INDIANA JONES AND THE DIAL OF DESTINY

★★

FAREWELL TO CINEMA'S FAVOURITE ARCHAEOLOGIST SHOULD REMAIN A RELIC

SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW
By Chris Dos Santos
21st June 2023

Indiana Jones is one of cinema's most iconic characters, but unlike other properties from the same era its relevancy stayed with kids from the 80s. While of course many of us watched them at a young age, the fanbase skews older when compared to other properties such as 'Star Wars' or even 'Jurassic Park'. In 2008, 19 years after his last adventure, he bounded back to the big screen with Steven Spielberg returning to direct and George Lucas writing and while a massive financial success, it wasn't the best mission we have seen the famed archaeologist on (mainly due to aliens; I'm still baffled by it). More so, it made us ask whether Jones was something that no longer fit into the modern film landscape - but then the Mouse brought Lucasfilm and rumours about another caper grew stronger. Disney has always had a strong connection to Lucasfilm properties, with both 'Star Wars' and 'Indiana Jones' having a strong push in the theme parks, so it was kind of inevitable that something new would come out of this world, but it was more of a question of how. Rumours filled the interwebs of whether Harrison Ford would crack the whip again or if it would be recast/rebooted, but it was finally reviled that the fifth film in the franchise would be the last.

'Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny' starts with a flashback to an event set in between 'The Last Crusade' and 'Crystal Skull', where Indiana Jones (Ford, 'Star Wars' franchise, 'Blade Runner 2049') helps friend Basil Shaw (Toby Jones, 'Empire of Light', 'Christopher Robin') recover a mysterious dial from the Nazis on a train lead by Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen, 'Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore', 'Another Round'). 25 years later, the United States government has recruited those Nazis, who are undercover, to beat the Soviet Union into space. Indiana runs into Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge, TV's 'Fleabag', 'Solo: A Star Wars Story'), Basil's daughter and Indy's goddaughter, who is researching the dial and wants information about it. Little does she know that she is also being tracked by the Nazis, who want it. Now Indy is forced back into to the world of archaeology and sets out to find the rest of the pieces of the dial before the Nazis do.

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For all its problems, 'Crystal Skull' still felt like an 'Indiana Jones' adventure - a bad one, but still had the energy and atmosphere of those previous titles. 'Dial of Destiny' feels like the skin of those films - the parts are there for a great adventure but it never comes together. Ford feels so tired in the role and simply feels like himself, Jones' quips are missing and all this wears the film down. While aliens are still the wildest thing this franchise has done, the direction in this third act had the audience sighing. A lot of this film felt unnatural for Jones to be in, and the third act is a prime example of this. This leads to the run time - at 154 minutes, which bulldozes the franchise's previous longest run time, 'The Last Crusade' which came in at 128 minutes. The run time drags, more than Hollywood does with constantly dragging Ford out of retirement to star in nostalgic sequels (when will get the epic final chapter to 'Working Girl'?). Every action sequence is incredibly long and so uncreative; this is a generic action blockbuster with an 'Indiana Jones' sticker over the front. The CGI toggles back and forth between being good and bad. The de-aging in the opening is a prime example - they were smart setting it at night time but it still feels so unsettling. There is yet to be a convincing use of this effect, it's always a weird uncanny valley feeling. For me the green screen in the car chase sequence was the worst - it always looked just like that.

One very surprising thing is the absolute lack of fan service. Like many, I am tired of forced fan service and the nostalgia trend we are currently living in, but being the final chapter for a more than 30-year franchise it really lacks any connection to any of those adventures. Outside of Indy, only two characters from previous films make an appearance (one is in marketing, and one is the most obvious choice to return) and I'm not saying it had to be cameo on cameo, but for his final romp, wouldn't it make sense for him to meet up with old friends? Which, quickly, makes Renaldo (Antonio Banderas, 'Puss in Boots: The Last Wish', 'Uncharted') an even weirder character because he is meant to be an old friend but this is our first time meeting him and thus have no connection to him. Just as he is introduced, his scene is over and feels so pointless for this to be a new face, but I guess they can add another floating head to the poster. Even the brief scene where Indy reflects on what has happened to Mutt feels so emotionless and is only there so fans don't ask questions, as opposed to the character talking about his literal son. Even the callbacks, like the eels sequence with Indy calling them "snakes of the sea", feels weak and is more likely to make fans groan rather than cheer.

It's promoted as an epic cinematic farewell, but we are left with a film that feels like it doesn't care about that legacy, nor does it want to be a part of it.

It's promoted as an epic cinematic farewell, but we are left with a film that feels like it doesn't care about that legacy, nor does it want to be a part of it. It's here to create new relevancy so Disney can get a few more years out of the brand in its theme park and merchandise sales before mostly being bulldozed for some bland Marvel overlay. It alienates (pun intended) hardcore fans by being so modern and bland that it feels removed from the four films before, and uninteresting to newcomers, unlike 'Top Gun: Maverick' which so perfectly nailed both and what this film is desperately trying to be this year's version of, because to the younger generation this is an "older dad" franchise, and the newest entry doesn't try to engage anyone that isn't already a fan.

The new characters I'm sure are all meant to get Disney+ series that will be pulled or run for one failed season. Helena Shaw is easily the focal point for me - I love Waller-Bridge (insert joke about her two big blockbusters both being linked to Ford's most iconic characters) and I was really excited to see her in a blockbuster but - and this hurts me to say - she was annoying. Her quips don't land, and she's meant to be this sly con artist but it just doesn't work. It's clear they want her to take over the mantle in some sense, but as presented here I don't want more time with this character. Shortr... I mean Teddy (Ethann Isidore, in his film debut) is just that - he's trying to recapture the magic of that character from 'Temple of Doom', and it never doesn't feel like that. The villains are fine, but they never really stand out as iconic foes in this series.

Finally, this is the only film to both not be directed by Spielberg nor written by Lucas. Instead, they both serve as executive producers. While James Mangold ('Logan') is not a bad director, but stepping into this world created by two of the industry's titans is no easy feat and he never rises to that challenge. The takeaway is not that Spielberg or Lucas should have been more involved - they tried a modern Indy in 2008 and it didn't land; this venture only illustrates that this isn't a franchise that works nor needs to be brought into the modern cinema landscape.

As a movie, 'Dial of Destiny' is not bad, it's subpar but when you overlay the 'Indiana Jones' branding it fails. This is not a fitting farewell to one of cinema's most iconic characters, with the action as forgettable as the journey. Even 'Crystal Skull' at least ended with a happy conclusion for this character, while 'Dial of Destiny' doesn't even come close to an emotionally satisfying ending. This is a nostalgic sequel that should be locked away in a tomb, never to be uncovered.

Weirdly before the Lucasfilm logo we get a freeze frame of the Disney one. This has never been done in any Marvel or Lucasfilm property before. Even the first Lucasfilm film Disney distributed after the acquisition, 'The Force Awakens' - I mean, the forgotten animated film 'Strange Magic' didn't do this. I guess it just further proves this film is about having an intellectual property, not to close out a 30-year franchise.

Looking for more Sydney Film Festival reviews? Click here to check out our collection of this year's highlights.
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