already stated this is the last time he’s playing the iconic adventuring archaeologist. Indiana Jones is a huge part of our cinematic history; his 1981 introduction in The Raiders of The Lost Ark remains an exhilarating one.
2008’s The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull introduced Indy’s son Mutt (Shia LaBeouf), but the film was a disaster on all fronts. Indiana Jones and The Dial of Destiny, which recently had a glitzy premiere at Cannes Film Festival, has a lot riding on it. Can it return the franchise to its former glory?
Eh, kind of. It’s far better than Crystal Skull, but The Dial of Destiny lacks the essence or, dare we say it, the soul of the original Indy films.
When we meet Dr. Henry Jones in The Dial of Destiny in the 1960s, he’s not the Indiana we remember. He drones on in his classroom to a room full of uninterested students; none of them are writing ‘Love You’ on their eyelids in order to impress the dashing, worldly adventurer. Jones’ life has become dull and monotonous now that he’s old, but adventure still manages to find him.
Jones is, against his will, thrust into a new mission, searching for the Dial of Destiny, a magical contraption with potentially world-changing powers. Trouble is, the damn Nazis are back, and after the same thing. Jones is joined by his goddaughter Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) in the hunt for the Dial before it’s too late.
The film opens with a scene set in the 1940s and features footage of Ford de-aged to look like a younger Indy. Surprisingly, the de-aging looks rather good and seamless here, successfully avoiding the uncanny valley issues of some AI-enhanced cameos of late. The whole sequence imitates the action seen in previous Indy adventures, but like everything in The Dial of Destiny, it pales in comparison to the originals.
Director James Mangold demonstrates a sufficient understanding of what is needed for a great Indiana Jones film; action, a witty female companion and a couple of Nazis are at the top of that list. However, as The Dial of Destiny proves, Mangold can only produce a pale imitation of what made Indy great.
It’s almost like Mangold knows the franchise inside out but has less of an understanding of Indy as a character. Thankfully, Harrison Ford is fantastic. While the film around him is often aimless and bloated, Ford proves he still very much has it with razor-sharp wit and comedic timing.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge proves herself as a capable heroine and a much needed challenge for Ford on screen. The two share palpable, fun chemistry and Waller-Bridge brings her Fleabag-style searing humour to the film. Mads Mikkelsen, an excellent actor, does what he can with a thinly written role as the menacing Voller. He won’t be remembered as one of Indy’s greatest foes, but it’s hard to blame that on Mikkelsen.
Almost everything in The Dial of Destiny feels shallow and the film plays out like a lazy rehashing of Indiana’s better escapades. The Dial of Destiny is a frustratingly toothless film. Whereas both Raiders and 1984’s The Temple of Doom were gnarly, with scenes of hearts ripped out from chests and melting faces, The Dial of Destiny is almost completely bloodless.
The plot here feels overly familiar and veers on silly. Mangold can’t quite pull off the tricky balance of camp and real threat like the previous Indy films, but The Dial of Destiny’s ending is a bittersweet one. If this truly is the last time we see Indy on the big screen, then it has been a blast.
So long, Dr. Jones.
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is in UK cinemas 28 June.