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  • Writer's pictureJames McCleary

Indiana Jones & The Dial of Destiny // Film Review

One of the few true treasures of Hollywood legend is the transcripted meeting between George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Lawrence Kasdan which became the blueprint of “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. Everything from Indy’s doctorate to his bullwhip to the nitty gritty of every brick in every tomb was born from this one meeting, and the results shine through “Raiders” and its immediate sequels, securing them a spot as one of the great movie trilogies of all time.

It’s a valuable creative tool for any aspiring filmmakers out there, but as with Indy’s Ark of the Covenant or Holy Grail, studying it too closely can be terminal. In the case of James Mangold’s long-awaited “Indiana Jones & The Dial of Destiny”, every one of the brain trust’s mandated boxes is ticked correctly, but they are threaded together by choices so poor, or worse dull, that the resulting film rarely rises above a pale impression of a franchise that Disney’s greed just couldn’t let go.

The elephant in the room here is the advanced age of Indy himself, Harrison Ford. Ford is eighty-years-old at the time of writing, and despite appearing to be in great physical shape, he is clearly past the point of anchoring the swashbuckling thrills of clambering over tanks or swinging across ravines. Typically in “Dial of Destiny”, particularly after the show-of-force opening sequence, Ford is relegated to driving rickshaws or grumbling from the passenger seat as his goddaughter Helena Shaw (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) plays the hero.

Waller-Bridge holds her own in the role, but since “Fleabag” it has only become more apparent that the comedian is a writer first, actor second. This might not be as evident if not for the aforementioned opening scene of “Dial of Destiny”, wherein a de-aged Ford gets to reprise the part of Indy ‘in his prime’ for twenty minutes of burning buildings, car chases and knife fights atop speeding trains. The CGI used to turn the clock back forty-odd years is spotty, with an overly-smoothened Ford often placed just out of focus, and there is no masking Ford’s now more gravelly voice, but after the initial adjustment period, this is easy to overlook. It might be artificial, and Mangold’s direction is nowhere near as playful as Spielberg’s, but there is still much delight to be had in seeing Ford sucker punch Nazis with his signature smirk and a tip of the hat.

Once the film skips ahead to 1969 (the ‘present’), it becomes immediately obvious that the film’s many screenwriters have a very limited set of ideas on how to use this older, less mobile version of Dr Jones. Consequently, the film’s middle-ninety consist entirely of vehicle chases, deep-sea dives (wherein Ford can be swapped out for a masked stunt-person) and cave explorations consciously lit a shade too dark for faces (to much the same effect). The film’s final act takes this a step further, strapping Indy to the inside of a plane so he can watch his goddaughter battle Nazis and offer wisecracks accordingly. The whole thing feels awkward, particularly after the opening reminder of how unparalleled Ford’s Indy could be in his prime.

That said, Mangold and his writers do their best to keep this reprisal in line with the more classic Spielberg/Lucas adventures. There is an artefact scattered in pieces across the globe, a set of Nazis charismatic enough to work as foils for our plucky heroes and just the right amount of mythicism to challenge Indy’s cynicism without spiralling into pure fantasy.

There is some fantasy here of course; the film’s finale in particular is sure to be divisive, but it has a strong rooting in character (cleverly locking us in their perspectives as wilder feats play out beyond their reach). This, combined with the film’s preceding two hours of anxiously preparing its audience for what’s to come, result in a twist that lands with a touch more grace than the ‘interdimensional aliens’ back in 2009’s “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”.

There can be no question that “Indiana Jones & The Dial of Destiny” has done its homework in creating an authentic, and refreshingly standalone adventure for everyone’s favourite archaeologist. Unfortunately, no amount of study can replicate the ingenuity brought to the original films by Spielberg, Lucas and Kasdan, while Waller-Bridge is only ever a serviceable replacement for a Harrison Ford who one fully believes would be happy to continue leaping across rooftops should he be able. Mangold has given us over two hours of the expected high-speed chases, tomb raiding and incinerated Nazis, and that might have been enough with Ford at the wheel, but the final effect here feels more like a greatest hits reel performed by a tribute band. Perhaps we were too quick to judge the aliens.


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