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The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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Review: The highs and lows of “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny”

still via Disney

Keeping up with the times can be hard — just ask Harrison Ford.

“Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny,” which follows Ford’s titular archaeologist on his fifth and presumably final globetrotting artifact hunt, contains plenty of great set pieces and moments emblematic of all the action and nostalgia that is great about modern filmmaking. But bizarre story choices and the limits of making an action movie with an 80-year-old star create a film that, while fun, feels a bit hollow and highlights the challenges of continuing older franchises.

“Dial of Destiny” sees Ford return to his iconic role as Indiana Jones, as the newly retired professor and — thankfully for the audience — not-yet-retired treasure hunter sets out yet again to stop former Nazis from getting a powerful artifact. Indy is joined on his quest by franchise newcomer Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who plays Helena Shaw, the daughter of Indy’s former companion Basil.

The film shines in some of its action set pieces, which in true Indiana Jones fashion never relent. It’s rare for ten minutes to go by without Indy chasing Helena or Mads Mikkelsen’s villainous Jürgen Voller through a new gorgeous European city.

The almost nonstop action means director James Mangold is able to showcase both a multitude of settings and methods for Harrison Ford to chase down and fight people in. One of the highlights was a thrilling, throwback opening set in the 1940s where a younger Jones has to escape being hanged, steal a car and fight on the top of a train, “Mission: Impossible” style. Despite some pushback against the effects used to make Ford look younger in these scenes, I thought they were some of the best de-aging effects I’ve seen to date.

On the more ridiculous, but still wonderfully entertaining, side, after the film jumps forward about 20 years to 1969, 70-year-old Jones is forced to escape from his would-be captors by riding a horse through a New York City subway tunnel. There’s even a classic, tense “Indiana Jones has to crawl around a dungeon and try to not set off traps” scene later in the film, emblematic of the franchise’s finest films like “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.”

Both the movie’s leads turn in strong performances, which help elevate the first two-thirds of the movie. Waller-Bridge, known for her role in the series “Fleabag,” is simply a joy to watch — she has a magnetic screen presence and brings a needed youthful energy to balance out the more grizzled Ford. In one particularly fun scene, she quips at Ford and her ex-boyfriend while driving around the streets of Tangier, Morocco.

Ford’s age doesn’t stop him from showing off his acting chops in several scenes where he talks about his marriage with Marion (Karen Allen) falling apart, which serve as the movie’s emotional crux. The interactions are moving in a way that can really only be done with a character many people have a 40-year relationship with.

But even as the movie soars and takes advantage of the opportunities provided to it by being made some 40 years after “Raiders,” the film’s low points are emblematic of many of the problems modern blockbusters, especially those who bring back older beloved characters, face.

Indiana Jones is, simply put, kind of a bummer to be around in this movie. It makes sense story wise, but it’s just not as fun to spend two and a half hours adventuring around with a grumpy 80 year old as it is with a dashing young movie star. While Ford may be in about as good shape as anyone, 80 or otherwise, the decision to have him at times embrace his stature as a cranky old guy complaining about his joints takes away some of the magic and sweep-you-off-your-feet charm of earlier installments, leaving the movie feeling a bit empty.

It doesn’t help that a few of the set pieces are exactly the sort of underwhelming fare seen in every blockbuster of the past decade: there’s an underwater scene where the lighting is so murky it’s near impossible to tell what’s going on.

Where the movie really lost me, though, was in its final act. I won’t spoil where Indy’s escapades take him, but the final 45 minutes of the movie don’t make much sense and don’t look good — the special effects there are shockingly bad looking for a movie that cost nearly $300 million to produce. Without spoiling too much, the film tries to create an epic, memorable final battle scene, but every component of the battle from the backdrop to the ships involved looks incredibly cheesy. The lackluster ending leaves viewers feeling like there should be something more.

A few months ago, I rewatched “Raiders” with my dad. He asked me if I remembered going with him to see the shooting of “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” which was shot in my hometown of New Haven, Connecticut. The movie was filmed in 2007 — I would have been four years old. So it’s safe to say that, no, despite the excitement of seeing New Haven dressed up to look like it was in the 1950s, I did not remember it.

I imagine “Dial of Destiny,” however entertaining some of the action scenes were, will fall into the same bucket: it might have been fun in the moment, but given the film’s issues, a few years down the road I’m not sure I’ll remember having seen it.

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