Friday, June 30, 2023


 by Rob DiCristino

Old dog. Old tricks.

In the years since they became a Hollywood mainstay, reboots and legacy sequels have largely fallen into the same deadly trap: Nostalgia. Eager to serve not only the franchises in question but the fans who love them so relentlessly, studios have scrambled to pack re-quels like Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Ghostbusters: Afterlife with as many shout-outs, call-backs, and Easter eggs as possible. While some more thoughtful entries have been able to weaponize and undercut the familiar in order to tell genuinely challenging stories — Creed and The Last Jedi remain the industry’s apex — others end up amounting to little more than shallow victory laps, coddling pablum built to babysit an audience through fits of self-indulgent sentimentality (as if to reassure them, to quote Don Draper, “You are okay”). Coming forty-two years after the original Raiders of the Lost Ark and fifteen years after Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny seemed poised to take that same impotent walk down memory lane.
Thank goodness for director James Mangold, whose ability to bridge prestige (Cop Land, Ford vs. Ferrari) and audience-friendly fare (Walk the Line, Logan) makes him an ideal candidate to take the helm after Steven Spielberg elected not to return to the series. Mangold has certainly studied Spielberg’s work — Dial of Destiny is fluent in the cinematic language of its progenitors, including Indy’s thunderous punches and John Williams’ iconic score — but he also seems secure enough in his powers to bring his own sensibilities to the fore. What’s more, Mangold and his co-writers (including Spielberg stablemate David Koepp, who penned Crystal Skull) avoid excessively lionizing Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) and his exploits, instead setting the aging adventurer on a quest that will feel pleasantly familiar because it remembers one immovable truism: Indy is at his best when he’s a step behind his adversaries. Dial of Destiny isn’t prodding us to remember how cool the Indiana Jones films are; It’s simply a cool Indiana Jones film.

After a prologue set in 1944 that pushes digital de-aging technology along just the tiniest bit further — Ford looks minimally rubbery but still speaks with an octegenarian’s gruff timbre — we leap ahead to 1969 to find Indy at a low point: His son Mutt (played by Shia LaBeouf in Crystal Skull) was killed in Vietnam, his wife Marion (Karen Allen) has filed for divorce, and his university is forcing him into a reluctant retirement. Indy is resigned to hanging up the fedora for good when his goddaughter Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) returns with a plan to recover the Antikythera, an ancient dial designed to detect fissures in time. Though Helena is thrilled to unearth the artifact that drove her father (Toby Jones as Basil) mad, she has no idea that former Nazi scientist Jurgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen, because of course it is) also seeks the dial. Voller is desperate to correct the blunders that left Germany in ruins (“You didn’t win the war; Hitler lost it,” he tells a GI), and uses his status as a NASA hero as a cover for his nefarious scheme.
And we’re off! Morocco by way of New York! Italy by way of Egypt! Indy and his streetwise goddaughter get their globetrot on in fine fashion, chasing leads — sometimes literally — over land, sea, and air. They’re aided in turn by the likes of ragamuffin Teddy (Ethann Isidore), rakish diver Renaldo (Antonio Banderas), and even our old buddy Sallah (John Rhys-Davies). Voller and his cronies are never far behind, though, and the good doctor delights in testing black market dealer Helena’s tenuous hold on archeological ethics (“It belongs in a museum,” her godfather reminds her). Harrison Ford returns to the role with more genuine aplomb than we’ve seen from him in recent years, and Mangold takes care to stage action scenes that meet the standard for Indiana Jones adventure without ever truly straining the credulity of his eighty-year-old lead. Waller-Bridge is Indy’s best partner yet, imbuing Helena with all the vivacious intelligence, wit, and creeping vulnerability we’ve come to expect from the Fleabag star.
And while Dial of Destiny certainly ponders Indy’s advancing years and the legacy he’ll soon leave behind, Mangold and his team rarely let those thematic concerns overwhelm the action. The film is always moving, stopping for interludes that advance story and character only when crashes, punches, car chases, and explosions cannot. That’s why we fell in love with Indy in the first place, isn’t it? He’s brilliant, but he’s not complex. He’s an action figure, a conduit for popcorn thrills who always manages to land on his feet. His final journey is sleek, crafty, and fun, finding an eminently watchable medium between the high-spirited adventure of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Last Crusade and the pseudo-religious mysticism of Temple of Doom and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. It allows Indy a cathartic reward for his devotion to the past while also reminding him of the fruitful future ahead. If — as Harrison Ford insists — we are truly saying goodbye to Indiana Jones, audiences will be more than happy to remember him this way.

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is in theaters now.

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