REVIEW: 'Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny'

Ever want to watch paint dry? This will do instead.

June 30, 2023

Steven Spielberg directed the first four Indiana Jones movies. He told James Mangold, the director of the just-released fifth installment, that the secret to making such a picture is that it's "a trailer from beginning to end." Meaning, I guess, that these wild action-adventure blockbusters should be nothing but highlights, with no lulls. This is a story Mangold has been telling as he promotes his Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, suggesting the idea was always in the front of his mind. "I wanted the chance to dive into this kind of full-on George-and-Steven old picture," Mangold has said, "and give the audience an adrenaline blast." (George is George Lucas, who produced the other four movies and originally named the character after his dog.)

If the finished product is something Mangold thinks is an "adrenaline blast," then he must be the most depressed person on earth. The experience of seeing Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is more like listening to someone speaking in a monotone describing a not-very-memorable trailer at very great length than it is watching one. Which is weird, because on paper, Mangold was a good choice to take over from Spielberg. He's often a very good director whose best pictures, Logan and Ford v Ferrari, are kinetic and emotionally resonant. And to be fair, Dial of Destiny is beautifully made for the most part. Most important, I guess, Harrison Ford delivers the goods not only as his own 80-year-old self but also as a "de-aged" Harrison made to look as though he's 40 and then again as though he's 60. It's the best use of that special-effects technology yet.

But the overall picture is just incredibly boring. There's a fight on top of a train, and a chase through a parade that ends with a horse riding down a subway tunnel, and a shipwreck with eels, and a tuk-tuk barreling through Tangier, and even with all that strenuous effort to make the action exhilarating, this is Indiana Jones Watches the Paint Dry.

Worse still is the plot. Here, the relic everyone is chasing is a clock-like thing made by the mathematician Archimedes in the third century B.C. with time-travel properties. The villain is a Nazi scientist who (like Wernher von Braun) helps the United States get to the moon. This guy who is otherwise a professor at the University of Alabama has several henchmen working for him. Who's paying them on a professor's salary? Also, there's an African-American CIA agent who is somehow supposed to be watching him or helping him as he chases Archimedes' dial but mostly just looks angry as the henchmen keep shooting people.

Eventually this all leads to a mind-bogglingly deranged third act—and I don't mean this in a "wow, this went sideways unexpectedly and you gotta see this thing to believe it" way. I mean it in a "they spent $295 million and this is the twist they came up with?" way. I know the words "Indiana Jones" must have seemed like IP catnip to the pooh-bahs at Disney when they decided to make a fifth movie back in the mid-teens, and that it took many iterations and false starts to get to the point where they could actually start making it. But some sane person should have stepped in at the 11th hour and said, "Oh, no, I'm sorry, we're not risking 300 million simoleons on this nonsense."

Robert Iger, who returned as Disney's chief at the age of 71 following a brief retirement after the most successful run as an entertainment CEO in history, is not having a Steve Jobs second go-round triumph in his restoration era. Everything is going wrong for Iger right now. His Pixar movie tanked earlier this month, and this one is going to tank too. He's more like Winston Churchill returning to 10 Downing Street in 1951 and bringing his world-changing career to a mediocre end.

Trump fans, take note.