David Jenkins


Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny – first-look review

It’s an improvement on the execrable Crystal Skull, but James Mangold’s exhumation of the Spielberg adventure serial is both tame and unnecessary.

A film about not being able to keep a good Nazi down feels very apposite in the current climate of rabid conservatism, and so that might go some way to justify the existence of a brand new caper involving Nazi-hater in chief, Henry “Indiana” Jones (Harrison Ford).

Unfortunately, what we get is the pantomimic, hubristic, goose-stepping version of the Nazis, as Mads Mikkelsen’s slighted megalomaniacal scientist Jürgen Voller plans to use a time-shifting doohicky built by Archimedes (no less!) to correct the mistakes of Nazi high command and make sure that, this time, the Germans are triumphant in ’45.

Following a strange prologue in which a (poorly) de-aged Ford makes a dashing and destructive escape from capture right at the pivot point of the war, we scoot forward to 1969 and America is celebrating the Moon landings. Our man Voller was brought in to help the Yanks achieve their space race goals, but now his sights are set on retrieving the Dial of Destiny and seeing through his fantastical scheme.

We then have a James Bond-ified riff on the series, as a wispy-haired Jones is re-introduced as an embarrassing washout, a crotchety duffer whose hat is well and truly hung up. Will he find his moxie once more, be roused from his Bourbon-soaked retirement to the path of exciting antiquity reclamation? Enter Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Helena, spunky daughter to Indy’s old pal who, of course, was obsessed with the Dial but never quite got it together to connect all the dots. Shots are fired, ancient artefacts are fought over, cars are chased, quips are quipped, and jolly well off we go.

The film just about gets a passing grade for not going too heavy on the nostalgia-porn fan service. There are a couple of old faces, and a few new ones too, but in true adventure serial fashion, there’s a satisfying focus on the plot and moving things forward as quickly as possible to the next big action set piece.

Unfortunately, much of said action is old hat (pun intended), with the bulk of this strangely peril-free offering playing like a refried compendium of golden moments from Spielberg’s original trilogy. There are big National Treasure vibes too, so take from that what you will. It’s hard to muster the same sense of stultified awe and nerve-shredding tension when Indy and Helena are down in a tomb searching for clues as to how they overcome the next obstacle in front of them, particularly when we’ve seen this scene play out so many times before.

After a shaky start, Waller-Bridge finds her feet to become Indy’s first female help-meet with any real agency (sorry Marion!), and her energetic presence means we don’t have to see too many scenes of Ford’s body double being flung about the place. Yet the film never manages to emulate those skin-tingling moments of yore, settling for a serviceable and safe runaround where the stakes are not so much high or low as completely ridiculous.

Maybe there will be more of these with different actors, and bad ideas like this are hard currency in Hollywood. But definitely feels like the time to take the iconic hat and whip, load them into an anonymous crate and dump them into the archive at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Published 19 May 2023

Tags: George Lucas Harrison Ford Indiana Jones James Mangold Phoebe Waller-Bridge Steven Spielberg

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