blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023, James Mangold)

Dial of Destiny opens with a very long prologue flashback to 1945, setting up Harrison Ford (a CGI-de-aged Ford) having Toby Jones as a best buddy in the forties during the war and running afoul of Nazi scientist Mads Mikkelsen. The flashback’s technically successful; de-aged Ford looks pretty good (the eyes are off, and the expressions are static), but the sequence itself is kind of pointless. It’s ostensibly to start on an action sequence with Ford, but it’s a tolerable action sequence. Director Mangold—the first and presumably last director to pick up Spielberg’s whip for a theatrical Indiana Jones—will do great action sequences later on, but this first one feels like a video game cutscene. And having a computer-generated lead certainly doesn’t do anything to dissuade that feeling.

But once they’ve established Ford and Jones know each other, Jones is obsessed with Archimedes’s Antikythera device, and Mikkelsen is also after the Antikythera, the flashback’s done its work, and it’s time to jump ahead twenty-four years. Ford’s already done the Indiana Jones legacy sequel, which turned canon on its head, and now they’re doing a second legacy sequel, but it’s also basically a legacy sequel (coming fifteen years after that entry). So we’ve got all sorts of first act establishing to do: Ford’s been a settled down college professor for ten years, happily married to Karen Allen for some of them, but after son Shia LeBeouf died off-screen in Vietnam—he enlisted to piss off Ford which fails some basic logic tests if you start doing the math on LaBeouf’s age, but whatever… he’s not back.

Instead, Dial of Destiny introduces Phoebe Waller-Bridge as Jones’s grown-up daughter, who’s also after the Antikythera. After her is Mikkelsen, who spent the post-war being coddled by the U.S. government so he could get them to the moon before the Russians. He’s got a Black woman CIA handler (Shaunette Renée Wilson, who brings more to it than the role deserves), a redneck henchman (Boyd Holbrook, who maybe shouldn’t have trusted Mangold it’d be a good part), and a giant (Olivier Richters) helping him in the quest. Dial pulls no Nazi punches—it’s a Disney movie, after all, and they’re fighting fascists in real-life these days—but it’s fairly tepid with the American race relations. Holbrook really doesn’t like Wilson because she’s Black (and a woman), but he can’t say anything because political correctness. Meanwhile, Mikkelsen isn’t the standard Indiana Jones Nazi… he’s even more invested in the ideology than most. Because Nazis, even removed from the mid-twentieth century, are really dangerous and shouldn’t be ignored or placated.

Waller-Bridge shows up in New York City for Ford’s retirement—which seems to have been decided after they filmed Ford giving a lecture on the morning of the Apollo 11 parade (he’s telling the kids what’s on their final, but he’s apparently leaving right after that class)—and asks for his help with the Antikythera. Only she’s not being super honest, and since it’s 1969, Ford can’t just Google her.

The adventure will take them to North Africa, then the Mediterranean, where they can pick up various sidekicks, and there will be time for cameos from the other movies. Though very limited cameos; the franchise put all its eggs in a LeBeouf-sized basket last time, after all. Waller-Bridge has her own Short Round (spoiler: no cameo from Ke Huy Quan, which is too bad) in Ethann Isidore. And then Ford brings in Antonio Banderas to help just when it seems like there’s no more room for supporting characters.

The film will have some big third act surprises regarding supporting cast introductions, but the second act is where Dial of Destiny’s gears work up their momentum. Turns out Mangold can direct character-paced action scenes (something entirely missing from the opening), and Waller-Bridge and Ford are fun together. Though when it’s them and Isidore trying to beat the Nazis to the treasure, it’s painfully obvious the franchise missed a big opportunity for Indiana Jones Family with Ford, Allen, and, well, LeBeouf, I guess. Thanks to Waller-Bridge, it still works out with Dial’s configuration, but it’d have been nice for the four screenwriters to come up with a less comprised story.

In all, it’s mostly a success. The technicals are all sturdy without being exemplary, with Phedon Papamichael’s photography being the easy standout. John Williams’s score isn’t bad. It isn’t particularly good, but it isn’t bad. Excellent costumes from Joanna Johnston, which compensate for Adam Stockhausen’s surprisingly pedestrian production design. Thank goodness Papamichael’s lighting it.

Once he gets to act the part instead of his CGI counterpart doing it, Ford has some good moments. It’s a rough part, mostly because he’s trying to incorporate so much hackneyed plotting from previous entries. Waller-Bridge is tabula rosa and can zoom past Ford, but she keeps pace with Ford thanks to her timing and Mangold’s direction. He maintains a steady clip at eighty years old (playing seventy), but there aren’t any Indiana Jones endless punch-outs this sequel. No Ben Burtt punches.

Mikkelsen’s great. Isidore’s fine. Banderas is fun. Holbrook’s a good piece of shit? Maybe don’t get typecast. And good little turn from Thomas Kretschmann in the prologue.

Dial of Destiny is too long, too digital, and too trepidatious.

But, otherwise, it’s aces.

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