Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny has got everything your favorite Indiana Jones movies have. It’s got Indiana Jones, the hat and the whip, a soaring (if overused) John Williams score, a plucky young woman, a kid sidekick, Nazis… and yet the fifth installment of the series seems to lack the magic that even your basic good adventure movies (let alone your Indiana Joneses) have.
The first thing that came to my mind when watching Dial of Destiny was that the movie lacked thrill. The action set pieces were interesting, but only two or three moments throughout the entire movie seemed to possess a real sense of excitement or danger. And those few moments aren’t enough to power a movie that, lacking excitement, ends up feeling pretty dour as it follows an aging detached Indiana Jones as he clashes with his estranged goddaughter Helena (played by Phoebe Waller-Bridge).
This relationship, at least on the surface, is somewhat interesting, but the emotional throughline we’re expecting, between Helena and Indiana Jones, never quite clicks. She tries to pull him back into the world, he chides her for not being more noble, but there’s no scene where that all crystalizes. No moment when they finally argue it out and learn a little from each other. And so, the resolution at the end of the film, once all the Nazis are dead, and everyone's home, ends up feeling slapdash and somewhat cheap.
And the cheapness of the film rings throughout, as if the film wants us to be impressed by this locale, by a glimpse of the famous hat and whip, by a cameo of a beloved actor, by a wild confluence of historic events (sure, Helena finds Indy on the day he's retiring from his job, but it also happens to be Moon Day, AND right before the day when time fissures?). It feels like the filmmakers are sprinkling in what they think might excite people at a glance, which ends up a jumble of stuff that really doesn’t need to be all that complicated.
Other aspects of the film would have benefited from some complexity. The Nazi played by Mads Mikkelsen is a flat, barely menacing, cardboard cutout (such a waste of an actor known for great menace). Boyd Holbrook tries his best in a non-role. But we never get any reason or explanation of why Nazis are terrifying (a topic possibly more important now than ever) or worth stopping. Their uniforms just serve as a blanket excuse to send them to gruesome deaths. And even stranger, the gruesome deaths aren’t left only to the Nazis but to innocent bystanders as well. Those bystander deaths are, bizarrely, treated not much differently than those of the Nazis, with the movie zooming away from bleeding bodies and our protagonists only a little wearier for all the murder in their wake.
But of course, all of that could have been easily ignored if the movie moved at a better pace (there were so many scenes when we needed an extra beat or were given too many extra beats) and had some zing. I wouldn’t have wholly minded having a retread of old stories-- if the movie managed to captured the energy of those old stories. But because it doesn't, we’re simply reminded of better scenes throughout (there's a scene that calls back to a certain famous scene with snakes, and it suffers from the comparison, to say the least).
In that way, I don’t think that Dial of Destiny was doomed from its beginning. The concept of an old Indy, which, though tired due to the sheer amounts of 'blast from the past' sequels we’ve been getting, could’ve worked, especially alongside a younger, more cynical adventurer. But unfortunately, in this iteration, it didn’t. In the end, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny just goes to show that a good movie is more than the sum of its parts.
Haven't seen the movie yet and want to catch up on all the previous Indiana Jones movies? Check out Popverse's handy-dandy guide to watching all of the Indiana Jones movies in order.