Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023)
Directed by James Mangold
Starring Harrison Ford, Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Mads Mikkelsen
If you told me a month ago that I would prefer the new Indiana Jones film to the new Wes Anderson I would have laughed and said, “You don’t know me that well, do you?”
Wes Anderson is an artiste! His ensemble casts are expertly chosen, and his films teach me something about life. A fifth Indian Jones movie is obviously just another Hollywood nostalgic cash grab. At least, that’s what the Internet told me.
It’s hard to achieve Optimum Immersion in 2023. The bad press for Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny started as soon as it premiered May 18 at Cannes. I tried to avoid early headlines and links to terrible looking websites that are strewn with ads, but the disdain for this film has been hard to miss. The disdain is surprising too, given director James Mangold is a master craftsman.
In fact, not too long ago I reluctantly watched Mangold’s 2019 film Ford V Ferrari (about a subject matter I loathe, auto racing) and thoroughly enjoyed it. His pair of X-Men films hold up remarkably well too. The Wolverine (2013) is an underrated gem and Logan (2017) is a great film that served as the best end to Hugh Jackman’s run on the character (yeah, I know, Deadpool 3… but still). Instead of basing my opinion on some high-fallutin’ critics from Cannes, I should have trusted my gut instinct, which is that anything James touches turns to ManGOLD.
The action in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is dialed up from the start as we travel back to the end of WWII for a great train sequence. Not even the uncanny valley caused by the digital de-aging of Harrison Ford’s face could ruin it. As soon as we see Ford in the present day, the film starts to really push the limits of action cinema. A parade welcoming home astronauts from the moon landing sets the stage for one of the most seamless action set pieces of the modern age. This scene, and the action sequences that follow, do not feel weighed down by a protagonist in his 70s, either. This is, in part, thanks to Phoebe Waller-Bridge as Jones’ goddaughter, Helena, Boyd Holbrook’s bumbling Klaber, and a host of other actors doing interesting things in interesting ways. Meanwhile, Dr. Voller (Mads Mikkelsen), the film’s antagonist, never feels too mustache-twirly and exudes a suave evil that is a great counterpoint to the now softened Dr. Jones and morally ambiguous Helena.
The film’s third act is so well paced and interesting that it ended before I wanted it to, a rarity for recent films based on re-hashed IP. Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2021), Terminator: Dark Fate (2019) and yes, even the beloved The Batman (2022), all limped their way to stretched out, unenjoyable finales. Mangold does the opposite, giving us our money’s worth of action and nostalgia and leaving us craving more of our beloved archaeologist and central character, Dr. Jones.
It’s always good to leave the audience wanting more, Mr. Manglod. I’m excited about your next film.
If Raiders, Doom, Crusade and Skull were and A, B-, B+ and D then Dial of Destiny is a B