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Film Review - Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

Plot contrivances aside, the fifth instalment is a rollicking great adventure

By Monita MohanPublished 11 months ago 7 min read
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(L-R): Teddy (Ethann Isidore), Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) and Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) in Lucasfilm's INDIANA JONES AND THE DIAL OF DESTINY. ©2023 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

The fifth, and possibly final, instalment in the Indiana Jones franchise has arrived, and would you believe it, the film is tremendous fun! After the film premiered, randomly, at the Festival de Cannes, ‘Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny’ was inundated with poor reviews from those who saw it. Could the franchise have sunk to a new nadir following the much-reviled ‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’? Anything’s possible.

However, after watching the film at an early Walt Disney screening in Toronto, I can assure you that ‘Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny’ is a return to the heights of the franchise, combining adventure with heartfelt character interactions. No, it won’t win any awards, but the film is made to win our hearts, and it does so easily.

What is ‘Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny’ About?

©2023 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

The film starts off with Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) and his friend, archeologist Basil Shaw (Toby Jones), on the search for a lucrative artifact. They, instead, find themselves captured and almost killed by Nazis, before discovering that the artifact is close at hand. What becomes of it? We’ll have to wait and find out.

Fast forward decades later, Indiana, or rather Dr. Henry Jones, is retiring from his job as a professor, when his long-estranged goddaughter, Shaw’s child Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), enters his life and turns it upside down. Suddenly, people are dead, and Indy’s on the run from a dangerous villain called Dr. Voller (Mads Mikkelsen). Indy, Helena, and her young friend Teddy (Ethann Isidore) traverse glorious parts of the world as they try and escape, as well as keep an artifact out of reach, from Voller and his people.

Along the way, we learn more about Helena and her father, as well as about Indy’s life since we last saw him in ‘Crystal Skull’. There are a few cameos thrown in for good measure, and some franchise threads tied up.

‘Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny’ Brings the Franchise Back to its Roots

(L-R): Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) and Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) in Lucasfilm's IJ5. ©2022 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

The film has all the hallmarks of a classic Indiana Jones story—we have a colourful cast of characters, some of whom have a personal connection to Indy. We also have the rabid bad guy, Voller, whose singular goal is to find and use a MacGuffin, in this film, it’s the Dial of Destiny, for not-great purposes. No Indy film would be complete without rip-roaring adventures across countries, and here we’re enmeshed in 1960s New York, bustling Morocco, the waters of Spain, and beautiful Sicily. And best of all, Indy is faced with intricate puzzles that need to be solved to save the day.

The film has some of the most visceral action and chase sequences, I’ve seen in a long time. The audience that I watched the film with reacted audibly to every fight scene. It feels like a long time since a film could make an audience actually feel the impact of the punches being thrown and received. The editing was brilliant, but so were the reactions of the actors involved in the action scenes.

What stole the show were the chases. A lot of chase sequences make you feel like you’ve seen it all, but ‘Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny’ doesn’t rely on the same old fast cars to grab your attention. The chases involve different kinds of vehicles and animals, and they interweave narrative and character development within them as well. Once again, the editing ensured that we knew exactly who was on screen and where they were in relation to the other characters in the sequence.

Did Harrison Ford Need to be De-Aged in ‘Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny’?

Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) in Lucasfilm's IJ5. ©2022 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

The trailer for the latest ‘Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny’ teased the existence of a younger Indy appearing in the film. This shouldn’t surprise us anymore, since de-aged actors have been par for the course in several Disney products, especially given how effortless the de-aging effects were in ‘Captain America: Civil War’. The film features a de-aged Harrison Ford using the same technology, instead of casting a younger actor. I expected a short flashback scene, not an entire opening sequence. It does work in the sense that younger Indy looks like the hero from the original trilogy that most of us have watched several times, so it eases viewers into the world of Indiana that we’re most familiar and comfortable with, and uses that familiarity to segue somewhat comically but also melancholically to senior Indy.

But the uncanny valley aspect is a real rollercoaster ride. At first, the de-aging looks incredible! And then it doesn’t. And then it’s seamless, and then it’s uncanny. It works, and it doesn’t, and I found that distracting. As the sequence went on, I also felt it did Harrison Ford a disservice—older Indy is still a man of wit, charm, and action, as we find out once he appears on screen. He didn’t need to come in 30 minutes into his film.

Is there a way to tell the same story without this technology? I worry that, yes, Disney can and has de-aged their actors across Star Wars and Marvel properties, and they’re getting eerily better at it, but the technology, and the optics, aren’t up to par yet. Are we going to get stuck with watching or only getting to watch our old favs forever because the technology is there, instead of recasting? Star Trek has successfully recast a whole bunch of people to play newer or younger versions of our favourite characters, so there’s precedent already. I think it’s time to move beyond nostalgia tech, even when it does a passable job, like in this film.

‘Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny’ Isn’t Perfect, But It’s a Wonderful Farewell

(L-R): Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) and Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) in Lucasfilm's INDIANA JONES AND THE DIAL OF DESTINY. ©2023 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

As much fun as I had watching ‘Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny’, it’s not perfect. I felt there were a couple of plot threads left hanging in the end, which we are made to assume had been tied up but would have made for interesting storylines (I mean, I’m up for Indy 6 if they want to go back to those in another film).

Some of the plot points were a little too convenient as well—granted the style of storytelling is a throwback to ‘Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark’ but I wished the Dial of Destiny connection had been a little more organic. ‘Why now?’ is a question that was not asked, nor answered.

What I did love about the film was that it gives us Helena. She’s very different from Indiana, in a way that’s rebellious and understandable. Indiana is so straight-forward; Helena’s like us. She’s also rambunctious, and can take care of herself, yet needs help and asks for it. I was surprised that Helena was allowed to be amorous and curious in the film, without it becoming central to her character. It’s nice to see a film treat a female character and her desires as a fact and not a big deal. Phoebe Waller-Bridge is glorious in the role and looks like she had a blast. I’d love to see her as Helena again.

Harrison Ford, of course, is outstanding. The man steps back into his characters like a comfortable pair of shoes. And yet, he’s not playing Indiana as if Indy hasn’t changed. Indy’s old now, he’s cranky, he’s faced stuff he can’t get over. Indy is different, but he’s still charming, and sweet, and empathetic. He’s intelligent and resourceful. He’s still raring to go on adventures but acknowledges his limitations. He’s every bit the Indy we all grew up watching and loving, but he’s also different. I was floored by the athleticism of Ford in the film, but what really got me were the character moments, especially a particular short scene about loss. It’s fabulous; Ford is fabulous. We tune in to franchises again and again because the characters grow and evolve, and they feel like real people even when the world and story around them are so bizarre. ‘Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny’ does that right.

Doctor Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen) in Lucasfilm's INDIANA JONES AND THE DIAL OF DESTINY. ©2023 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

Mads Mikkelsen is always good, very restrained but menacing. I think we should have seen more of his character, and understood what made him tick, other than just being a Nazi. But then again, who wants to see that?

I found Boyd Holbrook a weird choice for this film. I know he’s worked with director James Mangold before on ‘Logan’, but I didn’t care for him in that film, and I don’t like him in this one either. I think he has a very specific style of acting and scenery-chewing that is at odds with everyone else. He doesn’t work in the film, at all. Instead, Shaunette Renée Wilson is amazing but has a frustratingly curtailed role. There were too many characters at one point and she got the short end of the stick with how her character Mason was handled.

There were a few cameos that I felt were almost too underbaked. Maybe I’m too excitable and want every character to be a main character, but I wouldn’t have begrudged a few extra scenes with some of the characters, especially since we are unlikely to see them again.

The film doesn’t feel like a finale. I know it is, but it doesn’t feel like one. I didn’t realize I wanted to be back in this world again, but the moment the hat turned up, I was dragged in and I wanted to stay there. It’ll be hard to say goodbye to Indiana Jones, but I wonder if we’ll see Helena take on the mantle and carry the franchise forward. I’d definitely tune in for that.

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About the Creator

Monita Mohan

When not dreaming of a one-way trip to Coruscant, I'm usually staring at a blank page, hoping my articles write themselves.

Website: lightspeedwriter.wordpress.com

Twitter: @Monita_Mohan

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