Movie Review: INDIANA JONES AND THE DIAL OF DESTINY Starring Harrison Ford, Phoebe Waller-Bridge
Growing up, one of my closest friends was a kid right down the street from me named Donny. During the summer, we were inseparable, exploring the woods behind our neighborhood, having Nerf fights, or just letting our imaginations run wild. For his tenth birthday, his parents threw him an Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade-themed party, and it’s one of my core childhood memories. They made tiny books with clues and hints and turned it into a puzzle/scavenger hunt, using a C-shaped common ground as the canyon of the crescent moon. His dad dressed up as a knight and presented us with a bunch of plastic chalices, with all but one of them containing juice spiked with lemon juice. It was a fun adventure for the night, and a core memory of my childhood.
It’s this spirit of wonder and adventure that’s encapsulated the Indiana Jones series, from the first shot in Peru in Raiders of the Lost Ark to…wherever they were in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. They’re certainly throwbacks to the golden age of Hollywood: established heroes, improbable stunts, and bad guys who couldn’t pass a marksmanship test if the target was a foot in front of them. But beyond that, they’re wonderful adventures, traveling across the globe and discovering relics of the past.
And aliens. Alright, if you can’t tell, I wasn’t a big fan of Crystal Skull – and based on audience ratings, most of you weren’t either. Part of me thinks that if it had been better received, they never would have made the latest film, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. Crystal Skull left such a sour taste in people’s mouths that fans weren’t able to say the series ended on a high note.
So here we are, with the latest iteration, 42 years after Raiders was released in theaters. Harrison Ford, who was 38 when the first film came out, is now on the verge of turning 81, so it’s a little tougher for him to pull off some of the action scenes he used to (although he is still admittedly in pretty good shape for an 80-year old). Whereas the young ladies in his archaeology classes used to swoon at him, the class now falls asleep. Picking up towards the end of World War II, Indy and his associate Basil (Toby Jones) attempt to recover the Holy Lance from the possession of Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen). The Lance turns out to be a fake, but they’re able to recover half of an even more powerful artifact, the Antikythera. Using the mechanism invented by Archimedes, the Antikythera is capable of predicting and navigating people toward time rifts, making it possible to travel through time. (Sidenote, the Antikythera is an actual mechanism discovered in 1901, but it only served as an orrery, used to predict astronomical positions, not travel through time [allegedly].)
Fast forward to 1969, and Basil has passed on, but his daughter Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) seeks out Indy for his assistance in obtaining the full Antikythera. Unfortunately for them, Voller (who, as it turns out, was instrumental in building the rockets for the Apollo program) seeks the Antikythera so he can travel back 30 years and undo the mistakes he believes Hitler made that cost Germany World War II.
It’s absurd. It’s fantastic. And it’s exactly the type of story Indiana Jones fans have come to love and expect. Ford donning his fedora one last time is like getting a big hug from someone you love; it’s embracing and comforting. He doesn’t move quite as fast as he used to, but he’s still quick-witted and grumpy as ever. Waller-Bridge does an utterly fantastic job as his morally ambiguous god-daughter, switching traits between greedy and compassionate quickly and cleanly; I couldn’t decide whether I liked her or not for a good two-thirds of the movie, and I think that’s a good thing.
The rest of the crew does a solid job as well, including newcomer Ethann Isidore, who plays Teddy, Helena’s young accomplice. Mikkelsen is, as always, a superlative antagonist, and Boyd Holbrook is easily quite hateable as Klaber, Voller’s henchman who’s rather quick to pull the trigger. The CGI and effects are pretty good for the most part, especially in the beginning when they de-aged Harrison for the scenes in 1944. Many prior films that de-aged or produced CGI versions of the stars suffered from the uncanny valley effect, but at least to me, the process appeared seamless.
Still, in spite of all that it does well, it’s far from perfect. The old Indiana Jones classics didn’t just rely on action and exquisite effects, they also leaned heavily on the charismatic line delivery by Ford, and the clever and acerbic replies he had to the antagonists. But it felt a bit like the writers gave a bit more weight to Helena’s dialogue. It’s not enough to ruin the movie, and Waller-Bridge is a tremendous actress, but it shifts the tone a bit, as though Indy’s just a little too old to hold the movie up himself.
There is also a decision Indy makes in the film that I wanted to mention. Towards the end, Indy makes a decision that comes across as rather selfish and not Indiana Jones-esque at all. And for a moment, I was immensely angry; I imagine it’ll spark quite a bit of debate amongst moviegoers. It’s resolved rather abruptly regardless, but after considering the circumstances and the situation that Indy is in, at least a part of me can understand the decision he makes. I don’t know that I’d agree with it, but I can at least understand it.
It’s not the strongest entry in the film series (I’m still partial to The Last Crusade, even though I’ll admit Raiders of the Lost Ark is still the best of them), but after the debacle of Crystal Skull, I’m glad that they at least made a concerted effort to conclude the film series on a better note. John Williams returned once more to write the score, and once you hear the soaring brass of Indiana’s theme, you’ll feel like you’re getting a visit from an old friend. There are also some fantastic cameos from previous installments, but I’ll leave those up to the viewer to discover. Indiana Jones was a big part of my adolescence, and whenever I watch the films, I can’t help but think back to when Donny and I were kids, playing in his basement or the woods, imagining all the adventures we could get into. Indiana wasn’t a super soldier or genius; he was an everyman with a moral compass intent on doing what he felt was right. And I, for one, am glad he was able to don the fedora one last time.
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny gets a B