The last time James Mangold directed a movie about an aging icon that’s coming up at the end of his life journey, he was able to make one of the best comic book movies of all time in the form of 2017’s Logan. It was an emotionally charged sendoff to a beloved character that felt thoroughly crafted and earned. That being said, he was an obvious choice to helm Indy’s final adventure with Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, right? A bit of yes, and a bit of no.
While it does have its moments of brilliance, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny stumbles more often than it gains proper ground. The film drastically lacks the Spielberg magic that was so present in the original trilogy. For every great moment, there’s another that comes in that had me questioning: what was exactly the point of telling this story in particular?
But before all that, let’s talk about what is obviously the best part of the movie, Harrison Ford himself. It was an absolute treat seeing the man step back into a role he clearly cares about and it shows. Indy is still the same character we’ve all come to know and love. His personality and the core elements that made him such an early action-adventure cinema icon are all still here. The narrative does try to touch on the fact that Indy is having to deal with his age. He’s now a bit more jaded and grumpy. It makes for some notable moments which really means a lot more knowing that we are witnessing the end of Harrison’s time to wear the hat.
Ford is in his senior years so he can’t exactly throw himself into stunts the same way he did in the original trilogy. This is why I felt a little less disconnected when it came to the action scenes. Aside from an excellent chase sequence, which was easily the peak moment of the film, Dial of Destiny has to, unfortunately, rely on a lot of close-ups, sudden cuts, and CGI to convey all these ridiculous moments Indy finds himself in. In particular, there’s an underwater sequence that was so poorly presented. I could barely see anything nor understand what was happening. This is a disappointing contrast between the original trilogy’s beautiful long takes that clearly show well-choreographed and paced action.
At the beginning of the film, a lot of time is dedicated to telling a story that takes place in Indy’s earlier years. The whole thing is required to give context for the whole film to exist in the first place. Along comes one of the unfortunate favorite things to use by Holywood, de-aging effects. While it’s not as egregious as other infamous examples, it does look a bit unnatural in certain shots especially when heavy motion is present. What makes it worse is that during this time, the camera loves focusing on Ford’s de-aged face for extended periods of time. Almost as if the filmmakers were extra proud of what they’ve done. De-aging film technology has always had a wonky reputation and I don’t imagine Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny to fix that any time soon.
You really have to kick in a lot of your suspension of disbelief as you watch an 80-year-old man do things that would have even 30-year-olds shaking. They do have one cute moment where Indy talks about his aching body and being in such a ridiculous situation for a man his age. It’s in those down-to-earth moments where Dial of Destiny thrives in. It’s not the spectacle of the action or the intrigue of the history being presented. It’s when the narrative focuses on the human aspect of the character. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen Indy dawn the whip and hat. This is a man that’s way past his prime. If the script had more elements that explored that aspect, Dial of Destiny could’ve been so much more.
While performances across the board are mostly great with Ford and Mads Mikkelsen leading the charge, there are certain characters in Dial of Destiny that lacked significant screen presence to bring out any sort of prominent emotion from me as an audience. Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Helena Shaw is just on the brink of being annoying with the way she throws herself to contradict Indy at almost every turn. However, she does redeem herself a little bit in the latter half of the film. Alongside her is Ethann Isidore’s Teddy who receives a criminally low amount of character development which made his inclusion ultimately feel unnecessary. And finally, Boyd Holbrook’s plays what is essentially a more shallow version of his Logan character with Klaber.
And what I imagine to be what will finally be a make-or-break moment for a lot of the audience is the third act. The Indiana Jones franchise has never been the most realistic set of movies but they always had a great balance of feeling grounded amidst supernatural, whimsical, or magical elements. There’s a particular moment in the final act of Dial of Destiny where I just had my jaw dropped for all the wrong reasons. It felt like a result of a fan fiction write-up rather than a legitimate Indiana Jones story.
However, the film does do a good job of using what was such an out-of-the-box idea for a fantastic final curtain call for Indy. Amidst a highly questionable scenario, the script does reel everything back in to show Indiana Jones at his core. Fans of the character will definitely appreciate what the filmmakers have done with him in the concluding moments.
Dial of Destiny is a great film but not a perfect one. Mangold’s direction elevates a lot of the scenes to be more than what the sometimes flat script offers. The story’s pacing would sometimes feel a little bit too long in the grand scheme of things but I never had moments that I felt like it needed drastic changing. Amidst the comparably lackluster action sequences, an over-reliance on CGI, and an odd third act, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny sees one of cinema’s most iconic characters into a heart-filled end. One that Indy deserves and one that fans will appreciate.