I was surprised and a little shocked when I saw early trailers announcing another chapter in the Indiana Jones saga. It was a mixed reaction. I was delighted that there would be another episode in this legendary franchise, but worried that it might be the last one starring Harrison Ford, considering his age (he turns 81 on July 13).
Was he physically up to the task of starring in one, last, high-octane adventure? Or would it be an embarrassment, doomed from the start? An installment that would end the series on a sour note that would taint the success of all the previous films?
The early reviews were not exactly positive. There were complaints about the overall story as well as less-than-convincing digital effects. No one was calling it the best of the Indiana Jones movies.
And so I went to the preview screening with some low expectations, bracing myself for a certain degree of disappointment. I tried to push all the negativity out of my mind and just enjoy it on its own terms. Being a huge fan of the series, I held my breath.
To its credit, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny held its ground in terms of sheer entertainment. It was watchable, enjoyable and, to a large degree, satisfying to fans of the series, as mentioned, myself included.
While it is not the best film in the series (in my estimation Raiders of the Lost Ark is still at the top of the list) it nevertheless delivered on what we’ve all waited to see.
Once again, the story is about Indy’s pursuit of a mysterious archeological artifact—one with unimaginable supernatural powers. In the past those artifacts included the Ark of the Covenant (Raiders of the Lost Ark) and the chalice from the Last Supper (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade).
This time the object of his quest appears to be the spear that pierced the side of Jesus as he suffered and died on the cross. In truth, it’s been rumored that Hitler, in real life had an interest in tracking it down hoping to harness its mythical powers.
In Dial of Destiny, it is only a red herring, quickly cast aside in the pursuit of something even more tantalizing—a legendary mechanical device supposedly invented by the Greek mathematician Archimedes, capable of identifying fissures in time itself that would make time travel possible.
And so the movie begins in a prolonged flashback sequence in which Indy and his partner Basil Shaw (Toby Jones) infiltrate a Nazi stronghold at the end of World War II. It is a chaotic scene in which the war is coming to an end and the Nazis are plundering both art and artifacts. Indy and Basil are cast into familiar circumstances as they try to outwit the troops, grab the priceless artifact and run for their lives. It is a thrill ride of an opening reel bursting with bombs, gunfire and multiple chases.
Digital technology convincingly de-ages Harrison Ford to his former youthfulness.
He’s the Indiana Jones we knew and loved in Raiders of the Lost Ark, but not for long, because the story jumps ahead to the year 1969 when Indy has become a boring college professor on the verge of retirement. His heroism and acts of valor that saved the world several times over all seem forgotten somehow. Not unlike the fate of the late James Bond who was always being unceremoniously forced out the door in his later years.
Suffice it to say that he is recruited by his goddaughter Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) into going on one last globe-hopping adventure to retrieve the missing pieces of the infamous Dial of Destiny. Ex-Nazis (Indy’s best nemeses) are in hot pursuit.
It’s a pretty thin story line, lacking the twists and turns and cleverness that made the earlier Indiana Jones adventures so much fun to watch. Dial of Destiny goes through the motions, checking off most of the boxes when it comes to the Indiana Jones adventure formula. It cranks up the violence level with a number of brutal shootings.
What’s missing is the romantic element that added some sizzle to the previous films. There’s not getting around Indy’s advanced age. That said, he is in pretty fine shape otherwise able to jump, fall, swim, drive and fight with all the energy of his youth. To his credit, Harrison Ford pulls it off. Credit here to stunt doubles and clever digitizing. He nevertheless remains the Indiana Jones that we know and love. He’s just slowing down a tad.
The overall casting in Dial of Destiny works. In technical terms, it’s what you would expect from a major, high-budget film like this with so much riding on its success and the years of waiting and anticipation on the part of die-hard fans. The movie runs over two and a half hours long, jam packed with action sequences that should spell success. Inexplicably, it never seems to generate the excitement and fun that we were all hoping for.
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is not a bad movie, but it falls short of being a really good movie, which it should have been given the massive fan base of this franchise and the resources and time that Paramount had at their disposal to serve up the big finale that we all were so hyped up to see.
Harrison Ford is worth the price of admission. He is a living treasure—one befitting a more memorable send off that would have capped one of Hollywood’s most beloved movie franchises, something truly spectacular.
Just call me "Indiana Drew!"