It’s fair to say that a lot is riding on Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. Until last year’s Top Gun: Maverick, Cannes’ unofficial “American blockbuster” spot had been the realm of second-tier sequels, and James Mangold’s $300 million action-adventure epic falls somewhere between the two. This year, Harrison Ford was awarded an honorary Palme d’Or, for over five decades of extraordinary work. Accompanying this overdue honour, his final instalment of the Indiana Jones is a worthy victory lap.
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny feels like an AI-generated greatest hits of the hat and whip man’s previous outings, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Instead of a chaotic chase through Cairo we get mayhem in Tangier. A pit of snakes is replaced by a sunken ship filled with eels. Nazis are still Nazis. But, as it’s 2023, a romantic love interest is replaced with a goddaughter so smart she has graduated from Oxford with a degree in archaeology, is fluent in at least two ancient languages and turns out to be a fiend on a motorbike.
The stakes are set via a high-octane scene-setting flashback to the dying days of the Second World War. Toby Jones’s Basil Shaw and Ford’s Indiana Jones find half of an ancient and potentially very destructive relic, created by Archimedes, amid Nazi plunder. It must, at all costs, be kept from its other half, and out of the Nazi hands. Especially if those hands belong to Mads Mikkelsen, who plays scientist Jürgen Voller. Jones and Ford are a wonderful pair, but it’s in the latter part of the film, that largely takes place in 1969, that we get Phoebe Waller-Bridge, and the reason that this film is elevated from being a theme park ride that equates renown historical sites with a series of puzzle quests to something far more original.
Part of the original appeal of Jones as a character was the sense of awe he felt at his situations and surroundings. Here, Ford is battling valiantly against the vagaries of modern filmmaking, most notably acting against a green screen and bringing his trademark gravitas to a series of encounters with a flippant approach to destruction and death. But he wallops Nazis and their henchmen and doles out post punch-up zingers like, “Don’t try to be funny, you’re German”, and riffs with Waller-Bridge in a way that is cumulatively appealing. Appealing enough that you can almost forget that a series built around a science and history-loving protagonist can feature a tuk tuk outpacing a Rolls Royce, a boy who has never been in a plane piloting one and an octogenarian knocking out men half his age. Sometimes, pieces of an ancient and well-crafted machine fit together with a satisfying click.
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