Fun in fits and starts, the latest and final entry in the Indiana Jones series, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, has moments of nostalgia, but the new time period just doesn’t make it feel, well, like Indiana Jones.
The adventures of the iconic archeologist began in 1981 with Raiders of the Lost Ark when Indiana (Harrison Ford) and his old flame Marion (Karen Allen) went on a globe-trotting adventure to find a famed artifact. It was rousing, exciting, featured a suave villain, and had enough of the supernatural to make you go, “Whoa!” It harkened back to the old serials of the 30s & 40s, and was a fresh new entry in the newfound Blockbuster genre.
Indiana had three more adventures, all directed by Steven Spielberg and produced by pal George Lucas. They were thrilling, funny, a little goofy, and always a bit otherworldly. When Lucas and Spielberg decided to revisit their old buddy in 2008, setting the tale in the 50s and bringing aliens into play, we finally had less than stellar results. Adding a son played by bad boy Shia Labeouf was a Cousin Oliver move (look it up), but seeing Karen Allen back in the saddle was nice. Still, moving forward in time made everything feel a bit off. It still had some Indiana Jones charm, but it wasn’t his best adventure.
Now, Spielberg had turned the reins over to director James Mangold (Logan, Ford v. Ferrari) with a screenplay written by Jez and John-Henry Butterworth (Edge of Tomorrow) and David Koepp (Jurassic Park). This might be why this latest and last installment in the franchise feels like a bit of a mish-mosh.
Don’t get me wrong, it certainly is entertaining for at least two-thirds of its two-and-a-half-hour running time, but it can feel sluggish at times, not to mention how much it relies on tried and true action sequences we’ve seen many times before. (In fact, at least three action set pieces are weirdly similar to another blockbuster coming to theaters in a few weeks.)
We’ve seen fights on the tops of trains. We’ve had the car chases through cobblestone streets. And we’ve been on a nose-diving plane before. There’s even a bug sequence straight out of Temple of Doom. It felt familiar to a fault.
See Also: ‘The Fabelmans’ Review: Spielberg’s Semi-Autobiographical Tale is a Mixed-Bag of Love and Nostalgia
So what’s The Dial of Destiny about? Henry Jones Jr. is a retiring professor called into action by his god-daughter Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) when she discovers the location of the other half of an ancient dial made by Archimedes. Helena’s father, Basil Shaw (Toby Jones, seen in flashback), professed this dial could find rips in the space-time continuum. While Indy doesn’t believe it really holds those powers, the artifact is priceless, and when former Nazi Dr. Voller (Mads Mikkelsen) comes looking for it, the chase is on.
Once again, we have a globe-trotting Jones bickering with a quick-witted woman, and there’s even a young street-smart kid named Teddy (Ethann Isidore) to take the place of Short Round. A few familiar faces show up, including Sallah (John Rhys-Davies) and – new to the series – Antonio Banderas, who has minimal screen time.
The film opens with a throwback sequence involving the Dial and the Nazis using de-aging technology for Harrison Ford, which mostly works. This opening holds audiences in familiar territory, and this is when it feels truly like an Indiana Jones movie. Once we get to a diving expedition about halfway into the film, it started to feel more like an 80s-era James Bond movie. And the movie’s last twenty minutes seem really out of place for our beloved Indy.
Sure, I’m making it seem like I think the movie is terrible. I don’t. I liked it in many places, but it just doesn’t add up to the magical adventures they used to be. Even the action is directed with a heavier (and sometimes more violent) hand. Spielberg has a masterful way of guiding your eye, making his action scenes more involving and surprising. Here, it’s just more of what we’ve seen in every mid-budget action movie, superhero movie, and Bond film. We watch it happen, but only as a spectator. Spielberg always makes you part of the action.
Ford and Waller-Bridge are great, as expected, but the characters seem a bit off – which is the fault of the script. During the bug scene, for example, Indy actually panics and wants them off his body as much as Helena does. But he’s never been like that. He casually wipes tarantulas off himself in “Raiders” and practically rolls his eyes at all the bugs in “Temple of Doom.” So it was strange that he was suddenly horrified by them.
Helena keeps shifting alliances, but there’s no real motivation for it. She loved her crazy father, and since Indy was his best friend, it was strange when she had moments of selfishness. She’s agreeable when it fits the story and not when they need conflict.
Sure, there are still fun scenes, and some of the thrills are still there. John Williams’ score gets the blood pumping, and the Indy theme never fails to rouse (although it is overused). And another surprise closes out one of Indy’s ongoing stories nicely. That said, the status of his son, Mutt, feels out of place for an adventure serial.
All in all, something was missing. Raiders of the Lost Ark is such a classic display of storytelling and a truly perfect movie that it’s hard to surpass. Sure, we all love Indy and want to see his adventures, but lightning struck at the ideal time in the perfect setting. Now that he’s a city-living, grumbly, old retiree in the late 60s, it just doesn’t feel the same.
That said, if you like Indiana Jones movies, go and see this one. There’s enough here to enjoy and who can resist seeing Indy in his hat with his trusty whip at his side? Just don’t expect the magic of the original. That magic, like Indy’s bone density, is dwindling.
It’s time to hang up his hat. And in this one, he actually does.
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is now playing in theaters and IMAX.