Ancient Indy

‘Dial of Destiny,’ one last ride for Indiana Jones

Tick-tick-tick is the sound that opens and closes the overlong, under-anticipated, mega-budgeted, industrial-strength Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. Time is finally running out on the 42-year-old franchise that has already spawned four blockbuster movies and an expensive but middling two-season, quasi-educational ABC television show later re-edited into 22 feature-length films. We’ve already seen Dr. Henry Jones from ages 8 to 93, with four different actors donning the fedora. Weirdest of all, for the record, was the grumpy geriatric version credited as “Old Indy,” played by George Hall and sporting an eye patch, who apparently spent his retirement fighting with postal workers and assaulting donut mongers—when he wasn’t menacing grade-schoolers and sliding down bannisters.

The alpha and omega of all Indiana Jones variants is ever-cool Harrison Ford, of course, who at age 80 will placate any Indy stans still ruing Hall’s rant-prone senior citizen schtick. Ford has preserved himself so well that he’s technically playing younger, since the film finds the whipper-snapper archaeologist in 1969 New York as an unloved 70-year-old Hunter College professor on the day he retires from teaching. Not so sexy, right? Disney agrees, so through the magic of Hollywood deepfakes and corporate edicts to squeeze more monetary juice out of that golden-goose Spielberg-Lucas IP, the Mouse House also bankrolled a very pricy, very bespoke 30-minute opening set piece and shows a de-aged Ford, in 1944, once again playing Indy in his Nazi-fighting prime.

Directed by: James Mangold
Written by: Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, David Koepp, James Mangold
Starring: Harrison Ford, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Mad Mikkelsen, Toby Jones, John Rhys-Davies, Antonio Banderas
Running time: 154 mins

Does it work? Well enough. Sorta-kinda. It’s the best illusion money can buy, but it still feels like a video-game cut scene. There’s a slight unreality about his face, made worse due to all the rubbery CGI explosion-driven mayhem surrounding him. The whole sequence, set on a loot-laden, heavily armed train barreling towards Berlin, is digital chicanery, unlike the by-necessity practical effects and analog IRL stunts that continue to define and elevate 1981’s O.G. classic Raiders of the Lost Ark. But use your illusion and Dial of Destiny’s WWII-era prologue does conjure a base thrill that’s effectively satisfying if not completely convincing.

There’s also a main story, busy and artifact-filled and fancifully silly like all the other Indy movies. This one involves Archimedes’ Antikythera, an ancient chronometer that predicts fissures in time and bestows—wait for it—unimaginable powers. Of course. “Whoever possesses it won’t be emperor or Fuhrer. He will be God,” says evil Nazi physicist Jürgen Voller (Mad Mikkelsen). Oxford archeology professor and Indy BFF Basil Shaw (Toby Jones) is so obsessed that it spooks both Indy as well as Shaw’s daughter Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), Indy’s goddaughter. Jaded by her father’s erratic behavior but still the keenly intelligent kid of a brilliant historian, Helena grows up to be a shrewd amoral artifacts dealer, auctioning off black-market antiquities to the highest bidder.

Everyone ends up chasing the Antikythera, principally Voller, who’s kept his SS uniform dry cleaned and nicely pressed for the right occasion to resuscitate his white supremacist past and reinstate dreams of a thousand-year Reich. Best line of the film, by the way, is Indy’s reaction to yet another roomful of bad guys. “Too many Nazis,” he deadpans in a sotto voce sigh.

The film’s emotional crux, though, is age. Director and co-writer James Mangold proved his elegiac popcorn-picture chops with the long-faced Wolverine endgame thriller Logan. And here, notably without the creative involvement of either Spielberg or Lucas, the respectful filmmaker oversees a fan-fiction last hurrah that winds down Indy in a way that capitalizes on Ford’s own innate sense of grace.

His performance isn’t necessarily a vanity affair—the first time we see Indy, he’s asleep in a La-Z-Boy while his TV plays H.R. Pufinstuf; then, after a neighbor blares him awake with “Magical Mystery Tour,” he pops up, revealing a trim but decrepit and nearly-nude figure sporting only boxers. He’s at the end of his life, alone, on the cusp of finalizing a divorce from Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), and essentially facing out-of-time irrelevance. He has cramped shoulders, crumbling vertebrae, and screws in his legs. His adventures have finally taken their toll. “You haven’t been forced to drink the blood of Kali,” he quips at one point. He’s tired. Life has worn him down, and nearly worn him out.

That doesn’t mean he still doesn’t get into hair-raising, death-defying conflagrations and mishaps. This is a summer movie, after all, so our Metamucil-fortified—and stuntman-enhanced—action hero still dodges bullets, rides horses through subway tunnels, races Tuk-Tuks down the streets of Tangiers, deep-dives into the Aegean, and parachutes out of airplanes. It’s patently preposterous. But Ford and his innate mix of gravitas, grit, and goofy guile more or less sells it. Even when this venerable tribute to Saturday movie serials ends up feeling more like a crossover episode of Mr. Peabody and Sherman.

The Back-Nine look at one of our favorite heroes is a rare proposition: it’s de facto unflattering to acknowledge that our strong men become frail, not just physically but emotionally. And it almost never happens in popular culture. So it’s a mixed blessing to trot out America’s favorite archeologist adventurer in a movie nobody asked for or expected. The chassis might creak, the design even a little hokey, but the engine driving it is still chugging along—and, on balance, even worth the ride.

 You May Also Like

Stephen Garrett

Stephen Garrett is the former film editor of 'Time Out New York’ and has written about the movie industry for more than 20 years. A Rotten Tomatoes certified reviewer, Garrett is also the founder of Jump Cut, a marketing company that creates trailers and posters for independent, foreign-language, and documentary films.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *