|Synopsis||In the year 1969, Indiana Jones is on the cusp of his retirement, when he is drawn into one last adventure to discover an ancient relic that could hold the secret to time travel.|
|Length||2 hours 34 minutes|
|Release Date||May 18, 2023 (Cannes), June 30, 2023 (United States)|
|Distribution||Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures|
|Writing||Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, David Koepp, James Mangold|
|Starring||Harrison Ford, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Antonio Banderas, John Rhys-Davies, Toby Jones, Boyd Holbrook, Ethann Isidore, Mads Mikkelsen|
Ever since Disney purchased Lucasfilm in 2012, two things have been certain—the studio would be producing more Star Wars movies, and the studio would be producing more Indiana Jones movies (and they would also do a Willow show that nobody watched, which would be buried in the Disney Vault forever due to tax purposes). With the main thrust of five Star Wars movies being released between 2015 and 2019, Lucasfilm shifted gears and finally delivered a much-ballyhooed and heavily delayed fifth entry in the franchise.
With the negative feelings towards Disney’s corporate filmmaking style adding up, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny has largely not been highly anticipated, as even the enthusiastic corners of the online fandoms have only given not much more than a shrug. The movie went through multiple directors and some development delays, only to be released at the Cannes Film Festival to a massively negative reaction (which doesn’t mean much given that the only two emotions that crowd is capable of are 10-minute applauses and riots).
With a goofy title, a lukewarm trailer reaction, and the last appearance of Harrison Ford as his greatest character on screen, it remains to be seen how audiences will react to the film.
Violence/Scary Images: PG-13 action violence, blood, and deaths. Characters are shot, stabbed, and murdered in cold blood, although it isn’t as gruesome as previous films.
Language/Crude Humor: Some severe language throughout the movie.
Drug/Alcohol References: Characters drink alcohol.
Sexual Content: Nothing is depicted or explicitly described.
Spiritual Content: A character is searching for the spear that pierced the side of Christ, only to learn that it is a fake relic, followed by a speech about the value of relics that are proven through science.
Other Negative Content: Minimal to none.
Positive Content: Strong character moments and themes of overcoming regret and pain.
It isn’t controversial to call Indiana Jones the greatest character Harrison Ford ever played, right? As much as we all love Star Wars, Blade Runner, and his cornucopia of 1990s action movies (and I’m presuming he is going to be fine in Captain America 4 for whatever that is worth), Indiana Jones has always been Ford’s magnum opus. He is the perfect combination of actor and character—a beloved and charismatic young man with energy and swagger playing one of the most romanticized characters in Hollywood history; the swashbuckling, ladykilling, brilliant scientist and archeologist.
One might almost say he’s too powerful, but Steven Spielberg always found new and unique ways to drag his character through the wringer and force him to work his way out on the other side, looking cooler than ever. Additionally, Harrison Ford was always human enough to make this impossibly skilled and proficient character feel exhausted and battered by his experiences.
Maybe that is part of the reason why the last two late-period Indiana Jones films have been off. The Plinkett Reviews perfectly diagnosed that Harrison Ford really isn’t in the best place to be portraying this character anymore. The man is 80 years old and he was already too old to be playing the character in 2008’s Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. He should be enjoying a lucrative retirement and residual checks from Star Wars. Instead, he’s making remakes of The Call of the Wild.
Regardless, I understand why Disney wanted to bring him, Spielberg, and John Williams, back for one more send-off film. And thankfully, they did not do a terrible job. Director James Mangold (Walk the Line, Logan, Ford v. Ferrari) took over the project several years ago while Spielberg moved on to films like West Side Story and The Fabelmans. The movie definitely feels different. Mangold is a more reserved filmmaker, who relies less on sweeping cinematography, so the film feels smaller and more intimate than previous entries even when it really isn’t (this also means he’s less proficient at hiding the seams of the special effects).
Again though, I think Mangold actually does mostly stick the landing on a somewhat messy but surprisingly effective final entry in the franchise. Harrison Ford really shows up to play his signature character well, John Williams delivers his least-phoned-in soundtrack since the mid-2000s, and the elements of the film that looked iffy in the trailers actually have weight and heft behind them.
Set in the year 1969, Indiana Jones is on the cusp of retiring from his archeology teaching job in New York City when an appearance by his estranged Goddaughter from England results in his office being raided by the CIA. Framed wrongly for murder, Jones chases his Goddaughter to the Mediterranian to discover the hidden truth of an artifact he discovered during World War II, which is being chased by smugglers and crypto-Nazis alike and could change the tide of history itself in the wrong hands.
Much to my surprise, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Helena Shaw really ends up being the heart of the movie. The trailers give a bad vibe to her character, as a smirking self-righteous character who has come to subvert Indy’s character and journey, but really she functions more like Ray Winstone’s character in the last film. She’s a morally dubious and complicated character from the get-go, obsessed with her father’s legacy but also deeply smitten by money and profit. She genuinely wrestles with her inability to be sincere with her emotions for the whole film. It is surprisingly effective, and while I’m not sure the film’s climax pays off her character journey well, she does really draw the best out of the rest of the cast.
The villain of the piece is also a curious creative decision. Mads Mikkelsen’s Jürgen Voller is a very clear analog for real-life scientist Wernher Von Braun, who absconded to the United States after World War II after the military discovered he was the scientist building V2 rockets for the German war effort. He would gain a leading role from 1957 onwards as the theorist who guided the space race, helping to create the Apollo Program and launch Americans to the moon in July 1969.
History tends to remember him as a reluctant collaborator to a war effort who was merely eager to work with whichever government funded his projects, but Mikkelsen’s character plays up the Nazi aspect to a melodramatic degree, imagining the scientist as a closet crypto-Nazi with ambitions to turn back the clock on history and win the war properly using an ancient time travel device. Thankfully, the role gives Mikkelsen far more to work with than the majority of his English-language performances (his Danish films like The Hunt and Valhalla Rising generally give him far more range as an actor than he gets in Rogue One or Doctor Strange).
He’s cold and menacing and still gets moments to undercut that facade with fleeting depth. Sadly, his full motivation isn’t revealed until the end of the film. By then though, the final moments thematically echo his first prideful moments in the film’s prologue, when we see the proud Nazi scientist flaunting the uselessness of a Christian relic and bragging about his superior mathematical and scientific knowledge.
At times, the script definitely feels awkward or incomplete. A few lines of dialogue sound like holdovers from a previous draft that was more contemplative about Indy’s mortality and legacy, but really the film’s primary character motivation for Indy is regret. He’s lost the family he built in the last film offscreen due to his character defects, and he is tired, mostly resigned to living out the rest of his life alone. The movie’s ending also comes off a bit anticlimactic, as though it has spent the entire movie setting up themes and world-building only to end on a shrug without paying off a few vital character beats. This is likely a side effect of the film having four credited screenwriters.
Thankfully the film’s best elements are about subverting that resentment and giving the character a better sendoff. I cannot call the movie a true sendoff, if only because there is no way that this character won’t be rebooted after Ford dies and because the movie isn’t performing a miracle and resurrecting the franchise. In the final analysis, the movie feels too tired and compromised to be anything more than a forgettable distraction. That said, Mangold had an immense capacity to ruin this final entry with something worse than Crystal Skull and he made something fun and inoffensive, albeit drenched in overbearing CGI.
+ Fun story
+ Great action sequences
+ Solid performances by Ford, Waller, and Mikkelsen
- Flawed script and mixed story decisions
- Overbearing CGI and flat visual style
- Underwhelming conclusion
The Bottom Line
The fifth Indiana Jones movie is neither a return to form nor another horrific bomb, but something far more mundane. It is a fun movie and a forgettable one. It is far from the career sendoff that Harrison Ford's best character deserves, but isn't painful to watch.