Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny isn’t good enough or bad enough to merit a review. Which I guess is a review in and of itself.
I enjoyed the first three Indiana Jones films a good deal. They aren’t serious movies, but they are well-made, entertaining piffle, with Harrison Ford as an unusual hero who combines two-fisted paleo-masculinity with intellect and taste. But I don’t think I was ever young enough to take the character of Indiana Jones all that seriously. Thus I am pretty much immune to a big-budget nostalgia-fest about the character. If I were feeling nostalgic, I would simply watch the original films. Or better, just listen to John Williams’ wonderful music.
So it would take more than nostalgia to sell me a new Indy film. It would take something new and surprising, not a calculated, hackneyed, and mechanical trip down memory lane. Ancient occult McGuffin? Check. Fights? Check. Chases? Check. Nazis? Check. Hat? Check. Whip? Check. Bugs? Check. Non-white sidekick? Check. Strong woman? Check. John Williams? Check. Snakes? That would be derivative. Let’s try eels.
Disney spent $300 million on this film. Would it have taken an extra $50 million to include some originality? Couldn’t they have found space for a few twists in a running time of more than two-and-a-half hours?
A major problem with this film is Harrison Ford. He was never a great actor, but he could pull off the role when he was young and virile. Unfortunately, the years have not been kind. The film could have worked if Ford played Indy like Sean Connery played his father in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: as a wise mentor to a younger man, who could have taken over the action sequences. But no, old Indy is still playing the action hero. A better actor could have made it all poignant, but without that spark, today’s Harrison Ford is just a loathsome spectacle of wheezing, lurching, kvetching decay. Does he look different to eyes blurred by nostalgia? Maybe. But people are staying away from this movie in droves for some reason.
Frankly, I had enough of Ford in Disney’s cynical Star Wars nostalgia reboot. I liked Star Wars a whole lot more than the Indy films because of the imaginative world-building. But I never took Harrison Ford’s character, Han Solo, all that seriously, either. The Force Awakens and The Rise of Skywalker are so systematically repulsive that they almost qualify as works of genius. But for me, the worst moments were when Harrison Ford appeared on screen. The first time I saw Ford’s grizzled mug, I felt I was reliving the worst moment of nineties TV: when Star Trek’s Walter Koenig showed up on Babylon Five (hey, pickings were slim, and I gave it a chance). I turned to a friend and said, “Science fiction will not be safe until all these people are dead.”
One of the evilest films of the last two decades is Mama Mia, which turns ABBA’s wonderful songs into a musical about how love and marriage are not for the young and fertile but for the paunchy and menopausal. As the sixties counter-culture shrivels into a smug, power-mad gerontocracy, we will only see more cinematic celebrations of sexual senescence. We saw it with Jack Nicholson and Dianne Keaton in Something’s Gotta Give. We saw it with Sam Neal and Laura Dern locking dentures in Jurassic Park: Dominion. Now we get it here with Indy and his statutory rape victim Marion Ravenwood, reunited in what is supposed to be a touching ending. I found it distasteful.
Many people are complaining that Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is “woke.” But it is no woker than any of the preceding films. I am glad audiences are rejecting PC messaging, but in truth they only see wokeness because the film lacks magic.
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