Indiana Jones & The Dial Of Destiny review: a not very fitting farewell

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Harrison Ford takes on the role of Indiana Jones one last time – but our situation has not really improved. Here’s our Dial Of Destiny review.

While the last outing for Indiana Jones under the control of his originators was a wildly oscillating, divisive and borderline incoherent at times affair, James Mangold’s latest – Indiana Jones & The Dial Of Destiny – runs along on rails. As it does so, it never reaches any of the great heights or great lows of the four films produced by the Spielberg/Lucas nexus.

It’s not illegal to be entertained by this film, but it potentially should be when you consider that it is estimated to have cost something north of $250m to make and it struggles to come up with anything amounting to an iconic shot or scene. It’s relentlessly… okay – or, worse, continually hits the level of ‘it’ll do’. Yet over its 150 minute plus running time, it simply doesn’t feel enough to justify the massive amounts of effort and talent that’s gone in to making it.

The bloat here is palpable. It’s never more highlighted than by an opening sequence that bears all of the signifiers of the opening to Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade. There’s a flashback to an untold adventure from the past, a train top chase, younger Indiana, that font, yet – despite being three times the length, and with infinitely more CGI employed to expand and amplify the scope of the action – this opening contains little of the same peril, nothing that informs the subsequent action, and absolutely none of the third instalment’s breezy brevity.

It’s a dead end of an intro, which like so much of this film, just seems to be. I mean, it’s nice to see Toby Jones in anything, don’t get me wrong, but that’s about the best I can come up with.

Across its epic runtime, the real adventure story of Indiana Jones & The Dial Of Destiny is its exploration of The Uncanny Valley, which is both extensive and prolonged. From its dimly lit de-aged opening sequence through to the obligatory pixel powered finale, its commitment to the not-quite-real-but-trying-to-be world borders on the perverse. Because if Indiana Jones & The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull taught us one lesson, it’s that part of the charm of Indy’s adventures was the gritty, dusty, sweaty, pseudo-reality of it all.

We want to celebrate the efforts of stuntpeople in the bright sun of the desert, rather than bemoan the fact that the large set piece that kicks off the film is set at night for no other reason that it helps hide the seams of the FX work. Which, let it be noted, is trying to convince us Harrison Ford is mid-30s again, despite the voice being – unmistakably – that of an 80ish-year old guy delivering his lines from an ADR booth.

The augmented reality of it all continues throughout, to the point where you question whether anyone actually went to Morocco or Sicily to shoot anything, or whether it’s just all in the imagination of an animator. Save for a small sequence as we approach the finale, nothing feels like it’s given space or a widescreen vista. There’s no grand scale, no awe, no chance for John Williams to stir us while we look at a shot oscillating in heat haze.

There’s a great film to be made about an action hero that simply can’t cut it any more, but this isn’t it. I say this, because Indiana Jones & The Dial Of Destiny is at its best when Ford looks like he looks now, and is left to reflect on the passing of time. It’s something he does excellently in word and deed, despite being given a sickeningly off-hand narrative hook on which to hang his ennui – and is shown as out of sync with the passing of time.

It’s a flat film. Everything of any real emotional import is carried on the back of characters and work done in the previous films, and for all the world sound they were filled in around the pre-determined set pieces. It’s a situation further exposed by the lack of traction any of the new characters managed to gain in my mind.

For his performance, Harrison Ford deserved better than this. Indiana Jones deserved a better send off than this attempt to hold back the tide of time. Ironically, in its wish to conform to the format this franchise has established, it appears to have forgotten a few key things that made the Original Trilogy what it was. Prime amongst this are the well-established characters; Mads Mikkelsen’s antagonist is horrifically under-developed, while Phoebe Waller-Bridge delivers more, despite being left with the expository legwork.

The sentimentalist in me wanted to love this more than I can manage to commit to this review. Any fan will be moved by parts of this film, but once the nostalgia subsides, there’s precious little to elicit any emotion other than a nagging disappointment in what should have been.

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