Friday, June 30, 2023

indiana jones & the dial of destiny

Indiana Jones doesn't seem to fit in here anymore. In the landscape of animated fare, shiny-toned superhero movies and funereal-toned superhero movies, Indiana Jones is quaint. The series' smattering of cultural insensitives are passé. Its most recent predecessor, a rare dull output from Steven Spielberg, featuring a pretty annoying performance by Shia LaBeouf, was fifteen years ago. So Harrison Ford, at a spry 80 years old (not even a Boomer, but of President Biden's Silent Generation, who happen to be abstaining from theaters as of late), swooping in to cross continents, and thwart Nazis and creepy crawlies in caves, seems to pose economic risk. 

In this incarnation's prelude, set in 1944 Europe, Indy (filmed in eerie, not always plausible de-aging tech), and his fellow archeologist comrade Basil Shaw (Toby Jones) are entangled in a slam-bang action night fight against Nazi Jürgen Voller (well-cast, chiseled-faced Mads Mikkelsen), atop a locomotive. Indy then wakes up twenty-five years later, to confetti-strewn New York, as the city celebrates the return of the Apollo 11 astronauts. He slips liquor in his tea. The Beatles' "Magical Mystery Tour" blasts from the apartment below. Indy is about to retire from Hunter Collège, and his class is clearly disinterested in plowing through ancient history as turbulent new history is being created all around them. Unbeknownst to Jones, Shaw's daughter Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), is suddenly among the pupils. Everyone has their own agenda--Jones, Helena, and Voller--for the coveted "Dial of Destiny"--a fantastical solid gold dinner plate-sized puzzle--at the center of the story, that can change history's course.

James Mangold's directorial efforts on this elaborate picture seem vast--from the time period and globe-hopping details--to providing high-octane spectacles which, while ludicrous, mostly work as popcorny entertainment, especially distinct ones like Jones attempting to outrun subways on horseback. When these set pieces end, the film's energy bottoms out, like caffeine highs and lows. The loopy action is not far off from last year's pretty terrible video game-adaptation Uncharted. But perhaps there's an earnest good time to be had here, with its touches of whimsy and nostalgia. Waller-Bridge's performance is uneven, especially her character's one note, false-feeling initial antagonism of Jones, but she is more compelling and plucky as the film moves along. Ford, still one of our longest-running enduring movie heroes, is charming per usual, and Mikkelsen's hambone turn is persuasive. There is simultaneous grit and golden sheen in Phedon Papamichael's cinematography. The rampant CGI effects, which are usually almost always an issue in contemporary action films, are sometimes disengaging. But much credit should be given to John Williams, who is still a force at 91. After the pearly delicacy of his score for last year's The Fabelmans, he returns to this series with lavish, rigorous music interplaying with his romantic old themes--its grandeur, sweep, and sneaky complexities is what ultimately separates Destiny most from of today's branded summer escapes. ***

-Jeffery Berg

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