5 Jul 2023

Review: Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

From At The Movies, 7:30 pm on 5 July 2023

I can’t say I was more than a lukewarm fan of the Indiana Jones films, despite the undoubted talent of the three leading lights – star Harrison Ford, director Steven Spielberg and producer George Lucas.  

Lucas was clearly the driving force, once again tapping into nostalgia for the old-fashioned kids’ serials of the ‘40s and ‘50s that had inspired the first Star Wars movie.

(L-R): Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) and Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) in Lucasfilm's INDIANA JONES AND THE DIAL OF DESTINY. ©2023 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) and Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) in Lucasfilm's Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. Photo: Lucasfilm Ltd.

Indiana Jones himself was an old-fashioned adventurer, travelling the world in search of famous treasures from comic-book level history.  

Following the Biblical Ark of the Covenant, the treasures of the Crusaders and the rest, now the McGuffin on the menu is a time-travelling dial built by Greek inventor Archimedes.

The first half-hour of the movie features an astonishingly youthful Harrison Ford hunting down the dial before some Nazis get their hands on it.

Ah Nazis! Where would Indiana Jones be without you?

After a seemingly endless series of captures and escapes, Indiana and his buddy Basil Shaw get away with half a dial and go home.  

30 years later Indiana, now a humble history professor, is about to take a grumpy retirement. He flees his farewell party and looks for a pub.

Which is where he meets an old acquaintance, the late Basil Shaw’s daughter – and Indiana’s god-daughter - Helena, played by Phoebe Waller Bridge.

Waller Bridge seems to be Disney’s go-to, trendy actor-stroke-writer these days.

But in fact, the former Fleabag’s script-doctoring services on The Dial of Destiny may not have been needed. The script-writing team was already pretty high-powered. 

Jez Butterworth is one of the most acclaimed writers on the English stage, and he and his brother John-Henry are no slouches in the movie field either – Edge of Tomorrow, Get on Up and others.

And co-writer David Koepp has kicked off more franchises than most – including the first Jurassic Park, Spiderman and Mission Impossible. 

Which makes us wonder why is Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny a bit of a chore?

It certainly misses the services of both Lucas and Spielberg, who are only semi-present as executive producers.  

Ford makes up for it to some extent - either de-aged at huge expense, or playing something like his actual age. And his curmudgeonly charm certainly won over the fans at Cannes this year.

But winning over aging, sentimental film-buffs is one thing. 

Winning over the younger multiplex crowd is something else again, and already blockbuster fans are howling in protest at what’s been done to their Indiana Jones.

Well, I say “their” Indiana.  Most of the people shaking their fists at the new, woke Jones weren’t actually born when the original Raiders of the Lost Ark came out in 1981.  

And it’s hard to know what they mean by “woke” in this case, other than perhaps it’s got a woman in it, and 80-year-old Indiana himself is a little slower on his feet than he used to be.   Well duh, if they don’t mind me stooping to their level.

I can’t say I go along with the argument “Indiana Jones isn’t as good as it used to be”. 

Frankly he never was, unless you were a hyper-active 11-year-old back in 1981, when all you wanted was non-stop action and a bare minimum of characterization and plot getting in the way of hurtling rocks and runaway trains.

This has got all that and more, including good use of the words “water-displacement” and “eureka!”

But what caused me, and I suspect quite a few audience members to drift off occasionally, was that it’s not only Ford who’s getting on a bit. 

So is the whole idea of Dick Daring chasing Nazis, rescuing damsels in distress and stocking museums with stolen artefacts. The problem with this film isn’t that it’s woke. It’s that it’s often half asleep.

Get the RNZ app

for easy access to all your favourite programmes

Subscribe to At The Movies

Podcast (MP3) Oggcast (Vorbis)