Indiana Jones & The Dial Of Destiny

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It took fifteen years but Harrison Ford has finally gotten his fifth and final installment in the Indiana Jones franchise, Indiana Jones & The Dial Of Destiny (2023). It’s a box office bomb that neither critics nor audiences particularly like. Director James Mangold opted to embrace a franchise rather than subvert it as he did with Logan (2017), delivering a film that’s nostalgic for eighties blockbusters more than it is nostalgic for movie serials. Indiana Jones & The Dial Of Destiny is a film that sets out to bid adieu to a beloved character and his world while simultaneously correcting the politics of the earlier films.

Indiana Jones & The Dial Of Destiny is, in these terms, wholly successful which is why audiences don’t seem to like it very much. Some viewers crave the reckless jingoist days of Indiana Jones & The Temple Of Doom (1984) that saw spectacle as justification enough for racist caricature and cultural tourism whilst other viewers felt the film should have been more inclusive and more progressive. Mangold made a film that did it all, just not in great enough quantities. So people begin to critique the special effects and other technical aspects of the movie as a way to avoid explaining their discontentment with the film, one way or the other.

The great narrative weakness of Indiana Jones & The Dial Of Destiny is that there is simply too much going on for any of it to gain dramatic traction and mean something. It’s a virtual cavalcade of beats whose rapid succession and scope overwhelm during the bloated runtime of two and a half hours. Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981), the best film in the franchise, gets its adventure wrapped up in two hours with enough time to sell the main characters as more than two-dimensional beings. Indiana Jones & The Dial Of Destiny is just too epic, too ambitious for its own good.

As for the complaints regarding the de-aging of Harrison Ford the effect itself is not bad. It’s better than most similar attempts and certainly superior to the digital necromancy of The Flash (2023). Harrison Ford sounds like he’s eighty, but he looks like Jack Ryan which he is supposed to. The digital de-aging effect looks as authentic as most prosthetics or make up usually do. Besides, it is Indiana Jones & The Dial Of Destiny, why on earth would an audience go into the film expecting anything realistic in the first place?

The key to understanding Indiana Jones & The Dial Of Destiny is the fact that the defining characteristic of the Indiana Jones films is their postmodernity. These are films constructed by students of their own obsessions with specific film forms. George Lucas and Steven Spielberg were the stars of the first four Indiana Jones films because every set piece, every image, and as well as the Reagan era politics comes from their own individual network of fetish objects. In Indiana Jones & The Dial Of Destiny, James Mangold must use these cinematographic fetish objects to create something new at a time when the cultural landscape is decidedly at odds with the kinks of Lucas and Spielberg. The rampant misogyny and racism of Lucas’ oeuvre and Spielberg’s films at the time the bulk of the Indiana Jones films were made must be “washed off” or “filtered” away from their franchise defining image set.

Mangold’s Indiana Jones & The Dial Of Destiny is, essentially, a version of the previous Indiana Jones films that has been censored for political correctness. While this makes Indiana Jones & The Dial Of Destiny more of its moment, it does leave those who have come to fetishize the same objects, images, and ideologies as Lucas and Spielberg adrift in a Marvel scale summer blockbuster. Indiana Jones & The Dial Of Destiny may have retained Harrison Ford, but it is ultimately a film without its stars.