Movie Review: Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny
If Indiana Jones does hang up his hat, the fifth film is a surprisingly emotional, diverting, and satisfying conclusion.
For about 20 minutes, there he is. The opening sequence of James Mangold’s “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” takes place during World War II, and my eyes marvelled at the sight of Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones, as fresh-faced as he was back in “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, jumping through, around, and atop a speeding German train, walloping Nazis while trying to retrieve an ancient artefact known as the Antikythera. Digital de-ageing has grown by leaps and bounds over the years, but the directors who’ve used it best up until now have found ways to lean into the slightly artificial look of the technology. Dial of Destiny is the first time I believed I was seeing the real thing. This movie about going back in time turns out to be something of a time machine itself.
Ford returns as Indy, but he's not merely a guy with a cool hat and a bullwhip with a few more lines on his face. Just as James Mangold did for Hugh Jackman's Wolverine in “Logan”, he presents an Indiana Jones weathered by life — a man who has spent decades chasing down ancient artefacts and fighting Nazis. Indiana Jones has always been a world-weary guy, cynical and full of wisecracks in the face of danger, but he feels like he's finally earned it here. Ford's soulful, craggy face is the cypher for the lifetime of adventure, physical pain, and loss that Indy has endured. There's humour in that, as when Indy lists off some of the more ridiculous things he has done while scaling a wall with Helena. But there's sadness too, in the friends he's lost and the tragedy he has faced. Ford has always lent Indy a humanity and depth that is too often ignored in favour of celebrating his capacity for dry one-liners and his rugged good looks (both well-deserving of the praise they've received). Here, he gets to unleash the emotional side of Indy, his reverence for history and love for those he holds dear visibly weighing him down. In 1969, as humanity looks to the future, Indiana Jones, a man dedicated to protecting the past, is a man out of place in his own time. Ford's restraint barely conceals the open wounds of his losses.
Waller-Bridge, who leapt from Fleabag's critical acclaim to writing for James Bond and starring in an Indiana Jones flick, is a saucy, slippery foil to Ford. Where Marion is feisty and reckless, and Dr. Henry Jones (Sean Connery) is gruff, Helena is whimsical and brash. Her loyalties shift faster than sand in an hourglass, keeping Indiana Jones, and by extension, the audience, on their toes. Waller-Bridge has a winking sense of humour as a performer that imbues her natural ability to make the audience believe they're her confidantes while remaining delightfully unpredictable. Mikkelsen, a prince of the elegant, silver-tongued villain is under-used as Jürgen Voller. Lacking distinction as a villain, he possesses neither the naked ambition of Belloq (Paul Freeman) from Raiders nor the self-serving sycophancy of Walter Donovan (Julian Glover) in The Last Crusade. While his goons are outright unhinged, Voller is chilled cardboard, a Nazi who lacks any personality besides his commitment to the ideals of Nazism. His villainy lacks teeth, but perhaps that's because the notion of bringing fascism back feels like a day-to-day occurrence in our world. He's not half so frightening as anything on the nightly news.
Still, the damn thing is fun. Mangold may not have the young Spielberg’s musical flair for extravagant action choreography (who does?). Still, he is a tougher, leaner director, using a tighter frame and keeping his camera close. That may shortchange the escapist atmosphere and evocative exotica of the material (which is, after all, one of the pleasures of Indiana Jones movies), but it does bring a ground-level immediacy to the action. Mangold is also a fiend for vehicular mayhem, which probably suits this older, slower version of Indy, who fights less but often finds himself in the middle of any number of “wouldn’t it be cool if” chases: motorcycles and tuk-tuks and trains and Jaguars and horses and planes in all manner of arrangements and rearrangements, as well as one delirious final sequence that had me giggling with delight.
A bit wonky
“Dial of Destiny” is often best in its moments of quiet resonance, but it doesn't leave enough breathing room to maximize the impact of Ford's performance. Instead, the film volleys from one action sequence to the next, whether it be a dangerous dive into deep ocean waters, a horse race through New York City streets and subways, or a perilous car chase through Tangiers. Mangold crafts these scenes with precision, building them to a fever pitch and then throttling the accelerator when it seems the scene has peaked. This makes the pacing wonky, and more scenes of introspective Indy would have been welcome in exchange for shaving a few minutes off the nonstop danger. But that doesn't make the sequences any less exciting or nerve-wracking, generating an old-school adventure energy reminiscent of the original trilogy.
In a sense, Indiana Jones has always been about nostalgia. Steven Spielberg and George Lucas set out to make movies that evoked the 1940s serials they loved growing up. That operates on two levels in Dial of Destiny, both in the film's historical setting and our own yen for the way the original movies made us feel. Much has been made of the fact that Dial will be Ford's last outing in the franchise. The movie has been billed as a send-off for Indiana Jones, but it doesn't feel definitive, particularly when the film's final shot makes a very decisive point about Ford/Indy hanging up the hat. If it is the last we'll see of Ford's Indiana Jones, it's a far more satisfying goodbye than where we last left him. But Dial makes one thing clear: whatever happens next, this franchise still has fresh adventures left to explore. Indiana Jones does not (and will never) belong in a museum. He's far too vital for that; his mileage, as a character and a pop culture icon, is infinite.