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Reviews For The Easily Distracted:
Indiana Jones And The Dial Of Destiny

Title: Indiana Jones and the - *sigh* - Dial of Destiny

Describe This Movie In One High Fidelity Quote:
BARRY: Rob, top five musical crimes perpetuated by Stevie Wonder in the '80s and '90s. Go. Sub-question: is it in fact unfair to criticize a formerly great artist for his latter day sins? Is it better to burn out or fade away?
Brief Plot Synopsis: It's both the years *and* the mileage.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: 2.5 George McFlys out of 5.
Tagline: "A legend will face his destiny."

Better Tagline: "Nazi punching never goes out of style."

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: The year is 1969, and Dr. Henry "Indiana" Jones, Jr. (Harrison Ford) is retiring after a long career spent obtaining "rare antiquities." But his send-off is interrupted by the arrival of a mysterious young woman named Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) seeking information on the Archimedes Dial, an ancient artifact capable of altering the course of history. Indy has more of a connection with the Dial than he wants to admit, including why NASA scientist Dr. Voller (Mads Mikkelsen) is also eager to find it.
"Critical" Analysis: 42 years ago, Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford delivered one of the finest action movies ever made. Raiders of the Lost Ark (which is its proper name, damn it, not "Indiana Jones and") elevated the matinee serial to blockbuster entertainment, thanks to a rousing score, amazing stunt work, pinpoint direction, and the combined charisma of Ford, Karen Allen, John Rhys Davies and Paul Freeman.

It's my all-time favorite movie, and unfortunately, it's been largely downhill for the franchise ever since. Temple of Doom had its moments, but leaned too heavily on racist gross-outs and a shrieking Kate Capshaw. Last Crusade was fun, but essentially a rehash of the first. And the less said about Kingdom of the Crystal Skull the better.

It was always going to be a long shot, trying to capture the magic and thrills of the first movie, especially with the last one's overreliance on shitty CGI (and Shia LaBeouf). Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny succeeds where Crystal Skull failed thanks to an increased focus on Indy and his brand of obsession, and a merciful sense of finality.

We're also back to Nazis as bad guys. Everything old is new again, or something. Of course, these are "new" Nazis; the kind Sarah Silverman told us couldn't make cars. All except for Dr. Voller, himself a kind of Mirror Universe Harry Turtledove.
click to enlarge
Yeah, this movie's a puzzler.
But "better than Crystal Skull" is a miserably low bar to clear. Dial's plot is surprisingly dumb, considering it took four screenwriters (including David Koepp and director James Mangold) to write it. There's also — again — no getting past the fact that Ford is 80 years old. Sure, maybe the Grail gave him a little energy  boost, but Indy's de-aging suffers the same pitfalls as that of De Niro in The Irishman: the skin may be smoother, but he still moves like an elderly dude.

There were hopes that when Waller-Bridge was brought on board it might help rejuvenate things, but even she can't escape the uninspired action sequences and Wilhelm screams. The movie's best moments come not from an almost parodic chase in the streets of Tangiers or a horse and motorcycle run through a poorly rendered moon landing parade, but from its quieter scenes: Indy talking about the losses he's suffered and forced to ponder the steps that led to his current status.

Heretical as it sounds, maybe *not* shoehorning Ford into creaky action set pieces was the way to go. Acknowledge his age and let Waller-Bridge take the wheel. Mangold teases a story about the legendary archeologist who's no longer a legend. Of a retiring curmudgeon respected by his co-workers but otherwise sidelined. But he's either unwilling or unable to avoid the Spielberg-ian need to cram as many chase scenes and improbable escapes into the proceedings. And Mangold, talented as he is, ain't Spielberg.

There's a method for Ford's madness. He agreed to do The Force Awakens and Blade Runner 2047 to give Han Solo and Rick Deckard proper send-offs. In that respect, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny accomplishes what it sets out to do. It'd just be nice if it aimed a little higher.

Final Indiana Jones Ranking?
Ford says this is it, so from the home office in Des Moines, Iowa, here's the definitive ranking of all five Indy flicks:

1. Raiders (5/5)
2. Last Crusade (3/5)
T3. Temple of Doom (2.5/5)
T3. Dial of Destiny (2.5/5)
5. Crystal Skull (1.5/5)

The message is clear: Indiana Jones is best when he's punching Nazis.

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is in theaters today.
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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar