Archaeologist Indiana Jones races against time to retrieve a legendary artifact that can change the course of history. (from IMDB.com)
When Indiana Jones and his compadres rode off into the sunset in the summer of 1989 at the end of The Last Crusade, fans were pretty convinced this was the last time we'd see the famed archaeologist. However, much to everyone's surprise, a 65-year-old Harrison Ford reprised his role in 2008's The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, shifting the series from the 1930's to the 1950's, giving it more of a 50's sci-fi B-movie vibe than a swashbuckling adventure flick. The unnecessary fourth entry left many fans wanting, despite there being some excitement at seeing Indy on the go again. Around the time of that film's release, I believe Ford told plenty of news outlets that he was officially done with the character. However, it seems as though the sour taste the movie left the franchise with must have encouraged the box office star to rally for a fifth outing. So, after countless delays, and with the actor just barely still in his 70's, he has delivered one truly final Indy outing: Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.
While the movie was still in its idea phase, "Indy 5" is what it was often referred to. And for a long time, the director of the first four films, Steven Spielberg, was largely in talks of reprising his creative role for Ford's official swan song. But eventually, Spielberg decided to recede into an executive producer role and another popular director - the man behind Ford v Ferrari and Logan, James Mangold - stepped in to helm Indy 5. As a fan of Ford v Ferrari, and a couple other Mangold films -- Knight and Day and Kate and Leopold -- I had full faith in Mangold being able to deliver a worthwhile entry to the saga. In fact, with how disappointing The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was, I was actually glad that Indy 5 was moving on to a different creative team.
History lessons aside, I was delighted to find that Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is just what we've needed to rinse out the bad taste that Crystal Skull left behind. As a diehard fan of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and a nostalgic fan of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Crystal Skull is one of those movies that actually gets worse with each viewing. From irritating side characters (especially Ray Winstone's backstabbing and whiney "Mack" and John Hurt's crackpot professor "Ox"), the movie felt like a cartoony, post Star Wars prequel, digital-heavy take on the more practically-conceived hero. Seriously, Crystal Skull has moments so bad that it even coined a new phrase in the movie industry. In the same vein as Happy Days featuring a moment where the Fonz jumps over a shark on water skis, inevitably coining the phrase "jump the shark," "nuke the fridge" was born from the moment that Indy seeks refuge in a lead-lined refrigerator to survive a nuclear blast -- both phrases symbolizing a franchise's abandonment of reason for something unforgivably absurd. (And we're not even bringing up the scene where Indy's illegitimate son Mutt comes to the rescue by swinging on vines with jungle monkeys. When exactly did you officially stop caring, Spielberg?)
Dial of Destiny certainly isn't a perfect movie by any means, but when it ended, I felt such a satisfying feeling that had me wanting to say it was "perfect." It was what I, a franchise fan, needed Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny to be. If we can't have Last Crusade be the ride off into the sunset for Indy, Dial of Destiny is an impactful send-off that rights the proverbial ship after Crystal Skull flattened the franchise like a gigantic boulder. While Spielberg doesn't return in the director's chair, we do have composer John Williams returning to score one last ride, and even his score is more memorable than his Crystal Skull effort (although, let's not totally dismiss his theme for the skull itself - it's the chef's kiss for sure).
Dial of Destiny finds a weary and relatively broken Indiana Jones retiring from his days of teaching while living in an apartment in 1969 New York. But before we meet the aging Indy, the film opens with a flashback to 1944, with the archaeologist facing death once again at the hands of the Nazis. Despite the dodgy de-aging technology (and some questionably unaltered and gravelly 78-year-old Harrison Ford voice coming out of a 25-years-younger Indy), the action-packed prologue feels like classic Indiana Jones at its best. In the sequence, we meet Indy with his pal Basil (played by Toby Jones), as they try to recover the spear that pierced Christ's side from the Nazi's stolen treasures. In the process, Basil finds that a young Nazi scientist, named Dr. Voller (Mads Mikkelsen), is in possession of part of a mythical device created by the great Archimedes. And here begins our hero's journey with "the dial of destiny." For this flashback sequence, ILM and Lucasfilm utilized de-aging technology to make Indiana Jones and Harrison Ford about 25 years younger, looking more on par with his appearance in The Last Crusade than anything else. Unfortunately, while some shots looked extremely impressive, others were painfully obvious. Even footage of Indy running across the top of a train from a distance looked like something out of a video game. Some other moments even resembled the synthetic nature of The Polar Express, but in the long run, I realize I rather have some spotty de-aging technology than a full-on recasting. We all know what Harrison Ford looked like 30 years ago, so it helps to see him that way again. Some viewers, though, will find the unconvincing technology to be a hindrance, while others - like myself - will just struggle to accept it. However, I must say, seeing it in the larger IMAX format isn't doing this technology any favors.
Many fans - myself included - were also concerned about the casting of Phoebe Waller-Bridge as the female lead. Here she plays Helena Shaw, the daughter of Basil, and ultimately Indy's goddaughter. While some obnoxious present day "strong female" (like the kind that attempt to belittle men) traits do unabashedly force their way into some sequences, Waller-Bridge doesn't just upstage Indy in scene after scene. A lot of doom-and-gloom forewarning from media and fans on social media painted the film as just another opportunity for Hollywood to emasculate a legendary pop culture male hero, but I have to say I did not find the movie to be that way at all. Helena doesn't exactly treat Indy with the kind of reverence his biggest fans do, which can rub us the wrong way early on in the movie, but she clearly comes around as the story progresses. The story also serves as a means for Indy to kind of find himself again at this late stage in his life, and that alone is enjoyable to watch. Again, I won't pretend that Disney and Lucasfilm aren't setting up a possible spin-off for their Helena character with this movie, but Dial of Destiny handles Indy well, keeps him the focal point, and gives his character a wonderful resolution.
The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was undeniably the most mild, content-wise, of the franchise, and thankfully The Dial of Destiny follows similarly. However, there is plenty of violence, and Mangold handles it with a bit of grit that is likely to upset younger viewers. I wouldn't say there are many classic franchise gross-out moments (no melting faces!), but there is definitely plenty of bloodshed throughout the movie. There's also a thug who likes to shoot first and ignore any consequences later, and his readiness to shoot-to-kill at any moment may be jarring for some. There appears to be one "S" word (spoken by the kid Teddy when describing the condition of a means of transportation), and well over 20 uses of "h*ll" when you take into consideration a sequence where Indy tries to escape some goons by rallying a street protest with a chant of "H*ll no, we won't go!" Other than that, there's one prominent use of "J-sus" from a side character, a few uses of "d*mn," and 2 easy-to-miss uses of "g*dd*mn." There's also absolutely no sexual content, which is a nice change of pace. The violence, as mentioned, is sometimes bloody, but it's mostly blood on a person's clothing after they're shot, or blood on someone's hand from another victim. The most gruesome moment is near the end of the movie, however, when we see two bloody corpses, with one having extremely burned and raw looking skin that is slightly gory. It's brief and not shown up close, but it may shock some viewers. Some of the deaths and violence is definitely shocking though, so please keep that in mind ahead of time.
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is a sweet surprise and an early summer treat. While it certainly would have been nice to see Indiana back in his prime for all of these films, Dial of Destiny is a unique and unusual way to see one of our favorite cinematic action heroes back in action at a time in their life when it may be rather unexpected. If you're an Indy fan and have been on the fence about this one, go see it. It's infinitely better than Crystal Skull and a worthy send-off for Indiana Jones. I'd probably rank it just above Temple of Doom (since the whole Kali and Voo Doo content is pretty unsettling), but after The Last Crusade and Raiders of the Lost Ark.
The Making of Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (56:48)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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