Cannes 2023 Review: INDIANA JONES AND THE DIAL OF DESTINY, Indy's Final Adventure
Directed by James Mangold, Harrison Ford reprises his iconic role for the fifth and last time in the long running fan favorite film series.
Sometimes you buy the best ingredients to make a meal -- expensive wine, carefully selected cheese, well-sourced meat, exotic spices, fresh produce -- and yet the meal turns out edible but unexciting. You wonder, why doesn’t it taste as amazing as the last time? At least you take solace in the fact that you are consuming quality ingredients.
Such might be the experience for most audiences with the fifth and presumably last Indy Adventure, Indiana Jones And The Dial Of Destiny. It feels like the individual parts are all there, everything you expect from a great Indiana Jones movie, but it doesn’t quite congeal into a slam dunk memorable ride.
Every Indiana Jones movie is built around a MacGuffin and this one has a doozy: the Antikythera, Greek for the titular Dial of Destiny, created by third-century B.C.E. Greek mathematician and inventor Archimedes. This device can supposedly predict the future, but can do a lot more, as we soon learn.
The film begins with an extended prologue set during World War II in Nazi territory, where Indy (a de-aged Harrison Ford) is on the hunt for an entirely different MacGuffin -- the Lance of Longinus or the Holy Lance -- the one that supposedly pierced Jesus when he was on the cross. Tagging along for the adventure is his friend Basil Shaw (Toby Jones). After not one, but two massive action set pieces in the first 20 minutes of the movie, Indy and Shaw lose the Lance but do manage to score half of the Antikythera from Nazi officer Voller (Mads Mikkelsen).
Decades later, it is August 13, 1969, and there is a ticker tape parade in New York City to celebrate the astronauts from the Apollo 11 moon landing. The now-deceased Shaw’s grown-up daughter Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) shows up at Indy’s university to ask him for the Antikythera.
Hot on her tail is also Volger who now lives in the US under a fake name. Volger and his several goons are soon chasing Indy and Helena not just across New York but Tangier (Morocco), Alexandria (Greece), and Syracuse (Sicily). Yes there is a map-shot showing them moving from one place to another. Indiana Jones And The Dial Of Destiny is then a non-stop series of chases and missions, successful heists, and near-misses as the Antikythera switches hands back and forth from the heroes to the villains and vice versa.
Action junkies will surely get their fix. There is almost constant action throughout the film once the plot gets going. Alongside the requisite car chases and tomb scenes, there are shootouts galore, fistfights, and even underwater and airplane action scenes. Other old favorites include Indy’s reptile phobia with scenes with both insects and eels.
One welcome aspect of having Indiana Jones back on our screens is that, unlike superhero movies that tie themselves in knots regarding killing and morality, Indy is unscrupulously happy to see off a number of bad guys, and the film features a high body count within the PG-13 rating.
One significant departure from previous films comes in the form of the MacGuffin’s function in the plot. A MacGuffin is meant to be just that, an object that characters chase after in a story. What it is and what it does, doesn’t usually matter. Surprisingly, it does in Indiana Jones And The Dial Of Destiny and gives the movie its absolutely bonkers, jaw-dropping climax.
The previous entry in the series, Indiana Jones And The Crystal Skull (2008), infamously spawned the internet phrase “nuke the fridge” after fans felt that the franchise had gone much too far by showing a scene in which Indy escapes a nuclear blast by shutting himself in a lead-lined refrigerator. Wait for the fallout from the finale of this film; it’s so insane, that it is almost genius in a way. The film has to be credited for not being afraid of making a genuine wild swing and taking risks, though mileage may vary with different audiences.
All the demanding stunts on offer would tax even a young lad but Harrison Ford, notwithstanding the on-screen and off-screen jokes about his age, may be the spryest 80-year-old you’ll ever see and appears to be in great shape for his age in an early shirtless scene. Mads Mikkelsen squares up nicely as the main baddie, playing the umpteenth mustache-twirling Nazi villain in the series but his novel motivation and Mikkelsen’s natural charisma make him a good foil for Indy.
What prevents this installment from taking off despite the presence of all these promising ingredients is mostly down to pacing, tone, and vibes. The previous four films in the series come in at an average of two hours while Indiana Jones And The Dial Of Destiny vastly overstays its welcome at over two and a half hours in length. There is absolutely no reason for an Indiana Jones movie to be this long, especially one that has fewer characters than usual and a relatively thin story.
As a consequence, the film has a lugubrious feel and seems to be happening in slow motion. The vibe also isn’t as breezy as you’d imagine and that’s perhaps down to the absence of Steven Spielberg in the director’s chair. Indiana Jones And The Crystal Skull was much maligned on release but had that pacy flair you hope to see in a fun, matinee show.
There’s also the tone, which is a direct result of the central relationship at the heart of the film. Previous films felt like they had another layer, another gear beneath the MacGuffin plot, something else that was at stake that was driving Indy. In Crystal Skull it was the halting reconciliation with old flame Marion and their son. It gave the film a level of feeling apart from the standard issue go-here, steal-that framework.
The main relationship Indy has in Indiana Jones And The Dial Of Destiny is with his goddaughter Helena, and there aren’t any stakes underlying that relationship. We’ve never seen them together before and Helena is portrayed first and foremost as a mercenary, out to make a quick buck. Her partnership with Indy is solely one of convenience, so there isn’t anything to invest in the movie if you are not taken in by the MacGuffin storyline.
Waller-Bridge is good but is playing the role of the hot-shot young rake that we typically see young men play in these kinds of movies. There isn’t anything wrong with her performance, it’s just that we’ve seen this kind of work before and it hasn’t been updated significantly to her personality or talents.
Antonio Banderas provides good support as an ally we haven’t previously seen while John Rhys-Davies makes a welcome return as Sallah in a brief part. Boyd Holbrook is wasted in a straight-up henchman role. It’s shocking to see a leading man star take on a throaway, peripheral role that could have been played by a nameless extra or a stuntman.
The young Ethann Isidore impresses as Waller-Bridge’s sidekick and forms the third leg of the good-guy team besides Indy and Helena. At the end of the last movie, Indy had married Marion (Karen Allen) and accepted Mutt (Shia LaBeouf) as his son. In the interest of chronology, both receive mention but we won’t spoil their whereabouts here.
Per usual, no money has been spared to bring this final installment to the screen, with the budget ballooning to north of $300 million, according to reports. The Indiana Jones movies are period pieces first and foremost and the recreation of the multiple time periods is detailed and impressive, though the CGI isn’t always the best, an issue that plagues several Disney productions.
John Williams is nearly as pivotal to the franchise as Harrison Ford and contributes another rambunctious, busy score. There are several new melodies alongside returning favorites and the music has been mixed in at an appreciable level of volume so that it is not drowned by the sound effects.
Steven Spielberg said “I thought I was the only one who knew how to make one of these” while praising Indiana Jones And The Dial Of Destiny. Turns out that is indeed true, Mangold delivers a robust adventure but it pales in comparison with even Crystal Skull. Even so, it’s hard not to hope that moviegoers will give this latest film a chance, if only to support a more grown-up popcorn blockbuster than your average superhero movie.
Indiana Jones And The Dial Of Destiny premiered at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival and will be released by Disney in North America on June 30.
Do you feel this content is inappropriate or infringes upon your rights? Click here to report it, or see our DMCA policy.