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Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny ★★1/2

Availability: Showing widely in theaters; no streaming availability at this time, predicted for Fall 2023; see JustWatch here for updated streaming availability.


Dial of Disappointment


For action scenes per minute, the latest of the Indiana Jones series is hard to beat. It’s more than 20 minutes into a 2:20 film before there’s any pause. And that opening scene may be the highlight. It reprises the Nazi setting of the franchise opener, this time in 1944, closer to the end of the War, with Hitler in a bunker. The classic chase in and on top of a train pays homage to Sean Connery in “The Great Train Robbery” (1978) with a younger (thanks to make-up and CGI) Harrison Ford in this sequence.


Harrison Ford, right, as an aging

Indiana Jones, craggy face and all.



The switch to the film’s “present,” 1969, shows Ford as he “is,” an 80-year-old with white hair, craggy face, and pasty back. The authenticity is refreshing. More than twice the age he was when filming “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981), he continues to be the center of the film, holding his own as Indiana Jones, now a depressed, lonely, just-retired college archaeology professor soon to be called back into action. For the older audience, it feels natural and right and even heroic to see the elderly Indy still have some moves (stunt performers notwithstanding). For the younger, it’s just Harrison Ford doing his thing, or as one of our teen companions said, “I think I know what to expect from Harrison Ford.”











Phoebe Waller-Bridge (photo above) brings youth, a certain chippiness bordering on arrogance, an implied feminism, and physical agility to the pair.

 

The freshening up of the film comes in the person of Helena, played by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the creator and comic star of the alternative TV series, “Fleabag,” who has had a meteoric rise in Hollywood. Waller-Bridge, more than 40 years younger than Ford, opens as amateur archaeologist/goddaughter and transitions into side-kick, bringing youth, a certain chippiness bordering on arrogance, an implied feminism, and physical agility to the pair.


Helena also starts out interested not in her father’s quest (Toby Jones plays Basil Shaw, her brilliant father), but in selling illegally acquired antiquities on a Tangiers market. What motivates her, she tells Jones, is simply “cash,” and she’s a fan of capitalism. There is the tiniest of arcs to her character when, late in the story, hanging by her fingers from a burning airplane, Ford shouts “What are you doing here?” and she yells back (over the airplane motor noise), “I came to rescue you.” So there’s a heart there after all.

 

What doesn’t work in the end is the two of them as any kind of couple, even a kind of father-daughter, “let’s go find the Dial” couple.

 

What doesn’t work in the end is the two of them as any kind of couple, even a kind of father-daughter, “let’s go find the Dial” couple. As in other films trying to use aged stars (“Master Gardener” [2023] with Sigourney Weaver), the script has to be stretched to accommodate age differences. Appropriately, there is no love-interest between Indy and Helena, but there also seems to be no interest at all. Yes, they are both archaeologically trained; yes, she’s his former colleague’s daughter and his goddaughter. But without some shared sensibility throughout, without chemistry between them, the personal and emotional core of the film falls flat (in sharp contrast to last year’s “Top Gun: Maverick,” which managed to develop emotional valence by pitting another aging actor, Tom Cruise, and his out-of-retirement character, against a younger generation).


Right, Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones

and Phoebe Waller-Bridge as Helena,

a couple without chemistry.



We are left with action scenes, of which there are plenty. Besides the train opener (with mandatory ducking for tunnels and jumping from bridges), there’s the requisite chase-through-the-African-market with vehicles of various kinds—in this case, auto-rickshaws and vintage cars. Much of the dialog between Helena and Indy, improbable to the point of silliness, takes place as shouted one-liners between open vehicle windows as the 3-wheelers race through narrow streets at high speed.


Above, a chase scene with Indiana Jones on horseback,

as the Apollo 11 astronauts are feted with a parade in New York City.

 

The chase scenes are too many and too long.

 

A parade for the Apollo 11 astronauts returned from their 1969 moon landing creates a potentially interesting setting for another action sequence. Weaving in and out of the parade and in the New York City subway are the chased and the chasers, on horseback and motorcycle. And then there’s a chase scene in the air, between planes (one flown by a child) and, to cover all the bases, a confrontation on the high seas. The chase scenes are too many, too long, and even for this genre, not good enough to pass the “willing suspension of belief” test. When one becomes bored (whether age 80 or 18), something is wrong.


In a reprise of the Nazi enemy from the first film in the series,

Mads Mikkelson (above) is the Nazi astrophysicist

and chief nemesis of Indiana Jones.


The enemy, even in 1969, are the Nazis, a cliché hearkening back to the first in the series. Mad Mikkelson, a wonderfully dexterous Danish actor (“Another Round” and “Riders of Justice,” both 2020) is the principal foe. A Nazi scientist (astrophysicist Dr. Voller) in the early scenes, he’s recuperated himself sufficiently to earn a medal for helping NASA put a man on the moon. Now he wants the fabled Archimedes Dial to turn back history and gain a Nazi victory. Not a bad premise. But even Mikkelson can’t bring much of a spark to a tired script that perhaps suffers from being the first one in which George Lucas did not participate. Oscar-nominated director James Mangold (“Logan” [2017], “Ford v Ferrari” [2019]) can’t save it either.


For the nostalgia fans, there are two actors from the first film who make cameo appearances. John Rhys-Davies is Sallah again, though he’s left home and doesn’t participate in the adventures. Karen Allen is Marion, the love interest from “Raiders,” and she shows up in the final scene to kind of “make the couple.” It’s too little, too late, too pasted-on, and ultimately an unsatisfying finale to a moderately enjoyable but ultimately unsatisfying film. As one of the teens rated it, “Mid.”


 

Date: 2023

Director: James Mangold

Starring: Harrison Ford, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Mads Mikkelson, Toby Jones, John Rhys-Davies, Karen Allen

Country: United States (filmed in Pinewood Studios [London], Morocco, Sicily and Austria)

Languages: English, German (subtitled at times), Latin (subtitled at times), and Arabic.

Runtime: 140 minutes

Other Awards: No nominations to date

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