Fifth instalment to feature Harrison Ford is a distant echo of what the franchise once was

Indiana Jones And The Dial Of Destiny

Source: Cannes International Film Festival

‘Indiana Jones And The Dial Of Destiny’

Dir: James Mangold. US. 2023. 154mins

The Indiana Jones pictures were always about more than just spectacle — they had a deep sense of fun, a quality sorely missing from this fifth instalment. Indiana Jones And The Dial Of Destiny is a sluggish sequel that in fits and starts recaptures the playful derring-do of the previous chapters, but director James Mangold, taking the reins from Steven Spielberg, never delivers the rollicking adventure that franchise fans have come to expect. At the age of 80, Harrison Ford continues to carry the title role with gruff swagger, but whether it’s the uninspired set pieces or the disappointing supporting characters, Dial Of Destiny feels like an antique trying to stay relevant in the world of modern blockbuster cinema.

An antique trying to stay relevant in the world of modern blockbuster cinema

This is the first film in the series since 2008’s Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull, which, like Dial Of Destiny, premiered at Cannes. Disney releases the picture in the UK and US on June 30, and although it also features Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Mads Mikkelsen, neither will be as big a draw as Ford, back in his trademark fedora.

After an opening action sequence that’s a flashback to the fall of Hitler, the story moves to 1969, when an ageing Indiana Jones (Ford) is retiring from teaching, his days of excitement and adventure seemingly long behind him. He has very little in his life — his beloved Marion (Karen Allen) is divorcing him - when his estranged god-daughter Helena (Waller-Bridge), an aspiring archaeologist herself, contacts him, explaining that she wants to locate The Antikythera, an ancient device concocted by Archimedes that was believed could exploit ripples in time. However, she’s not the only one looking for this mysterious dial: a Nazi named Voller (Mikkelsen) wants it for nefarious purposes.

In his best pictures, like the 2007 remake of 3:10 To Yuma, Mangold is a sturdy craftsman who can confidently execute genres, but Dial Of Destiny proves too workmanlike to be an escapist delight. While Mangold’s film replicates many of the tropes of previous Indiana Jones instalments — and original composer John Williams contributes a score that reprises memorable themes — it’s missing their boyish spirit.

Occasionally, Dial Of Destiny seems to acknowledge this lack of youthful exuberance by portraying Jones as slowed by time and regret. Some expert de-aging is utilised on Ford in the opening sequence, which contrasts sharply with the senior citizen we encounter in 1969, who is not nearly as nimble. Nevertheless, the film insists on putting Jones through spectacularly overblown action scenes that are both inferior to the ones from the original trilogy and sabotaged by incessant CGI. As an action hero, Ford always shone because of his rugged, urgent authenticity, but the new film strips that physicality and immediacy away, turning Jones into a drab special effect. (One scene in particular, involving him riding a horse through a subway, is ludicrous, even more so because the moment feels joyless.)

Playing the snarky goddaughter who lives by her wits, Waller-Bridge is little more than the latest foil for Jones to yell at during action scenes. She brings her trademark droll wit, but the Fleabag star doesn’t have much of a rapport with Jones in large part because the screenplay — credited to four writers, including Mangold — doesn’t substantially develop their relationship so that we feel the bond they once shared. Instead, the characters bicker in unamusing ways before experiencing enough peril that they realise they care about each other.

Mikkelsen is dutifully fiendish portraying Voller, the latest Nazi to bedevil our hero, but he’s not especially memorable. And the all-mighty dial everyone is chasing lacks the mystique that The Ark Of The Covenant or The Holy Grail possessed. When we eventually find out what The Antikythera can do, Dial Of Destiny builds to a finale that’s meant to be stirring but ends up rather silly — again, without the sly pleasure that made this series such an unpretentious, indomitable blast. 

To be sure, there’s an undeniable poignancy to seeing Indiana Jones, weathered but still formidable, again up there on the screen, especially during one final scene that touchingly references a lovely moment from Raiders Of The Lost Ark. But every time Williams’ indelible theme music starts, it feels like a distant echo of what once was. This iconic archaeologist has spent his life digging for the treasures of the past — sadly, Dial Of Destiny does the same thing, pillaging our collective fond memories of a once-great franchise.

Production company: Lucasfilm Ltd

Worldwide distribution: Disney

Producers: Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall, Simon Emanuel 

Screenplay: Jez Butterworth & John-Henry Butterworth and David Koepp and James Mangold, based on characters created by George Lucas and Philip Kaufman 

Cinematography: Phedon Papamichael

Production design: Adam Stockhausen

Editing: Michael McCusker, Andrew Buckland, Dirk Westervelt

Music: John Williams

Main cast: Harrison Ford, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Antonio Banderas, John Rhys-Davies, Toby Jones, Boyd Holbrook, Ethann Isidore, Mads Mikkelsen