Indiana Jones And The Dial Of Destiny (2023)

Rating: **
Review Date: 7/2/23
Music: John Williams
Cast: Harrison Ford, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Mads Mikkelsen, Boyd Holbrook, Shaunette Renée Wilson, Toby Jones, cameos by John Rhys-Davies, Antonio Banderas, Karen Allen

"Everything hurts."

It's 1969 and a worn out Professor Henry Jones (Harrison Ford) is finally retiring. Then his god-daughter Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) shows up with a bunch of Nazi's on her trail, and everything goes to hell. It turns out that Indy has a relic that the nasty Dr. Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen) wants, and Indy has to stop him before it can be used to change the course of history.

Harrison Ford was too old when "Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull" (2008) came out, and unfortunately he's way too old now. Attempts to digitally de-age him are the film's biggest conceit, and the results make him look like a video game character. It goes deep into the Uncanny Valley, and while his facial features look convincing, the movement is off and the teeth are a dead giveaway. CGI hasn't mastered rendering teeth yet.

The film is about as dull and cringe-inducing as "Crystal Skull," but in a totally different way. The overuse of digital effects is readily apparent and a constant distraction, but it never reaches the level of absurdity that "Crystal Skull" did. Similarly, the unnecessary and forced humor of "Crystal Skull" is replaced with senseless and unnecessary brutality, just to prove how bad the bad guys are. Phoebe Waller-Bridge is the real star of the show, but her character is an unlikable rogue with little conscience or respect for others. She immediately reminded me of Doctor Aphra from the "Star Wars" universe: a smart and sassy criminal archeologist who is selfish, uncaring, and only in it for the money. I similarly don't like Doctor Aphra, which raises some difficult questions. Given my love of female action heroes, I should have liked Helena's fierceness and conviction, but I didn't. Why? Am I projecting sexism and unconscious bias towards these female characters, who are in many ways just like Indiana Jones? Jones is a scoundrel for sure, but he's also charming and his moral compass tends to favor loyalty and compassion. Helena just comes across as cold, mean, cocky, selfish, and manipulative, which also hints at an undercurrent of misogyny in the writing. Plus, she has her own annoying Short Round sidekick, which doesn't help. That said, her character traits also reminded me of Nathan Drake from "Uncharted," and I don't like him, either. So maybe I'm just overthinking it. Mads Mikkelsen makes an effective and menacing adversary, but he drifts into Cuckoo Land towards the end and his goon squad is needlessly sadistic and trigger-happy. Their tendency to gleefully murder innocent people undermines the plot and becomes increasingly distasteful as the film wears on. Steven Spielberg's hand is sorely missed in the treatment of the material.

Action-wise, I found the film disappointingly dull and the chaotic set pieces feel like a video game that drags on way too long. The camera work is annoyingly shaky, the editing is choppy and obscures the action, and there's no rhythm or emotional weight to what's going on. I didn't even notice the music, which should have been used to set the tempo and dramatic beats. With the awkward extended flashback, the ridiculous climax, and a clumsy epilogue that literally makes no sense whatsoever, the movie feels like it was built around a tech demo and padded with overly long chase sequences in lieu of a thoughtful and cohesive story. It plays the nostalgia card heavily, and while it didn't make me wince or make my skin crawl like "Crystal Skull" or "The Last Crusade" (1989), it did leave me with a profound sense of sadness and fatigue.