Harrison Ford was already pushing 78 when the then-untitled fifth ‘Indiana Jones’ began production in 2021. Well, this isn’t the first time the legendary Hollywood icon played a role that defined his career. Going back seven years earlier, he reprised his other signature role as Han Solo in ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens,’ which was later released in 2015. He was 71 at the time of the filming. I guess age is just a number for Ford. But that doesn’t stop me from wondering how a septuagenarian (octogenarian by the time ‘Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny’ arrived this month) archaeologist and adventurer would look convincing. This is especially true since the franchise is always heavy on death-defying action and stunts.
Despite his age, Ford reportedly did some of his own stunts and even suffered a shoulder injury during a fight rehearsal. It was a result that forced the film to shut down production for two weeks and took Ford additional six weeks to recuperate. The production delay, along with the filming restriction and safety protocols during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, caused the film’s budget to balloon upwards to nearly $300 million.
The massive budget – easily the most expensive ‘Indiana Jones’ movie ever made – also includes extensive CGI technology. This can be seen during the opening 25-minute flashback sequence featuring a de-aging look of a younger Harrison Ford. It takes place in 1944 in Germany as Indy and his colleague, Basil Shaw (Toby Jones), attempts to retrieve the Lance of Longinus, the blade that pierced Jesus at the crucifixion.
But there’s something else catching their attention – the titular ancient dial known as the Antikythera, and it was only half of it. The Nazis led by physicist Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen), also wanted the same thing. Apparently, the dial that the Greek mathematician created Archimedes thousands of years ago holds tremendous power. Except it only works if they can locate the other half and combine them together.
The prologue could have been a classic ‘Indiana Jones’ moment. But instead of a thrilling opening set piece that has been the franchise’s trademark, James Mangold – replacing original director Steven Spielberg – tries and surprisingly fails to emulate the latter’s seamless visual flair for action, thrills, and suspense.
Besides, Mangold is no stranger to staging palpable action, especially after he did such a great job in ‘Logan’ and ‘Ford v Ferrari.’ He may have laid all the groundwork, but the execution is sadly a letdown. It also doesn’t help that the de-aged young Harrison Ford’s Indy looks more distracting than admirable.
No matter how hard the de-aging effect wants us to believe we are looking at a fortysomething Harrison Ford playing Indy, the uncanny valley remains obvious. And the more I see him, the more it makes me feel like I’m watching an extended cutscene from a video game. Then, there’s the overreliance on CGI incorporated during the entire nighttime opening sequence. It was largely murky and unreal.
The movie is then jumped to 1969, with Indy now older and cranky too. His days of hunting treasures are long gone. He’s even retiring from teaching archaeology at the university. But it wasn’t long before Indy’s goddaughter, Helena Shaw (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), shows up and needs his help to search for the other half of the long-lost Antikythera.
Helena turns out to be Basil’s daughter, and her father has gone crazy for too obsessing over the titular dial. The hunt begins, and so do Voller and his men. Only this time, Voller is now working as a researcher for NASA and goes by a different name as Dr. Schmidt.
The second act fares reasonably well compared to the bumpy opening sequence. The introduction of Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who excels in her spunky supporting turn as Helena Shaw, adds a much-needed zest to the movie. Not to mention a sense of exhilarating fun and adventure seen during a chase between Boyd Holbrook’s Klaber and Indy on horseback set at the Apollo 11 ticker tape parade.
Indy does the impossible at one point by riding the horse into the subway tunnels. Later, an elaborate tuk-tuk chase through Tangier’s maze-like streets and alleyways showcases Mangold’s better handling of meshing the action and comedy moments.
‘Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny’ also benefits from the buddy-movie-style dynamic between the gruff Indy and the sassy Helena. But the franchise debut of Teddy (Ethann Isidore), a younger sidekick who assisted Helena, looks like Mangold wants his version of Short Round. Except that Ke Huy Quan, who plays Short Round in ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom’ has more personality than the bland character we got here, played by Isidore. Enlisting Mads Mikkelsen as Indy’s main antagonist is an inspiring choice.
Too bad his role is disappointingly undermined, reducing him to nothing more than a mere standard-issue Nazi villain. Frankly, given his acting caliber, Mikkelsen certainly deserved better than this.
As for Ford himself, he remains invested in his iconic role of Indiana Jones. His rugged, devil-may-care charm that we come to love about his character is intact while embracing his old age. Themes of time and mortality are subtly added to reflect his character as the older Indy, whose moments of taking risks to explore archaeology and adventure become a distant past.
Even when he thrusts back into action, his physical agility isn’t what he used to be, and the movie doesn’t afraid of showing off his flaw, making his Indy character all the more poignant.
Mangold, who also co-wrote the screenplay alongside Jez and John-Henry Butterworth, and David Koepp, sticks to the franchise’s tried-and-tested chasing-a-MacGuffin formula, complete with nostalgic references from the past ‘Indiana Jones’ movies. The movie may have been 30 minutes longer than the average 2-hour length seen in the last four installments.
But Mangold manages to keep the pace mostly brisk and handles well in some of the quieter moments, namely the emotional farewell revolving around Indy and a cameo appearance. Although Mangold can’t quite recapture the magic of the first three ‘Indiana Jones’ movies, at least it was better than ‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.’