The Summer 2023 movie season started with a lot of surprises. I enjoyed The Little Mermaid way more than I thought I would. Fast X was entertaining with Jason Momoa’s performance. Guardians vol 3 was better than its predecessor. However, since then with the exception of Across the Spider-verse and Joyride I’ve seen nothing but a bunch of meh movies. A few I’ve gone smile-worthy on like The Flash or Transformers: Rise of the Beasts but just barely so. Now unfortunately we have another mixed entry to add to this summer of mehness- it’s Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. It’s another film that’s not bad. You can go and have a decent time with some of the action and spectacle but much of it feels as tired as its beleaguered lead character.
Dial of Destiny is the first in this series to not be directed by Steven Spielberg. James Mangold takes the helm here and I’m mixed on his work. There are some impressive sequences particularly the opening act on a train. Some will complain about a de-aged Harrison Ford, but I personally thought it looked incredible. I suppose your mileage with the technology will vary. Still especially with the John Williams theme it’s a great sequence.
Then our embattled professor gets involved in the main part of the story when his god-daughter Helena shows up looking for an ancient dial of destiny from Archimedes. Mads Mikkelsen and Boyd Holbrook play serviceable Nazis and antagonist to Dr Jones but Antonio Banderas is completely wasted as his longtime friend.
One problem the film has is it fails to capture a sense of mystery about the dial making most of the action feel more perfunctory than exciting. I particularly was baffled by how much time is spent in car chases and races here. I don’t think of Indiana Jones as a chase heavy franchise (there’s the memorable sequence in Raiders but that feels more one-on-one fighting that happens to be on a vehicle rather than zipping around the city racing each other.)
Even if you like the car chases it can’t be denied that they go on for way too long, and we start to lose our investment as an audience. We are also given a young boy named Teddy (Ethann Isidore) who never really builds much of a bond with Indy (they are separated for a portion) so I’m not really sure why he was needed in the movie except to provide motivation for the plot and to give the villains someone to kidnap.
The previous entry, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Scull, was one of the most disappointing movies of my lifetime with its failed attempt to bring Indy into the 1950s pulp storytelling. This is more successful than that film as far as tone and style but it is less memorable so pick your poison as far as which is worse. Dial of Destiny does get pretty silly, which again your mileage with the choices will vary. I didn’t hate it but it just felt really long, and I was ready for it to be done as the plot kept piling more contrivances for poor Indy to deal with.
In a way it reminds me of the Jurassic World movies- all the iconography and production values of the original film but none of the memorable stories or characters that made them special. It feels like we are checking off boxes rather than making something truly memorable. Sometimes that can work like with Star Wars: The Force Awakens but that had the hope of new characters and what they could mean. This is like they had an Indiana Jones kit and made something vaguely looking and sounding like what we know and love. In the end, it should have been better even though I’m sure many will be entertained by it.
5 out of 10
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