Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023)

It is not a new phenomenon but in recent years the success or failure of a movie hinges on much more than if the movie is any good.  The production process, and the people behind it, once obscure and relegated to trivia for those who cared, has become a victim of our 24-hour news cycle and social media pundits.  Kathleen Kennedy, the head of Lucasfilm, has come under fire in recent years for both falling under the Disney spell of turning out lowest-common-denominator product with little to no variation or imagination, as well as shoehorning social messages into popular movie franchises and encouraging that male protagonists be downplayed, even emasculated, in favor or replacing them with women.

Much of this anger stems from the third Star Wars trilogy, in which Rey danced on the edge of being a Mary Sue where other well-loved characters, such as Han Solo and Luke Skywalker, were killed off or drastically altered.  I still stand behind my review of The Last Jedi that Luke's isolation and abandonment of trying to revive the Jedi order gave more dimension to the character than anything in the original trilogy.  He went from being a Joseph Campbell archetype to being more human.  There were questionable decisions in the movie when it came to certain scenes, but those were from Rian Johnson, not Kennedy.  

Despite that Solo: A Star Wars Story suffered a dire fate despite being a movie that, while relying on fan service, expanded the Star Wars universe even further.  It also led to Johnson, and most of his ideas, being wiped from The Rise of Skywalker, in which Disney and Kennedy forced such a course correction that the movie, in the minds of many fans, reinforced and justified their hatred of her and the monolithic studio.  With that in mind, when a fifth Indiana Jones film was announced, which would be the first one produced under Disney and with Kennedy rather than George Lucas himself having major input into the final product, the desire to hate the film was already there before the final script was ready.  As soon as a new female sidekick was announced the rumors were already circulating that Indy would be a side character in his last film, potentially killed off in order to make way for a strong "girl boss" to take over the role. 

In 1945, as the Third Reich is falling, Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) and his friend Basil Shaw (Toby Jones) attempt to prevent Adolf Hitler from obtaining the Spear of Longinus, supposedly the one used to pierce Christ's side during his crucifixion.  However, it turns out there is a greater prize, and a greater threat, as the Germans have come into possession of one half of the Antikythera Device, an ancient computer devised by Archimedes for unknown purposes.  Dr. Voller (Mads Mikkelson), a Nazi scientist, believes that if the other half is found it can be used to traverse time.  

The pair rescue the device and, over the years, Shaw becomes obsessed with it.  In turn, so does his daughter Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), who shows up in 1969 asking Indy to go in search of it with her.  Instead, he gives it to her, the device being stored at his college in New York since he took it from her father.  Voller, under an assumed name, is also after it, as well as Shaw's notes as they have instructions on how to find the other half.  He plans on turning the tide of history in favor of Germany, and it is up to Jones and Helena to stop him.

This introduces a third sidekick named Teddy (Ethann Isidore), a pickpocket that Helena rescued from the streets, as well as a host of imposing bad guys in league with Voller.  If there is one thing that David Koepp, who wrote the original treatment that was revised by Jez and John-Henry Butterworth, did wrong is sticking too close to the pattern set by Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Every success Indy, Helena and Teddy have is quickly erased by Voller thinking one step ahead, to the point that the movie has a bit too much familiarity to it.  That didn't hurt Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, but at this point it feels more like safety than homage.  The other attempts of the series to go in different directions have either resulted in an inferior film or massive fan backlash, so once again we are seeing Disney shy away from even taking the least bit of chance on a movie.

A major part of their reluctance is how much the movie cost, in both time and money.  When something like Total Recall edged over the 100-million-dollar mark it was used as a badge of honor, pretty much promising the audience they were going to see every cent of that on the screen in talent, story and spectacle.  Too often in recent years, with the Marvel and DC movies being the most well-known examples but, in addition, almost anything with Duane Johnson in a starring role, a large budget has not meant that it was a guarantee of quality.  Instead, the more expensive a film is to make, the more fans have started to question what is wrong with it.  As far as I know Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny didn't go through reshoot hell, but the baggage this film carried upon release - The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull being part of it, as well as Ford's age and everything I have mentioned so far - pretty much set it up for failure.  People wanted this movie to fail so bad they didn't even want to admit that, at the heart of it, it is still a decent Indiana Jones film.

I am surprised Ford did as much as he did given his age, and I am glad he nixed many of the ageist jokes from the script.  Despite what a number of YouTube pundits would like everyone to believe he is the main character in this and, though he isn't living the happy life many would like him to, when he gives a great emotional speech to Helena on why this is, it's one of the best parts of the movie.  The hatred thrown at Phoebe Waller-Bridge is unfounded as Helena is nowhere near as annoying a sidekick as Mutt was.  There is also not enough praise given to Ethann Isidore for his portrayal of Teddy, which easily could have been expanded.  Director James Mangold could have made him a Short Round clone, but instead let him grow on his own.

The story itself, and the McGuffin of the Antikythera device, is kind of old hat at this point.  Mads Mikkelson is not given much else to do other than be an evil German with a unique idea of how the Nazis can win the war.  John Rhys-Davies has a cameo as Sallah but is given little more to do than drive Indy to the airport.  There is also a noted lack of humor in this entry, alleviated only by a chase through Tangiers by a jilted fiancée (Alaa Safi) of Helena's.  While most viewers seem to think the opening sequence, featuring a digitally de-aged Ford, is the best, I think the chase in Morocco is the one that is most in the spirit of the previous movies.

Speaking of the previous movies, this is better than Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, even though I never hated that film either.  While there have been complaints about the digital effects in Dial of Destiny, there is nothing here that looks as bad as the ant scenes or Mutt swinging through the jungle.  I know there is a 15-year gap between the films, but given the last one was still a partnership between Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, and the fact that even then Peter Jackson's effects studio was the only one truly rivaling ILM, Crystal Skull should still hold up better.  The de-aging in this is much better than in Rogue One, and pretty much on par with The Irishman.  

This has become my long-winded way of saying that, although it doesn't feel as magical as it did in the past, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is still a fun adventure film.  I do think that most of the budget is on the screen as promised.  The movie is too long, and too long in coming, and it does lack the emotional impact that Last Crusade did.  In a perfect world that is still where the series should have ended, with Spielberg and Lucas realizing by the mid-1990s that if they hadn't come up with anything worth making to bring the character back that it was fine to let Jones rest.  Despite that we still get something that in no way betrays the fantasy world it is set in or the character of Jones himself.  

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023)
Time: 154 minutes
Starring: Harrison Ford, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Ethann Isidore, Mads Mikkelson
Director: James Mangold



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