–Arts and letters for the modern age–

Cathode Ray Zone

–Arts and Letters for the Modern Age–

Destiny Dials Faint Originality

by | Jun 20, 2023

Non-stop bustle provides the new Indiana Jones film a swift kick in the knapsack. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny remains just as presumptuous as its elongated title. Dial of Destiny the longest film yet in the saga of the archeologist cum world-weary adventurer. 

The best thing about Dial of Destiny is a calibrated flow to the action that makes the experience an easy sit as opposed to an endurance test. The main attraction really is the fact that the film was made.

Pay no attention to reports of Harrison Ford’s Indy as a character study of a fallen hero. If you want to see Ford act, watch Regarding Henry or Random Hearts.

Director James Mangold, taking the reins from Steven Spielberg, has proven his mastery of genre filmmaking from indie drama to westerns to franchise fodder like Logan. A prime example of a perfect parody of the action thriller is Knight and Day, while Mangold’s terror flick Identity has better chops than anything currently posing as elevated horror.

Unfortunately, Dial of Destiny unwinds like a series of grandiose set pieces in search of a truly astounding moment. Indy himself seems like a character that stumbled from a novel by H. Rider Haggard, a 19th century author credited with the lost city adventure genre.

Dial of Destiny starts by subverting the age of the lead actor with the best cinematic example to date of de-ageing. The rubber-factor so pronounced in initial attempts of the effect in the Tron reboot (Jeff Bridges looking like he’s wearing a mask of Jeff Bridges) or The Irishmen (Scorsese should’ve used younger look-alike actors) never crops up. It’s kind of scary; Ford looks like the scenes are outtakes of Raiders.

At its best, Dial of Destiny allows character traits to evolve while the protagonists are going through heroic motions. Not surprisingly, the freshest face and coolest performance comes from English actress Phoebe Waller-Bridge playing Indy’s goddaughter Helena Shaw, a.k.a. Wombat. Incidentally, a flashback with young Wombat has a teen performer with a birthmark on her forehead.

Waller-Bridge displays a mercurial ability to shift the focus away from Indy to herself, although her motives aren’t always altruistic. Her father and Indy’s one-time assistant Toby Jones trained her well in the arts of deception. 

Since Dial of Destiny is the fifth Indiana Jones movie it’s easy to compare it with previous versions. It’s hard to say if just layering the mannerisms of the early films with a new background really counts as inventive storytelling.

You know how Emerson, Lake & Palmer had “From the Beginning” as their go-to Top 40 hit and then on a subsequent record recorded the identical sounding “Still You Turn Me On”? That’s Dial of Destiny in a nutshell.

Some Spoilers, Some Rubs

Dial of Destiny makes an incredible leap of narrative faith with a time travel subplot that has Indy and his team (Ethann Isidore in his debut performance as a kind of new millennium Short Round, and feisty Waller-Bridge) using a device invented by Greek mathematician Archimedes of Syracuse to go back to the past.

The fourth Indiana Jones film film, Crystal Skull, will still be the least interesting of the quintet as Third Century BCE gets the big screen treatment in Dial of Destiny. Despite coming off like an above average episode of The Time Tunnel, the combination of whip and wit matches steel blades and catapults. 

There’s a tendency to recycle past tropes into movie reboots. The most egregious example is the recent Ghostbusters reboot. The new characters were perfectly integrated into the altered vision of the product and then they whipped out the original remaining Ghostbusters. Only all the gags were riffing on the same jokes they’d used in the 1984 original to receding laughs.

Same thing here with Karen Allen popping up in the third act and seamlessly sabotaging the easy-going vibe of the film. Why Allen and not also Shia LaBeouf? Indy’s son is dispatched verbally with some extemporaneous dialogue. Allen seems like she’s about to do for the film what Waller-Bridge had done earlier, elevate the story to another level. But that doesn’t happen.

When Dial of Destiny resorts to an exact replay of a Raiders sequence with the same lines, the audience lets out a breath of exasperation. Just because we’re gullible fans of a franchise on its last crusade is no reason to insult our collective intelligence.  

In the final analysis, Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull, despite being the low ebb of the formula, contains what is hands-down the best moment in the entire series.

Jones finds himself in an Atomic Village on the verge of a nuclear test. Jones scrambles as he has seconds to get into a lead sealed refrigerator to avoid the radiation of the blast.

The sequence is the second time Spielberg imagined an atomic bomb, the first being Empire of the Sun.

The blast evolves in progressive waves of destruction that blows our hero sky high miles away safely from the atomic cloud in the distance. A groundhog pops up from the desert sand and greets the shaken and stirred Indy. I’m pretty sure this was the same groundhog from Caddyshack.

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny opens wide on June 30.