At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny “2023”

MPAA Rating: PG-13/Genre: Action-Adventure/Stars: Harrison Ford, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Mads Mikkelsen, Antonio Banderas, John Rhys-Davies, Toby Jones, Boyd Holbrook, Ethann Isidore, Shaunette Renée Wilson, Thomas Kretschmann, Olivier Richters, Mark Killeen/Runtime: 154 minutes

I think it’s safe to say dear reader that if you were asked to come up with a list of ten of the most iconic action heroes in the history of cinema then one of the names that undoubtedly would have to be included on that list would be Indiana Jones. Indeed it’s not that hard to see why. I mean the man has a roguish charm, a wry sense of humor, a way with the ladies, an intelligence that is truly inspiring, and one of the most iconic pieces of headwear in all of cinema. That and he also has gone on some truly incredible cinematic adventures in his time. Yet in the aftermath of his third outing, 1989’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, we as movie goers saw something rather unusual happen in the form of his next cinematic adventure not only taking a solid 19 years to come to theaters, but it also wasn’t released to the same reception as the first three to put it lightly. Actually, at best it wasn’t seen as too bad and at worst….well let’s just say there’s a reason the phrase “nuked the fridge” is attributed to that movie. As a result, it shouldn’t come as that big of a shock to learn that audiences were more than a wee bit concerned when it came to the latest and last installment, and slice of cinema I am reviewing for you today, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. Imagine my shock then to tell you that no this film might not be perfect and yes it might be flawed, but I still had a good time all the same. Indeed the story might take awhile to get going and even then be a bit uneven, but the action feels as lively as ever and the work done by the cast in front of the camera isn’t too bad either. Thus no Dial of Destiny might not be perfect or even be a better resolution than Last Crusade, but as far as cinematic farewell tours go trust me when I say you could do a lot worse.

The plot is as follows: Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny gets its riveting narrative underway by taking us all the way back to 1944 where we see, in the middle of the waning days of the 2nd World War where Allied forces began liberating Europe, that our intrepid hero and a colleague by the name of Basil Shaw, are unceremoniously snatched up by a group of Nazis. We soon learn that the reason Indy and Basil are going after this particular group of Nazis is because they are believed to be in possession of a timeless artifact known as the Lance of Longinus that they plan on delivering to no less than Hitler himself. Yet when the artifact is determined to be a fake and whilst Indy is attempting to rescue Basil from a train full of priceless antiquities, we soon see a highly ambitious German astrophysicist named Jürgen Voller offer a despondent Colonel Weber a back-up idea to give to Hitler instead. That being an artifact known as Archimedes’ Dial. A device that, among other attributes, is believed by Voller to help the wielder find rips in time which could then enable one to hypothetically travel back in time. Before Weber can make a decision however, we see Jones and Shaw crash the party, snatch the dial for themselves, kick some Nazi butt, and leave Voller for dead as the train proceeds to derail after the bridge it’s traversing is annihilated by Allied forces. Cut to over 2 solid decades later and moving the action to New York City and we see that, in the time since the events of Crystal Skull, time hasn’t exactly been Indy’s best friend. Indeed not only has Marion filed for divorce, but he also doesn’t have the passion for archaeology or adventuring that he used to have and, worst of all, is being politely yet firmly pushed into retiring from his teaching post at Hunter College. Suffice it to say this seems like quite the low point for our favorite butt kicking archaeologist, but it isn’t long before an unlikely pick-me-up arrives in Indy’s life. One that takes the form of Indy’s now grown-up goddaughter, and Basil’s daughter incidentally, Helena who (in the time since she last saw Indy) has now become an aspiring archaeologist herself. Helena, we soon learn would like her godfather to join her on an adventure to find the remaining half of the Dial and learn its secrets. Yet although Indy initially declines for reasons I shan’t spoil here, we soon see it isn’t long before a whirlwind stream of events forces him to reconsider. Events that will not only reunite him with an old friend or two, but also bring him face to face with an old enemy and his private squad of henchmen. An enemy incidentally who has a dire plot in mind that only Indy with Helena’s reluctant aid can thwart. Thus can our intrepid adventurer pick up the fedora and whip once more to save the day or has time finally run out at long last for Indiana Jones? That I will leave for you to discover…..

Now right off the ol’ fedora, it should be noted that a key piece to what has made all the entries in the Indiana Jones franchise achieve the level of quality that they all, to varying degrees of success, manage to obtain is in the form of the rip-roaring quest we embark with the titular protagonist. Indeed from the Ark and Holy Grail to a crystal skull of some kind, there is no doubt with any of these movies that our intrepid hero will go wherever necessary in order to get the artifact he is pursuing. Suffice it to say that in that regard, this entry in the franchise does at least honor that format as we see a more reluctant than usual Indy, with goddaughter Helena along for the ride, go on a globe trotting adventure that definitely possesses at least a bit of the spirit of the original 3.  With that in mind though, the best thing this slice of cinema has going for it behind the camera is its engaging action beats. Not only in the beginning where we see a fairly convincingly de-aged Indy kicking Nazi butt on a train, but even in the main narrative with such moments as Indy riding a horse through a parade in New York City or deep-sea diving off the coast of Greece with Helena and an old friend only to run afoul of a pack of menacing eels respectively. Suffice it to say that not only does helmer James Mangold make every one of these moments genuinely fun, but Ford still manages to give them his all even if he does move a bit slower. Unfortunately, by putting so much focus on the action, this also results in the narrative being hindered. Indeed following the action-packed prologue, there is no denying that the first act of this film does seem less like meaningful material and more like time-filler. However, the moment this film finds its footing and actually remembers to balance out plot and action then it takes off in a way that is genuinely riveting in the best way possible. Along with that, I guess you should know that whilst there are a fair number of throwbacks to the first 4 movies, they don’t just operate as easter eggs for the avid fans out there. Rather, they act as reinforcements for the key theme the film is working with. I say that because in a weird way this film is like the Indiana Jones equivalent to the 2017 film Logan. By that I mean this is a film which deals with an extraordinary guy who has lived one heck of a life, but who lately thinks that the best is long behind him only to unexpectedly be given a chance to go on one last adventure that in the process wakes up the man he once was and shows him the true meaning of life. Indeed it might not be the most novel story arc, but it is one that does fit this particular character quite well. Finally, it should also be noted that Indy’s arc in this is reflected wonderfully well in the work done by iconic composer John Williams and his musical accompaniment for the film. I say this because, much like the titular character, we don’t really get a lot of his iconic theme in this. Oh sure, we get it at the beginning, but after that it takes awhile for us to hear it again and then it’s mostly in bits here and there as if the music, like our hero, is starting to come alive again, but is content at taking its time to do so. Even so, there is no denying that the music in this is not only gorgeous, but also quite effective in its own right. Suffice it to say that, issues with the narrative aside, there is no denying that the work behind the camera is more than competently done.

Of course, the other big element that helps (and to an extent even deters) this slice of cinema in reaching the level of quality that it aspires to would have to be the work done in front of the camera by the cast of players bringing the various characters to life. This starts with the returning Harrison Ford as the titular hero and (to no surprise) he is terrific. Indeed not only does Ford bring a physicality to the role that at 80 years of age is nothing short of phenomenal, but he also brings back Indy’s trademark wry sense of humor and vast intellect that he applied so well the first 4 go-arounds. More than those elements however, we also see that Ford this time also brings something else to the role. Namely an emotional and poignant weariness that Ford manages to get across at times in such a way that you wouldn’t be surprised to see yourself holding back tears when you not only see, but hear just how broken down this iconic hero has managed to become over the years whilst also smiling as you see him slowly but surely begin to pick himself back up again. Suffice it to say that no matter what is going on in this film at any particular time, Ford manages to keep it all together almost singlehandedly. Thus, much like the character of Han Solo if not a teeny tiny bit more so, Harrison Ford IS Indiana Jones and the world of cinema is now a bit more depressing knowing this is his final turn as the character. Now there may be moments where the character of Helena feels less like a three-dimensional individual and more like a personified catalyst to bring Jones back into the adventuring fold so to speak, but don’t think that this means Phoebe Waller-Bridge gives a bad performance here. Rather, I would say that she actually does a really great job at giving us a snarky and weary character who, in an weird way, acts a gender-reversed reflection of a younger Indiana Jones thus giving us someone who can operate as a reflection of just how mature Indy has managed to become over the course of time whilst providing him a chance to open up to/be there for someone again. It’s just a shame that Bridge’s performance isn’t able to be matched by the writing for her character at times in this. Along with this pair however, we also get a really good turn here from Mads Mikkelsen as this film’s chief heavy Jurgen Voller. No he isn’t written as well as he ought to be, but even with that in mind there is no denying that Mikkelsen does a great job at playing this guy with an intelligence and calm that is not only downright chilling when it needs to be, but even at times makes you think that he might actually be able to win the day at times in this. Suffice it to say that when you also factor in some really good support turns from such talents as Boyd Holbrook (who is effective yet underwritten as Voller’s key henchman), Antonio Banderas, Toby Jones who is terrific in his 25-30 minutes of screentime as Indy’s old friend/Helena’s dad Basil, and a couple of surprises I shan’t spoil here among others I think it’s safe to say that the work done by the cast in front of the camera is more than up to the challenge, but more often than not find themselves sadly let down by not as much characterization as they deserve.

All in all and at the end of the day, is Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny a perfect slice of cinema by any stretch of the imagination? Honestly no. Not even close. At the same time though, is this slice of cinema worth the equivalent of a 68% (at the time of this writing) score on Rotten Tomatoes? Honestly I wouldn’t say that either. Yes the writing isn’t entirely up to par, yes the story is a bit on the uneven side at times, and yes there are a few issues scattered about here and there throughout this slice of cinema’s 2 hour and 34 minute runtime. At the same time though, the action beats are well-done, there is a welcome degree of pathos and poignancy on display here, and the cast of players in front of the camera (especially the returning Harrison Ford) all manage to make the most of the material all the same. Suffice it to say that, more than anything, this slice of cinema is meant to be an engaging sit to say nothing of a film that is designed to keep you engaged from beginning to end and that is what it is able to pull off fairly well. More than that, this slice of cinema is able to present the audience with a bit of the heart and spirit from Indy’s first three cinematic adventures because, no matter if you choose to admit it or not, those slices of cinema were designed to be engaging and riveting popcorn action flicks of the finest caliber and that’s exactly what you get to a reasonable enough degree here. Yes there is a bit more thematic material at play in this than in the other installments, but if you choose to give this slice of cinema the time of day I promise you that not only will you be entertained by what you are given, but you will also learn something. That being that all things considered this really isn’t the worst conclusion for one of cinema’s most beloved heroes as it honestly could have been. Make of that dear reader what thou will. On a scale of 1-5 I give Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny “2023” a solid 3.5 out of 5.