The Indiana Jones films have given us moments of movie magic right from their very beginnings. Ever since Indy outran a rolling boulder in Raiders of the Lost Ark, there’s been pressure for these movies to grab audiences with their opening sequences. The fifth and final film, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, has the franchise’s most daunting task of bringing back the 1989-era Indy in its opening moments. The rest of the film feels largely like the early reveal of digitally de-aged star Harrison Ford — a clunky, awkward return of a relic that still makes you wish Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade made good on its title.
As in Last Crusade, Nazis are the bad guys this time around, still trying to take power amid the hippie anti-war movement of the late 1960s. (Hell, there are still Nazis spreading hate today.)
A TLDR plot summary: Indy joins his goddaughter, Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), on a quest to keep a Nazi scientist (Mads Mikkelsen) from using the titular artifact to steer the course of history back toward evil. (This could be an effective metaphor for “Make America Great Again,” but this film isn’t aiming to be that provocative.)
The themes of time and mortality recall Last Crusade. But once you remember that film features two icons (Sean Connery and Ford) as a father and son seeking eternal life through the Holy Grail, you wonder why Dial even exists. How can anyone top James Bond saving Indiana Jones from the deadly pursuit of immortality? Why do we need the final chapter to focus on Indy and his … estranged goddaughter?
While Helena occasionally questions Indy’s stubborn refusal to give up on dangerous adventures in his old age, the film doesn’t come close to exploring the vulnerability of seemingly invincible heroes as powerfully as Last Crusade or even co-writer / director James Mangold’s own Logan.
With Logan, both Mangold and 20th Century Fox took a big risk by producing a hard-R character study of X-Men’s Wolverine, showing the scars beneath his claws. Indy isn’t meant for hard-R territory, but a series this beloved should have a bold conclusion. It should end with a bang, ripping its heart out and handing it to the audience as a gift. And that’s what Last Crusade did.
The only person involved in this film with their heart on their sleeve is Ford. His teary-eyed goodbye to the role of his lifetime feels genuine. Unfortunately, the movie surrounding him feels like a cash grab handled as sloppily as Helena’s secret, seedy auctions of ancient artifacts.
Frankly, Dial gives off the safe, sterile stink of its distributor, Disney, reeling in audiences with hurried, herky-jerky CGI and clumsy embraces of nostalgia. Near the end, a legacy character asks if Indy is back. Sure, he’s back, but with the cold, dead eyes of computer-generated capitalism. (Digital de-aging can look good … for a second. Then, the characters look like puppets when they talk, and it’s all aboard The Polar Express!)
Like so many other summer releases in recent memory, Dial feels like a product akin to junk food — shoddily produced but made to be filling. (At two-and-a-half hours, it leaves you feeling bloated.) Even with such a generous runtime, the film fails to deliver memorable action setpieces. They’re murky messes of CGI. Come on! Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom has real alligators! Last Crusade has a chase through a real train carrying real circus animals. Hell, even the “nuke the fridge” moment in 2008’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is more vivid, imaginative and fun than anything in Dial.
Back in the 1980s, when the first three Indy films came out, many summer blockbusters emerged as instant classics brimming with pure movie magic. And they captured people’s imaginations with original ideas. (Sure, Indiana Jones was modeled after the square-jawed daredevils of movie serials and pulp magazines, but this now-legendary character had never been seen before Raiders.)
Forty or 50 years ago, summer blockbusters didn’t just hit the spot at that time of year; they went on to stand tall as the greatest movies of all time. Hell, Indiana Jones helmer Steven Spielberg is the father of the modern blockbuster.
This is all to say that the high expectations for this film are warranted, and audiences deserve better. The first three Indiana Jones films belong in a museum. Unfortunately, this last one belongs in the megaplex, alongside all the other forgettable dreck.