Dreary “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” Makes You Want to Time Travel to Pick a Different Story

This is the Never Say Never Again of the Indy franchise with a curious sense not everything is up to peak creativity, and perhaps the filmmakers should have heeded the final three words of that creed. James Mangold’s Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (C+), chronicling the raiders of a steampunk timepiece with rumored time travel powers, showcases the famed professor/archaeologist with both a murky de-aged CGI uncanny valley of the kings effect as well as an unflattering portrait of the character’s creaky old age circa 1969. At no point is Harrison Ford’s performance credible: the young version is imbued with an old voice and recycled dead-eyed Polar expressions, and what’s on the senior menu doesn’t look capable of throwing those frequent punches at aging Nazis. The filmmakers are constantly futzing with their own rattly dials, as episodic spurts of action are often punctuated with sequences of insipid boredom, even in exotic ports of call ranging from Morocco to Sicily. Three prominent women are featured in the cast, and as Indy’s greedy goddaughter Phoebe Waller-Bridge is the one of those whose character doesn’t connect much at all; in fact, she makes “Willie Scott” look better and better in retrospect. Mads Mikkelsen doesn’t get to vamp much as the villain either. It takes well into the mid point of the film to establish some of the emotional resonance and playfulness needed to propel any interest. Some final reel wild swings (thankfully not with monkeys this time around) actually worked because at least it felt like something novel was finally happening. Some of the practical effects including chases through twisty African marketplaces and advancing through tomb passageways are better than expected; the cinematography and production design sometimes hit their marks. Mangold does well enough to crack that whip Steven Spielberg brandished for four previous installments in an uphill battle to credibly close the series. It’s far from an embarrassment but doesn’t fully fire on all cylinders, and the elegiac elements involved in themes of recapturing youthful glory feel almost accidental. The humor and high adventure of the series’ first three films is simply not matched here, making it ever so clear it’s time to hang up that hat.

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