Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny
Harrison Ford and Phoebe Waller-Bridge make a cracking duo in the adventure franchise's largely by-the-numbers fifth instalment.
June 27, 2023
Old hat, new whip. No, that isn't Dr Henry Walton 'Indiana' Jones' shopping list, but a description of Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. While the fifth film about the eponymous archaeologist is as familiar as Indy films come, it's kept somewhat snapping by the returning Harrison Ford's on-screen partnership with Fleabag's Phoebe Waller-Bridge. When this 15-years-later sequel to 2008's Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull begins — swinging into cinemas after 1981's Raiders of the Lost Ark, 1984's Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and 1989's Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, too — Indy's trademark fedora and strip of leather have already enjoyed ample action. So has the George Lucas-created franchise's basic storyline. If you've seen one Indy outing in the past 42 years, you've seen the underlying mechanics of every other Indy outing. And yet, watching Ford flashing his crooked smile again, plus his bantering with Waller-Bridge, is almost enough to keep this new instalment whirring.
Across the quintet of Indy flicks — a number contractually locked in at the outset, even if it took almost half a century to notch them all up — a trinket always needs recovering. Whether it's a relic, stone, cup, carving or, as here, a device by Ancient Greek mathematician, philosopher and inventor Archimedes that might facilitate time travel, nefarious forces (typically Nazis) always want said item as well. Also, only antics that've influenced the likes of Tomb Raider, National Treasure and Jungle Cruise can ensure that whatever whatsit is at the heart of whichever picture stays out of the wrong hands. The object in question falls into those mitts at some point, of course. Indy goes globetrotting and cave diving to save it, and skeletons and creepy-crawlies tend to get in his way. Reliably, he has female company. Frequently, there's a young offsider tagging along. A constant: the whole escapade bounding to the tune of John Williams' rousing theme, which is now acoustically synonymous with adventure.
Lucas didn't come up with the story for Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, though, in a first for the saga that he conjured up as a new version of 30s and 40s movie serials. Steven Spielberg (The Fabelmans) similarly steps away from directing, which is also uncharted Indy territory. But Logan and Ford v Ferrari filmmaker James Mangold knows the drill, as do his co-screenwriters Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth (both alumni of the helmer's latter title), plus David Koepp (Kimi). To be fair, everyone knows the drill: see above. It isn't hard, then, for Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny to surpass the woeful Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which it does. Still, it isn't easy for it avoid playing like a copy of Lucas and Spielberg at their much-earlier Indy best, something that it can't manage.
Mangold and company's initial step is to start by pretending that they're making an Indy flick decades back with a younger Ford. Hollywood's digital de-aging technology gets its latest workout in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny's opening sequence — and a more-than-passable one — where it's 1944 and Nazis lurk. World War II is waning. Hitler is in his bunker. His underlings are scrounging up all the antiquities they can. Enter Indy spying with his British friend Basil Shaw (Toby Jones, Tetris); physicist Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen, Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore) being certain that he's found part of the Archimedes Dial, aka the Antikythera; and showdowns on a loot-filled train to get the titular object away from the Third Reich.
From there, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny's bulk takes place in 1969. The film reteams with Indy as a moon-landing party wakes up the about-to-retire professor from a whisky-ushered, underwear-clad slumber in his armchair — and he isn't happy. Ford in cranky and cantankerous mode, but with tenderness inside, remains a gem to watch. It worked in TV series Shrinking earlier in 2023 (one of his two recent TV roles, alongside Yellowstone prequel 1923), and it would've been the heftiest surprise that the Indy movies have delivered if it didn't also shine in his current big-screen franchise revival of late (after Blade Runner and Star Wars, obviously). Ford bickering gruffly is equally gleaming, which is where Waller-Bridge fits in as Helena Shaw, Basil's daughter and Indy's goddaughter, who wisecracks back, can hold her own in a fray and car, and says she wants help locating the entire Antikythera.
If everyone could be taken at their word, this wouldn't be an Indy entry, just like if the MacGuffin was simple to source and protect, travelling by map didn't feature and, since Raiders of the Lost Ark, well-loved faces stopped resurfacing. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny ticks all those boxes and always feels as if it's making a show of ticking them — regularly, gleefully, less gracefully and convincingly digging into the franchise's past Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens nod-and-reuse style. There's the old hat again, no matter what's atop Ford's head. Lacking Spielberg's knack for memorable action, many of the chases and puzzles have an urgent, immediate yet been-there-done-that air (and the setpieces keep coming, involving horse-and-motorcycle pursuits, subway tunnels, tuk tuks, underwater jaunts, eels, tombs and more). Mangold tries to patch over the boilerplate plot, but those efforts are as flimsy as anything that's ever threatened Indy's world-saving goals.
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny didn't need to stretch out this latest go-around to the series' longest running time yet — 154 minutes — but with Ford and Waller-Bridge at the movie's core, understanding that choice isn't difficult. Although they're better than the material again and again, as is Short Round replacement Teddy (Ethann Isidore, Mortel), it's entertaining to bask in the pair's back-and-forth as Indy and Helena zip through the franchise-standard challenges. There's the new whip, because Ford and Waller-Bridge are that crucial to giving Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny any spark and charge. While the five-film promise is now fulfilled and this has been dubbed the saga's star's last ride, a tighter and bolder follow-up with them at the centre wouldn't be unwelcome if there have to be more Indy movies, which money dictates there'll have to be. And if not, passing the satchel and leather jacket to Everything Everywhere All At Once Oscar-winner Ke Huy Quan, marking his return after making his acting debut in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, would be one of the Indy franchise's most cracking moves.
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