The mixed reception coming out of the Cannes premiere has given way to more critics around the world also being tepid about Indy’s fifth and final adventure.
After three classic films in the ’80s (let’s avoid the problematic elements of “Temple of Doom”), Paramount and Lucasfilm dipped back into the honey pot for 2008’s “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.”
Many folks agree that it’s the worst one — it was unnecessary to make a fourth film in the series. But capitalism never ends, and they dragged Harrison Ford back onto the sound stage to do another action movie. The man turns 81 in a few weeks, we would have left him alone, but apparently he wanted to do a sequel (or wanted the money from one).
“The Dial of Destiny” is the first film in the series not directed by Steven Spielberg, this time it’s being helmed by director James Mangold (“Ford v Ferrari,” “Logan” and others). It stars Harrison Ford, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Antonio Benderas, John Rhys-Davies, Toby Jones, Boyd Holbrook and Mads Mikkelsen. It opens in theaters on June 30, 2023. Here’s what the critics have to say about Indy’s fifth and final(?) adventure.
In 1944, archaeologist Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) retrieves one half of the Antikythera, an ancient dial built by Archimedes, from the hands of Nazi scientist Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen). In 1969, Indy’s goddaughter Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) teams up with the adventurer to track the other half down — and potentially change history forever.
The first time without Spielberg feels weird
It’s the first Indiana Jones film not to be directed by Steven Spielberg — James Mangold is now at the helm — but despite that, this one has quite a bit of zip and fun and narrative ingenuity with all its MacGuffiny silliness that the last one (“Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”) really didn’t.
Back to Mangold for a moment: It’s important to note that the failure of his latest movie has much less to do with his talents as a filmmaker than it does with the time at which he’s been asked to apply them. Mangold is as worthy an heir to Spielberg’s crown as anyone working at the studio level today, and the most electric setpieces in “The Dial of Destiny” — all of which are crammed into the opening 45 minutes — display the same charismatic flair and competence behind the camera that helped the vastly underrated likes of “Knight + Day” to punch so high above its weight class. No, the biggest (or at least most evident) difference between Spielberg and Mangold is that one of them would never have allowed himself to make anything this stale, and one of them probably wasn’t given any other choice.
Now 80-years-old, Ford still radiates that unique charisma. It’s a shame, then, that Dial of Destiny doesn’t do right by its heroes: both Ford and Dr. Henry Jones, archaeologist adventurer. The film, the first Indiana movie not directed by Steven Spielberg, shows a little brio here and there, but it sadly stands testament to its own lack. Director James Mangold, tasked with living up to a fearsome legacy, is competent with an action set piece, but displays little of Spielberg’s nimble, inventive physics or of his famous gift for conjuring awe.
This is the Harrison Ford show
Ford is, pretty much, the best thing about James Mangold’s Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, the fifth film in the franchise… and it’s here that Ford — with his current-day face, marked by all the actual living that goes into a life — is at his best, showing the kind of gruff, reluctant tenderness that’s become one of his trademarks. He’s already got the best face money, or technology, can’t buy.
“The Dial of Destiny” at least tosses the series in a new direction, by being the first “Indiana Jones” movie built around the impressive fact of Harrison Ford’s age. He’s 80 now, and a vibrant 80, still handsome and lean, with a scruff of gray hair and a slower, more gravelly voice as well as a combative physicality that now feels more rote than compulsive. After Indy and Basil leap off that train into a river and retrieve the Antikythera (though the other half of it must still be found!), the film cuts to 1969, where Indy himself is now a relic: an old man living in a cruddy New York apartment, waking up to his hippie neighbors blasting “Magical Mystery Tour,” pouring a shot of whiskey into his instant coffee as he glances over his divorce papers.
God bless Phoebe Waller-Bridge
Helena is played by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who has become the go-to option for bringing a bit of smart female power to big franchises lately: working on the script for the last James Bond movie, appearing as a droid in “Solo: A Star Wars Story” and now playing one of those characters who always seem to be trying to figure out if they should be good or bad. (If one of the goals of an action movie is to get an audience to applaud in the middle of the action, Waller-Bridge also gets MVP honors: The first time the Cannes audience broke into spontaneous applause didn’t come until late in the film, and it was in response to something she did.)
The de-aging technology might not convince you
The de-aging mostly goes away after the 20-minute opening sequence, when the action jumps forward to 1969. But, during a screening at the Cannes Film Festival, I found myself mostly wishing that it would just let Harrison Ford be an old man.
Speaking of “fissures in time”, Ford has been digitally de-aged to have the smoother face and thick brown hair he had in “Raiders of The Lost Ark,” but he gives off the uncanny-valley vibe of someone who isn’t quite real. Indeed, this over-long prologue doesn’t just hark back to the train set piece at the start of “The Last Crusade,” it’s reminiscent of Spielberg’s performance-capture “Tintin” cartoon, in that the narrow escapes are theoretically exciting, but are too obviously fake to set the pulse racing.
Part of what dims the enjoyment of this concluding chapter is just how glaringly fake so much of it looks. Ford is digitally — and convincingly — de-aged in an opening sequence that finds him back among the Nazis at the end of World War II. Hitler has already fled to his bunker and Gestapo gold-diggers are preparing for defeat by loading up a plunder train full of priceless antiquities and various stolen loot.
So now for the bad news: both the man and his current movie adventure appear hopelessly trapped inside a video game.
This isn’t the goodbye which Harrison Ford deserves!
The only past that “Dial of Destiny” is interested in plundering is the glory of its predecessors.
Ford brings a rugged, grizzled gravitas to his iconic role, adding credibility to even the most far-fetched fantasy elements and seasoned grit to the screenplay’s sharp (and sometimes not-so-sharp) wisecracks.
Here’s hoping this is goodbye and not au revoir.