INDIANA JONES AND THE DIAL OF DESTINY review by Mark Walters – Harrison Ford is back in action

INDIANA JONES AND THE DIAL OF DESTINY review by Mark Walters – Harrison Ford is back in action

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I’m a huge fan of Indiana Jones, dating back to my childhood. I’ve seen each film from the original trilogy dozens of times, and frequently note that RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK is my favorite movie of all time. And I didn’t hate KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL when it came out in 2008, though it’s a film that definitely has its problems. Still, even I was a little worried about INDIANA JONES AND THE DIAL OF DESTINY, which brings Harrison Ford back to the role of Dr. Henry Jones Jr. one last time, despite him now being in his 80s. In this newest outing, he’s joined by Phoebe Waller-Bridge who plays his goddaughter, and this seems to be creating some fear and anger in a certain section of fans, many thinking she’s being forced in to become a replacement for Indy for a future spinoff. This is also the first Indy movie to not be directed by Steven Spielberg, who has handed over the reins to James Mangold (FORD v FERRARI, LOGAN), who also co-wrote the screenplay.

The new film opens with a thrilling 25-minute action sequence set in 1944, featuring a digitally de-aged Harrison Ford as Indy jumping aboard a nazi train to save his friend Basil Shaw (Toby Jones), who is being held by Dr. Voller (Mads Mikkelsen) and Colonel Weber (Thomas Kretschmann) due to his connection with the mysterious Archenemies dial, which when fully assembled is believed to have the ability to control fissures in time. We eventually cut to the 1960s, right around the time of the Space Race when U.S. astronauts were about to head to the moon. Indy has clearly left his adventure days behind him, banging on his neighbors’ door and yelling at them to turn their music down. He’s still teaching archaeology to college students, but these days they’re more excited by the astronauts on the news. Indy’s goddaughter Helena Shaw (Waller-Bridge) shows up looking for the dial, since Indy took it from her father years ago and hid it. But Voller (still alive) and his goons are following her, which leads to a chase scene during which Helena escapes with the dial. Indy tracks her down in Tangiers, but Voller and crew are also in pursuit, and Indy and Helena must team up to look for the rest of the dial, and hopefully keep it out of the enemy’s hands.

DIAL OF DESTINY may not have been a necessary entry in the Indiana Jones franchise, but it’s a fun way to say goodbye to the character, and an endearing way to see Ford play Indy one last time. It also acknowledges his age, and how time can sometimes be cruel and change a person. Indy here is not the confident hero we once knew, rather a tired man who is dealing with his pending divorce from Marion, and a major tragedy that affected his life in a big way. He’s also leaving his teaching job, and feels his globetrotting days are over. When Helena shows up, it’s not a welcome adventure, rather and unexpected and unwanted distraction… but it also offers Indy a chance to remember who he was and how things used to be. Ford is playing the character quite differently here, and the style of the film is definitely different from the Spielberg look we’re used to. At times it felt more like I was watching a James Bond movie rather than an Indiana Jones film, but it’s simply a testament to James Mangold’s sensibilities and how he crafts a movie, even one that uses a very recognizable character… it’s not a bad change, but it’s definitely different. We still see Harrison running, jumping and riding horses, but there are moments where he takes things slow and even comments on how he can’t do things the way he used to. This is also the most emotional take on Indy we’ve seen from Ford, including a few heart-wrenching scenes in which he confronts loss and his own mortality and destiny.

The supporting cast is fun and diverse, though the main focus stays on Ford, with Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Mads Mikkelsen receiving a large amount of screen time in supporting roles. Waller-Bridge plays Helena as a confident and brash woman, but she’s also quite flawed and has a checkered past. Some of the YouTubers trying really hard to generate hate and concern about her inclusion in this film have been saying the movie was going to push her to the forefront and make her the lead, and make her seem better than Indy in every way… that doesn’t happen. This is still very much Indy’s movie, and Helena is anything but a perfect character. But more importantly, Waller-Bridge is quite good in the role, finding a good balance of vulnerability and eagerness to complete her mission. Mads Mikkelsen plays a good baddie, a former nazi with an ambitious plan that is a little confusing, but he’s strong with his performance and makes for an interesting foil for our heroes. Boyd Holbrook plays his right hand man, and is sadly a little underwritten, other than being quick to kill anyone who gets in their way. Ethann Isidore plays Teddy, a young sidekick for Helena, and one that feels quite similar to Short Round from TEMPLE OF DOOM, only much more vulnerable. John Rhys-Davies makes a welcome return as Sallah, Indy’s faithful friend from the original trilogy, but it’s mostly a cameo role. Antonio Banderas also pops up as a boat captain buddy for Indy’s, but sadly isn’t give much to do or even much to say, feeling a bit wasted here.

The action scenes are pretty good and evoke the feel of classic Indy moments, particularly the opening train sequence. The digital de-aging is hit or miss, at times sticking out like a sore thumb. But the train segment is a definite highlight for the movie, and sets the tone nicely for the audience to get ready for a big ride. There’s also a buggy chase in Tangier that is incredibly exciting and fun, and a horse chase in New York that is thrilling and shows how Ford can still do amazing things for his age. The final act of the film goes to some pretty odd places, and might be polarizing for some as it’s a pretty big stretch from what we’re used to seeing in an Indiana Jones movie… but considering who the character is, it’s also very fitting and perhaps a bit ironic for what is meant to be Indy’s very last adventurous moment. And the very end of the film in incredibly touching and a loving tribute to not only Indy’s legacy, but a wonderful honoring of the fandom and even the original film. It’s about as perfect of an ending as you could imagine.

At two hours and 34 minutes, DIAL OF DESTINY does drag a bit at times, and has a few slower moments peppered throughout the film, but I never found it boring or tedious, and I’m not sure what scenes could have been cut out without damaging the overall story. John Williams provides some great music and a beautiful new theme for Helena, but there are a few segments in which you can clearly tell he’s borrowing from himself and basically slapping pieces of previous music together in a sometimes unfitting way. I even noticed him sampling music from MINORITY REPORT, though this could be a case where understudies filling in scenes with music meant to sound right, rather than Williams composing all of the new film’s score. It’s great seeing Harrison play this character one last time, even if he’s not the man he used to be. As a more self-aware take on the classic hero, this entry is a sweet and satisfying end to a treasured cinematic legacy. And as much as I wished Steven Spielberg would have come back one more time, I don’t know that even he could have made this script play any better. James Mangold gave us a classy and competent ending that should make everyone involved proud.


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About the Author

Born and raised in Dallas, Mark has been a movie critic since 1994, with reviews featured in print, radio and National TV. In 2001 he started the Entertainment section of the Herorealm website, where he contributed film reviews and celebrity interviews until 2004. After three years of service there, he started, which has become one of the Dallas film community's leading information websites. Bigfanboy hosts several movie screenings in the Texas area, and works closely with film and TV studios and promotional partners to host exciting events and contests. The site also features a variety of rare celebrity and filmmaker interviews, and regularly covers the film festival circuit as well. In addition to Hollywood reporting, Mark has worked for many years as an advertising and sci-fi/comic book artist. Clients have included Lucasfilm Ltd., Topps Trading Cards, The Dallas Mavericks and The Dallas Stars. From 2002 until 2015 he managed the Dallas Comic Con, Sci-Fi Expo and Fan Days events in the DFW area. He currently catalogs rare comic books and movie memorabilia for Heritage Auctions, and runs the Dallas Comic Show conventions, but remains an avid moviegoer and cinema buff.