From the sound of that headline and looking at my low rating, one would think I didn’t like the new Indiana Jones adventure. That could not be any further from the truth. I had fun watching what is supposedly the final outing for our beloved archeologist/adventurer. Director James Mangold and his screenwriting team made a valiant effort to give Harrison Ford his last hurrah on the big screen. However, something needed to be added to the mix.
Before I get to that, let me give a brief spoiler-free film synopsis. The year is 1969, and Dr. Henry (Indiana) Jones (Ford) is about to retire from teaching. A lot has happened since 1957 when the last film (The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) takes place. Jones currently lives a mostly quiet and uneventful life. Long gone are the globe-trotting adventures involving historical treasures of great power. Indy has reached the sunset of his existence and prays to fade away quietly.
His wishes get suddenly thwarted when his Goddaughter Helena “Wombat” Shaw (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) suddenly reappears in his life seeking the life obsession of her late father Basil Shaw (Toby Jones). Basil, an archeologist colleague of Jones, was once fixated on Archimedes Dial, a powerful device once sought after by the Nazis. When former Nazi scientist Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen) and his muscle soon follow, Indiana reluctantly agrees to join the cause to keep the Dial of Destiny out of the wrong hands.
Written by Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, David Koepp, and James Mangold, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny does have a story that is compelling enough, mixed with some genuinely exciting action sequences and fun globe-trotting people usually expect from a Jones movie. However, the absence of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg is rather apparent, as this new adventure lacks the same level of joy, zeal, and wit that all previous movies have. I get that this movie features a more jaded Indiana Jones, who doesn’t want to be involved in this new race for a MacGuffin. Still, when donning the hat and costume of Indiana Jones, one expects the adventurer to show more enthusiasm and passion in his latest endeavor.
This installment is still a better movie than The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, a fun film, to be sure, but one whose risks taken in its ambitious storytelling don’t pay off. However, The Dial of Destiny has moments that reveal a certain hesitancy among the filmmakers. They play it too safe. This movie needs bite.
As for the cast, it will always be a joy to see Harrison Ford portray Indiana Jones, despite the lackluster development of his character here. Ford, now 80, is never forced to do anything beyond the abilities of someone his age. The character now has his limitations and isn’t afraid to acknowledge that. Picking up much of that slack is Phoebe Waller-Bridge.
As Helena “Wombat” Shaw, Waller-Bridge is the new blood which often risks more life and limb in her first onscreen adventure. While she has the makings of a new “Jones,” this character has different priorities in the story and must learn to do what is right and moral from the master. The movie also offers a solid villain in the form of Jürgen Voller, as portrayed by Mads Mikkelsen. While the actor performs well enough, I was a bit let down as he doesn’t have as much fun as other Jones villains have had in the previous movies.
Despite my gripes and complaints about this flawed new Indiana Jones movie, I still highly recommend it for theatrical viewing. Despite its weaknesses, every single Indiana Jones film deserves to be experienced on the big screen. Also, this movie delivers a well-enough send-off for the beloved protagonist. It is certainly more respectable than The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.