Saturday 1 July 2023

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

Hollywood star Harrison Ford (my late mum's favourite actor and coincidentally the same age as dad) has successfully reprised his iconic roles in Star Wars and Blade Runner. Will it be a hat trick with the man in the hat, Indiana Jones?

Following an infamous premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in May, expectations for the fifth and final instalment in the Indiana Jones franchise were dramatically dialled down.

Nick Smith, our US-based stellar scribe, bravely dials I for Indy... Will adventure answer?

Guest post by Nick Smith

I usually wait until the opening weekend crowds die down before going to see a new movie but just for you guys, I entered a packed theatre and immersed myself in the entertaining, surprisingly thoughtful flick that is Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny!

To the left of me sat a lady dropping food on the floor like she was feeding pigeons in the dark. To the right, a couple of teenage boys were way more interested in their mobile phones than in the film.

Their loss.

The fifth Indiana Jones is one of the best of the bunch, treating its title character with respect, and providing thrills without making it seem like a string of set pieces (see Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade if that’s your bag).

Dial of Destiny is not for little tykes! It has moments of (gasp!) character development and some emotional depth; Indy carries the weight of experience, he’s got an iffy spine, he's been shot nine times and he’s lost loved ones like his father. A couple of scenes give Harrison Ford (Star Wars) a chance to show introspection and remind us why he’s an international treasure.

With Ford in his 80s, looking more like the Golden Idol than a matinee idol, it’s great to see him involved in so many scrapes and stunts throughout the film. Director James Mangold (who brought us Logan, another film about a cranky old bloke) succeeds in making Indy vulnerable, so we genuinely worry about the crumbling character.

As with the previous film in the saga, the pithily titled Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the movie stands or falls on the merits of its supporting cast. While Crystal Skull had Shia LaBeouf (Transformers) to lean on, Dial of Destiny yields a treasure trove of strong actors: Antonio Banderas is a grungy frogman with one good leg; Mads Mikkelsen, the hardest working bad guy in showbiz™, is Indy’s Nazi nemesis Doctor Voller AKA Schmidt; and Toby Jones is Basil Shaw, keeping a long-standing Indiana Jones trope running in the role of a demented father figure.

However, it’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag), playing Shaw’s daughter Helena, who really holds the film together and carries much of the heavy stunt work on her shoulders. She does it with exquisite confidence.

Raiders of the Lost Ark was a superlative template for action movies in the ‘80s onwards, balancing violence, tension, horror, humour and romance with confidence only a hungry young George Lucas (Star Wars) and Steven Spielberg (Jaws) could have. It’s been a hard act to follow, as we’ve seen from the sequels. But Dial of Destiny manages to recapture that balance and strives for the sense of wonder engendered by Indy’s original quest for the Ark of the Covenant.

Raiders also benefited from its use of practical effects, which made the adventure seem all the more real. I was worried about CGI after seeing a sea of plastic people in The Flash movie. Animation can’t approximate the tics and pocks of a real human face, but there’s nothing too jarring here. I cared about the characters and I had tears in my eyes by the end, although I wasn’t about to blub beside the teen moby zombies or the lady who brought Tupperware (?) [sounds like something out of Eerie, Indiana - Ed].

All movie directors are under pressure, but James Mangold must have felt more than most, taking over from Steven Spielberg to make the last, last Indiana Jones adventure. With such a strong cast and whip-smart writing, he needn’t have worried.

Dial of Destiny is packed with Nazi punching, outlandish set pieces, a sense of awe and character-driven adventures, which all deserve to earn this film a place in the history books.

Have you seen Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below.

Nick Smith's new audiobook, Undead on Arrival, is available from Amazon (affiliate link).

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