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  • Writer's pictureMatt Conway

Indiana Jones and the Diary of Destiny: Review

Archaeologist and daring adventurer Dr. Indiana Jones is drifting into his twilight years. His legacy of globetrotting with reckless abandon in the search for lost relics is now far behind him. Instead, Jones lives hopelessly consumed by his former glory days, longing for a past where family and work ignited a spark within him. While stuck in an emotional malaise, a friend from Jones's past whisks him into one last quest for hidden treasure in the long-awaited sequel, Indiana Jones and The Dial of Destiny.

Few figures in blockbuster lore garner more significance than Indiana Jones, a charming hero who balanced insight and intuition throughout his perilous odysseys. Thanks to Steven Spielberg's masterful direction and movie star Harrison Ford's gruff charisma, Indiana Jones captured the 1980s zeitgeist and transformed into a defining symbol of action-hero bravado. I grew up as an adoring fan of the original trilogy. Each film personified its own distinctive voice, showcasing inspired twists on pulp serial thrills bolstered by Speilberg's keen eye for human dynamics.

Resurrecting a cinematic icon of Jones's stature from Hollywood's history books carries numerous complications. Following the character's ride off into the sunset in 1989's Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, Spielberg and his creative company attempted to rekindle the franchise's fire with 2008's Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. That sequel delivered frustratingly erratic results. Like its forefathers, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull often showcased sparks of high-flying heroics and arresting storytelling, but the film eventually drifts into mindless spectacle by forgetting the well-balanced alchemy that made Indiana Jones shine in the first place.

In The Dial of Destiny, Logan and 3:10 to Yuma director James Mangold attempts a different modern interpretation, this time piloting a nostalgic swan song dedicated to the old-school adventurer. It is hard to dream up a more daunting task than being bestowed with Speilberg, Ford and Indiana Jones's rich legacies. No filmmaker could ever fully live up to the original trilogy's stature, and while Dial of Destiny certainly falls short in some areas, Mangold still conjures a roaring roller coaster ride fitting to the summer movie season.

I'd argue that The Dial of Destiny bares a closer resemblance to the Indiana Jones Stunt Show at Disneyland rather than the Spielberg trilogy. It is a sequel that favors spectacle and busyness over all other objectives, jam-packing its runtime with an onslaught of bustling chases and hard-hitting brawls. Mangold and the screenwriting team of Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth and David Koep work comfortably in these confines, although their single-minded approach is what restricts Dial of Destiny from reaching soaring heights.

Mangold is clearly an astute student of Spielberg and the source material. His traditional imagery acts as a fitting canvas for capturing busy setpieces, with his camera smoothly swerving through traffic during speedy chases and swiftly jostling around as punches crash upon Indy's opponents. Mangold's work features remarkable composure; he acts as an assured shepherd who steadily steers viewers from one thrill to the next. I give the director and his team credit for supplying a few standout numbers, including a terrific pursuit set during the festive backdrop of a patriotic parade.

Sometimes, that sturdy guidance does not generate the most exhilarating results. The visuals lack the dynamism of The Dial of Destiny's action movie peers while still embracing frustrating modern flourishes along the way. Mangold's overreliance upon CGI is perhaps his most glaring technical hiccup. The original Indiana Jones trilogy elicited genuine tension because every death-defying feat felt grounded in reality, largely thanks to Spielberg's skilled implementation of practical sets and skilled stunt work. Here, the haze of choppy CGI robs several encounters of suspense. I found myself especially unimpressed by the film's long-winded opening, which joins the wayward trend of aging down actors through visual effects. Yet again, the computer modeling is competent at first glance before unraveling into an awkward realm of artificiality (just hire a younger actor instead). Mangold and his team would have been better off sticking closer to the original trilogy's playbook.

The storytelling in Dial of Destiny undergoes similar inconsistencies. I am glad the script attempts to honor the franchise's time-honored trend of blending pulpy serial sensibilities through a thoughtful, character-driven lens. To its credit, Dial of Destiny spins an engaging caper - a colorfully campy yarn that finds Indiana Jones and his niece, the similarly brazen Helena, searching for a device that could rewrite history in the wrong hands. The set-up perfectly embodies the spirited B-movie charm synonymous with the franchise's best entries. Most importantly, Butterworths and Koepp forgo the tedious nostalgia-bating that defines most legacy sequels. The screenwriting team thankfully takes a few worthwhile risks in their efforts, such as an unexpected twist ending that transports Indy into a new mystical setting.

Everyone in the cast thrives playing into the franchise's formula. Dusting off the character's signature brown hat, Harrison Ford, even at 80 years old, still instills the movie star magnetism that makes Indiana Jones a quintessential action hero. Ford basks in the opportunity to recontextualize the character in his golden years, portraying new shades of Indy as he is imprisoned by longing and regret over his past. The additions of Phoebe Waller-Bridges as the exuberant Helena and Mads Mikkelsen as a menacing Nazi adversary also leave a mark. Waller-Bridges deploys her cunning wit as a personable foil to Ford's curmudgeon energy, while Mikkelsen's foreboding presence elevates what would be a generic villain in lesser hands.

For all of its success, The Dial of Destiny remains a shadow of Indiana Jones's best adventures. Perhaps the most glaring absence is the enchanting spell that Speilberg consistently embeds into his blockbusters. Sure, the Spielberg trilogy is a marvel due to its audacious action and fearless filmmaking, but I would argue the writer/director's best trait is his graceful eye for sentimentality. What his storytelling lacked in elaborate dimensions, Spielberg consistently compensated for in his singular ability to evoke emotions through accessible yet affecting avenues. He always rendered sweeping grandeur at the drop of a hat through his expressive framing choices or carefully-constructed dialogue.

By comparison, this sequel lacks that same impact. There is a fascinating concept with how the script occasionally deconstructs its legacy sequel nature. Juxtaposing Indiana Jones, a man who obsesses over the past as an archeologist, within the forward-thinking late 1960s time period is an ingenious choice for depicting an old hero entering into an unknown future. As Jones teethers toward his revered past, Mangold concocts thoughtful devices to reinforce intriguing reflections on nostalgia-gazing's toxic, all-consuming powers. Unfortunately, this throughline never develops into a substantial addition. Mangold and the screenwriters often get distracted by the film's fast and furious blockbuster pacing, rushing from one setpiece to the next without defining a succinct vision for their narrative. The film especially misses its groove within the character-centric moments. A slew of melodramatic speeches and underbaked motivations try and fail to perform the heavy lifting for an emotionally inert film.

Indiana Jones and The Dial of Destiny feels reminiscent of the ancient artifact replicas Indy scatters during his misadventures. The film mirrors several qualities synonymous with the brand before a few noticeable blemishes unveil a cheap duplicate resting beneath the shiny surface. Still, for what the final product is, fans should appreciate basking in one last ride with Indiana Jones.

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is now playing in theaters.


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