Nostalgia and retrospection play as big a role as Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, the purported finale to the Indiana Jones film series that’s running in cinemas since Eid-ul-Azha.
A long, but not tiring, segment opens during the Allied liberation of Europe in 1944. A tracking shot, reminiscent of Steven Spielberg — the director of all Indy films, who should have directed this as well — sees the obligatory face-reveal of Indy (Ford), digitally re-aged to his late-forties.
With the uncanny valley of vacant expressions long attributed to computer-generated faces not being as noticeable — yet, despite the advances of technology, still looking fake from time to time — we see that Indy is in the thick of things, as usual, with his go-to villains, the Nazis. In the sequence, he and fellow archaeologist Basil Shaw (Toby Jones) are trying to liberate the holy Lance of Longinus from Nuremberg Castle.
The wild chase ends on a funereal note, as if it were the last of Indy’s World War II era adventures, and we cut to 1969 — an era of aliens for Indy, who can’t seem to fit in with the burgeoning shift of culture. With his adventuring days over, Indy teaches uninterested students until the day of his retirement at Hunter College.
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is the final hurrah for an old adventurer
This is when Helena (Pheobe Waller-Bridge), Basil’s daughter and Indy’s god-daughter whom he calls ‘Wombat’, tracks him down to find the Dial of Destiny’s secret, a relic designed by philosopher and mathematician Archimedes that drove her father insane.
Helena is a smart, shady character, and on their trail are the CIA and the Nazi-turned-Nasa-scientist Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen, excellent as always). Voller believes that the dial can, ahem, “dial back” the Allied power’s victory of World War II (I’m sure you have an idea what the dial’s power is, so I won’t spoil it here). The chases lead to Tangiers and Greece, with returning characters and some new, unexpected additions.
So much of what we see is familiar to the Indiana Jones’ vibe. That’s not a bad thing though. I mean, remember how the last film, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, turned out when it veered away from the Indiana Jones’ feel. With hindsight being 20-20, I’m more forgiving of the film today, so I won’t make the same mistake of shooting down Dial of Destiny — primarily because the film is not that bad an adventure.
Dial of Destiny has been shortchanged by the critics (it holds a 57% average rating at the review-aggregator site Metacritic). That’s a bit unfair, considering that the design of the franchise was to relive the feel of the 1950s’ adventure series that bore similarities with H. Rider Haggard’s literary character Allan Quartermain.
The Indy films are made to be cheesy, far from perfect matinee adventures, that use and re-use genre-specific tropes that stick to form and convention. The combined effort of Spielberg and George Lucas — the co-creators of the franchise (the latter still gets an executive producer credit) — gave birth to a recognisable, proverbial adventure-franchise that became much more than the trademark of a particular character; it reimagined the genre and stamped it as its own. Very few titles, if any, can escape the overwhelming power of that brand — including the films themselves.
James Mangold (Logan, Ford vs. Ferrari) would not have been my pick to direct the Dial of Destiny, but he does a fine enough job as Spielberg’s replacement.
Mangold emulates Spielberg with reverence, using the latter’s style to sustain the feeling of the series. He and his fellow screenwriters, Jez and John-Henry Butterworth and David Koepp, let scenes breathe when they have to, and crank up the adrenaline in the action set-pieces without making them feel awkward and unbecoming of an Indiana Jones film. Also, lest I forget, it looks, feels and moves like a grand Hollywood production, which by itself is a rarity.
Dial of Destiny might seem like the best bits of prior Indy-movies glued together, but it is really not that. While unimaginative, it still ticks the checkboxes without being offensive, with Ford holding the character up despite his stooping physique. I mean: is there any other actor one can imagine pulling this role off quite as well as Ford? I don’t think so (no offense to Young Indiana Jones actor Sean Patrick Flanery).
Waller-Bridge works as Helena too. The real magic is the thrill of the adventure. While it may look familiar, the nostalgia, wearing Indy’s trademark fedora while brandishing his whip, is just what the doctor ordered.
Released by Disney and HKC in Pakistan, Indian Jones and the Dial of Destiny is rated U. The film is playing in cinemas and deserves the price of admission
Published in Dawn, ICON, July 9th, 2023