SYNOPSIS: Daredevil archaeologist Indiana Jones races against time to retrieve a legendary dial that can change the course of history. Accompanied by his goddaughter, he soon finds himself squaring off against Jürgen Voller, a former Nazi who works for NASA.
Indiana Jones was bound to return to the big screen at some point. It’s been fifteen years since his last appearance, the existence of which undoubtedly spurred that of the new one, as a majority of fans simply weren’t satisfied with 2008’s “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”. That film has been criticized over and over for its treatment of the titular adventurer, as well as for the fact that it features rough CGI abound, from monkeys and giant ants to literal aliens. That ending just didn’t do it for the die-hards, even in spite of the critics’ consensus being generally positive. So, is “Dial of Destiny” a more fitting end for the character? I’d say so, although unfortunately, just barely.
“Crystal Skull” lacked many things, but the one thing that it’ll always have going for it is the one and only Steven Spielberg. Even at its lowest, that film always found a way to maintain the spirit of Indiana Jones. Fun camera work, consistently engaging cinematography, and rousing, frenetic action set-pieces; that’s the recipe, and above all else, “Crystal Skull” has that. Even if “Dial” is better all around, it’s painfully lacking in this department. James Mangold is directing this time around, and it isn’t that he isn’t good enough, as Mangold has made a few incredible films in his career. He impresses on occasion in this one too, to be sure. But even his best work in this film doesn’t rival any of Spielberg’s. That isn’t to say that there isn’t any fun to be had, two or three sequences are actually pretty compelling, but Indiana Jones is probably the one franchise where being good just isn’t good enough.
The best of “Dial” is on the page, where the film takes a real hard look at Indiana Jones as a character and puts forth a few impressive narrative concepts, as well as one specifically sharp example of layered screenwriting. The latter refers to a revelation late in the film as it builds towards the climax; it’s one of those “Eureka” moments that reminds you that you’re watching an Indiana Jones movie. That old-fashioned shock and awe served as a conduit to a wild third act, which used that big moment to catapult and really commit to the idea. “Dial” feels like it wants a foot in both camps as it tries to be both familiar and fresh, but one of the best things about the original trilogy of Indy films is that there is nothing familiar about them, even now. Each are one of a kind, and as a trilogy, they continue to define action adventure cinema to this day. Mangold proves in the best moments of this film that he has what it takes to make something fresh, but the constant commitment to the familiar results in a movie without a consistent identity.
In the long run, this will probably go down as a question mark for Mangold in the eyes of many, all things considered. If he’d only catered it to his style and let loose, we could’ve had a very different, perhaps uniquely special, Indy flick. Still, he ensures that Indy gets a shining moment in his last adventure, and again, his journey as a character here is admirable. The film really grapples with Indy’s age, which both Mangold and Harrison Ford made a point to do going in. There are many moments where Indy just isn’t the same, and it hurts, but it only makes sense. Harrison (and Indy) are 80 years old, which not only makes the physicality of his performance remarkable, but it makes the contemplative conversations and looks of adventurous longing hit that much harder. That makes for easily the most refreshing thing about “Dial”: it’s a franchise blockbuster that cares about more than simply entertaining, it has a job to do. It doesn’t get full marks, but an A for effort is better than nothing.
“Dial of Destiny” is definitely worth seeing for Indiana Jones fans, regardless of its shortcomings. The opening flashback and final goodbye serve as a nostalgic taste of the old films and a proper send-off, respectively. A mixed-bag with a rusty silver lining, the film is both disappointing and relieving. Indy has officially retired, and no matter where this one lands years down the line, it doesn’t change the fact that Harrison Ford’s swashbuckling, whipping-and-running archaeologist is still the ultimate action hero, and you can rest easy knowing that he has a happy, sensible ending.