Let’s just get this out of the way. This review is going to be ALL SPOILERS, so don’t read this unless you’ve already seen the film, don’t plan on watching it, or just want things ruined via critic’s viewpoint.
My fandom of the Indiana Jones films was inevitable. With Trones as a last name I’ve fallen into the “Indy” nickname off and on throughout my life. Hell, I even majored in Archaeology in college, due in no small part to this incredible franchise. I’ve seen them all many times over and can recite every line of dialogue, as can most men over the age of 35.
After the last entry in the saga I was dubious. Indiana Jones being in his 60s was a tough sell but not impossible. Sean Connery was incredible as Henry Jones Sr. and involved in multiple action sequences, so in the right hands the films could still be spectacular.
As many of us know, The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was not spectacular. There were many misfires from casting family to take part in the adventures, to overuse of CGI, to lack of compelling story.
Certainly after the poorest entry of the four films to date, the studio would learn its lesson and really go for it with a new movie that no one asked for, right?
On paper this had the makings of an epic adventure with fresh eyes upon it. Director James Mangold is an incredible talent. Knight and Day, Logan, Ford vs Ferarri, are all beautifully shot with exhilarating sequences. Hand to hand combat action with someone who can do racing vehicle segments? That’s essentially Indiana Jones in a nutshell. Even with Harrison Ford’s advanced years being an action hindrance, there’s always a way to tell a story, again just as was done with Indy’s father in The Last Crusade.
Then I saw the film. From the first frame something was off. Indy was there and young, but he was a cartoon. Younger Indiana Jones was either all CGI with an 80 year old man’s gruff voice, or a stunt double wearing a young, expressionless Harrison Ford mask. Some scenes looked better than others, but the moment the CGI Jones was standing next to a human actor he looked like an unrendered nerf ball. There are multiple flashbacks in the film that use this artistry. All were unnecessary and all took the audience right out of the film.
The first 20 minutes of the film felt like watching a video game cutscene, with little consequence or investment from the audience as we were thrust into the action without knowing any backstory. When we finally arrive in the crappy 1960’s NYC apartment the elderly Indiana Jones lives in, the film became fun again and we were able to plug in.
Old and crusty Indiana was great. No longer on the road and forced into retirement, grumpy Dr. Jones instantly brought us back to what made the franchise endearing through Harrison Ford’s charm.
At this point though things quickly turn south again with a slapdash intro to bad guys, more CGI chases and a heroine that doesn’t bring anything in the way of action or persona. Sorry, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, but neither the script nor the fight scenes allowed you to shine through.
The film sloppily jumps locations from New York to Tangiers to the middle of the Ocean where (surprise!) Antonio Banderas is completely wasted as a character in the few moments of screen time he gets. Unfortunately the last 15 minutes of the film is where it really comes together.
The last half of the final act, at long last finds the Indiana Jones voice and puts us back into a real treasure hunt. This is where the film is fun, fresh, engrossing, and honestly is the best artifact storyline since the Temple of Doom, made forty long years ago.
Between actual time travel, seeing the siege of Syracuse, Archimedes, old tech vs new tech, it was all different and worked seamlessly in the Indiana Jones universe. My only wish was that the hunt for Archimedes tomb was stretched out and fought with more peril and mystery. This part of the film went by too fast and had few obstacles that everyone didn’t overcome with ease. The set pieces were cool, and the setting was different. It sprinted through the best bits.
Even with the cool finales the film was still an overall wide miss. So what happened?
As an avid fan and student of the franchise I can sum it up in a few points. Firstly, the film was missing practical stunts. As a kid I was blown away watching a real person get drug behind a moving cargo truck to climb back in and fight Nazis. Two films later another stuntman jumped off a galloping horse 20 feet onto a Panzer tank below to kick ass. There have always been jaw dropping real life stunts that set this franchise apart in a man vs machine way and bring pulpy adventure to life.
The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull had few action scenes that weren’t heavily enhanced by green screen. The Dial of Destiny had even less. The pressure to make an elderly man seem like he’s in the moment forced Steven Spielberg and James Mangold to shoot in a soundstage and superimpose talent onto backdrops.
It didn’t work in either film. What’s not being said is that no one asked to see an 80 year old man throw a punch or ride a horse. We as the audience only want the great adventure, the epic soundtrack, and some believability. The shark was jumped in 2008 when Indiana Jones rode out an atomic blast in a refrigerator. It’s been all refrigerators ever since. Even the stunt doubles wearing Indiana Jones rubber masks (yes, you can easily see them) are too obvious. Why did the film not lean into an old man not being able to do what he used to do? At no point did anyone in the theater think Indy could still climb a 30 foot cliff face or knock people out with a single punch. Why take us there?
Lastly, the Dial of Destiny was afraid to stand on its own. It tried to pay homage to the other films we love without realizing that we don’t need a greatest hits clip show. Just give us more of what we like. Nazis as the bad guys has been done and overdone now. They didn’t work as a whole but the creepy scientist played by Mads Mikkelsen actually did.
The kid sidekick that was inexplicably thrown in was unnecessary in every way, and even his nod of a backstory being nearly identical to Shortround’s was an eye-roll. The call back scenes with old lines repeated by Sallah and Marion were fun but why? It made the film feel like a euolgy. There was never any real life or death consequence for anyone on screen and no gravitas to the hunt until the last few minutes.
Ultimately the film aside from the last 15 mins is lacking in all things Indiana Jones. Mangold was so afraid to disappoint he played it way too safe and failed. Again, this is a film no one asked for and in hindsight shouldn’t have been made. It’s disappointing to see the franchise end in such a way with these last two films. My only solace is to go watch The Mummy with Brendan Fraser again and realize that people can recreate this pulpy magic in the new era without a fedora and whip. RIP Indy.