First, an honest admission – Indiana Jones is the first movie franchise I fell in love with. Harrison Ford, a nerdy professor-archaeologist who can also wield a whip with panache, was my kind of superhero. Though none of the subsequent three films matched the inventiveness and creativity of the first (Amrish Puri scowling in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was admittedly low), Ford’s supersized charisma and his ability to infuse a touch of vulnerability into Indy’s super-strength powered the movies. And now, here we are, forty-two years after Raiders of the Lost Ark, saying goodbye – at least to Harrison Ford as Indy. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is the last time he will play the iconic role.
This is the first film in the series to not be directed by Steven Spielberg. James Mangold is an artist capable of running with the baton. Logan, his 2017 Wolverine entry, is arguably one of the finest superhero movies made. In my review, I had described Logan as desolate and deeply satisfying. Sadly, Dial of Destiny is quite the opposite. The film begins with a rousing action sequence. It’s thrilling to watch a de-aged Ford battle new Nazis for a new artefact (the backdrop is the tail end of World War II). The action then fast forwards to the Space Race in 1969. Indy is now lonely, retired and perpetually annoyed. But then his feisty goddaughter Helena arrives and he soon finds himself accused of murder and on the run.
Mangold and his co-screenwriters Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth and David Koepp set up the adventure well but then suddenly, the bounce leaks out of the narrative. And the plot becomes a series of routine chases in locations across the globe, scenes sodden with déjà vu (the ones with insects and eels – remember how Indy hates snakes – felt especially stale) and leaden banter between the characters. The usually terrific Mads Mikkelsen is serviceable as a generic Nazi baddie and even the combined charisma of Phoebe Waller-Bridge as Helena and Ford can’t lift the sagging script.
At the end though, Mangold gives us a scene with such a potent cocktail of nostalgia and tenderness that I was reduced to tears. Watching it, I went back to the time I saw the first film and felt that giddy rush that thrilling entertainment delivers. This film needed so much more of that.