‘Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny’ Review
Or: Raiders of the Lost IP.
THIS IS GOING TO SOUND LIKE A SILLY, petty complaint. And maybe it is. But you get a glimpse of everything that’s wrong with Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny in the opening moments. Specifically, the order of the credited production companies. Even more specifically: the refusal to start the film as every other Indiana Jones movie has started: by dissolving from the Paramount logo to a mountain or mountain-like shape on the screen.
You know what I mean: going from the logo’s rendering of the Ben Lomond Mountain to a peak in South America in Raiders, or an engraving on a gong at the start of the musical sequence in Temple, or the butte in the American Southwest at the start of Last Crusade. Even Crystal Skull kept the gag going, though its rendering—a poorly animated gopher hole—betrayed some of that film’s problems as well.
It’s a little thing—one might even call it hokey—but it’s important because it sets the whole mood. This is a movie, that dissolve says. Not just any kind of movie. An old-timey action-adventure romp of the sort we, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, grew up watching. Go get your nickel’s worth of popcorn and kick up your feet.
Dial of Destiny doesn’t start on that dissolve because it can’t start on that dissolve because starting on that dissolve would defeat the entire purpose of this picture: for Disney to lay claim to the Indiana Jones property and all it stands for going forward. That’s why Lucasfilm and Disney share the first title card. Paramount gets the next one—an “in association with” credit, adding insult to injury—and one can only imagine the negotiations that went into securing that, as Paramount is no longer the distributor of these films.
Again: this is potentially dumb and possibly petty, but for a movie that is almost purely a nostalgia play—and a frequently charming one at that—it’s a sour note to start on. I couldn’t help but feel the same sort of pang I felt when John Williams’s opening Star Wars theme blared out of the theater speakers during The Force Awakens without the 20th Century Fox fanfare preceding it. The movie felt … naked. Exposed. It’s just wrong.
Anyway. After a prelude in World War II during which a de-aged Harrison Ford fights with Nazis for control of an ancient artifact supposedly built by Archimedes, the titular dial, we move to the late 1960s. The Beatles are on the radio. Ticker tape litters the street, as astronauts take their victory lap. Indiana Jones (Ford) lives alone in a messy one-bedroom, passed out in his easy chair, annoyed by the kids making a racket down the hall. A quick pan shows everything we need to know: a folded flag by a photo of a boy in uniform, presumably Mutt (Shia LaBeouf in the fourth movie), rests next to a faded picture of Indy’s dad (Sean Connery in the third). The sad story of this little apartment practically tells itself.
Indy—he of Arks and Temples and Crusades—is about to retire in lonely obscurity. On his way out the door, he’s stopped for drinks by his goddaughter, Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), who has some questions about the Antikythera, the Greek name for the eponymous dial. Where she might find the other half, for starters. So she can sell it. (She believes in the importance of museums a bit less than her godfather, particularly since she has some debts to pay.) A bit of hubbub later, and Indy and Helena are off to track down the Antikythera in its entirety, racing with Nazi physicist-turned-U.S.-rocket-scientist Dr. Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen).
I won’t talk much more about the plot; you deserve to see if the film’s big swing connects or not. What I will say is that it rides much less smoothly than Raiders of the Lost Ark, a perfect movie that just zips along from scene to scene and moment to moment, or Last Crusade, which is nearly as efficient. At more than two and a half hours, the picture drags, though it’s never quite boring. Ford remains incredibly charismatic, even as the broken, somewhat-hangdog Indy, and his repartee with Waller-Bridge is natural. Sallah’s (John Rhys-Davies) back! Antonio Banderas plays a diver pal of Indy’s! We may be missing the Paramount peaks, but there’s still a mountain of charm on the screen.
I just don’t think that’s quite enough. Dial of Destiny has the same problem that Kingdom of the Crystal Skull had: It looks phony throughout, and not only during effects-heavy scenes. I can’t tell if we’ve regressed when it comes to the technology of rear projection and green screen or what, but the sequences in which people are driving simply look fake, poorly done, the lighting and shadow and shading all wrong. At least with Crystal Skull we still had Spielberg behind the camera, meaning there’s a motion, a liveliness, a vibrancy to the proceedings. James Mangold is a solid, competent director—and there are moments, as in that aforementioned pan across the apartment, when you appreciate his restraint—but he’s not Spielberg. He doesn’t have that innate sense of visual movement or the ability to translate it to the big screen. No one does.
The only reason for this film to exist, then, is as an exercise in intellectual property propagation. Indy already got his sendoff in Crystal Skull; they even nodded at the passing of the torch to come. But now the character’s owned by a new distributor with new priorities. And so, Indiana Jones is pressed into duty once again at the behest of the raiders of the lost IP. When their faces melt at the sight of the nine-figure loss headed their way, one imagines they’ll wish they never tried to turn back time.