1 of 5 | Harrison Ford returns as Indiana Jones. Photo courtesy of Lucasfilm Ltd.
LOS ANGELES, June 15 (UPI) -- Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, in theaters June 30, promises a return to form for the pulp hero. After a very rough start, the film progressively falls shorter and shorter of that promise at every turn.
It begins in 1944 with Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) searching for a Christian artifact amongst the last throes of the Nazis. While pursuing Nazis in cars and onto a train, Indy's attention turns to the Antikythera, the Dial of Archimedes.
The gimmick of de-aging Ford for a post-Last Crusade Indy long overstays its welcome with the train sequence running about 20 minutes. But, if it were a de-aged Indy intercut with real location stuntwork, the sequence might work.
Unfortunately, the entire sequence never looks like any human beings are in a car or on top a train. Compare that to the train top set piece in Last Crusade where stuntmen really ran atop a train, and Steven Spielberg cut to the actors for closeups.
Every sequence in Dial of Destiny apes the same disembodied look plaguing most studio blockbusters now.
Twenty-five years later, Indiana Jones is retiring from Hunter College, not Marshall where he taught in the first four films. Indy's goddaughter Helena Shaw (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), the daughter of his companion on the 1944 train, comes to talk to Indy about the Antikythera.
Indy kept the piece of the Anikythera they recovered from the Nazis, and Helena believes she knows where to find the other half. Indy is actually intent on retiring when Dr. Schmidt (Mads Mikkelsen), whom Indy also encountered on the train, and his goons come after them.
Some of the action might have been fun if it weren't so easy to see all of the seams. Turning a cannon around on the Nazi train or riding a horse through the subway are clever ideas, but it never looks like the cast went to a location to film it.
Even those chases run out of steam by the time Indy and Helena go to Tangier, where some past associates of Helena chase them through the streets. By that point there are so many different parties chasing the heroes, it's hard to feel a sense of which ones are really threats.
The Tangier chase is also where the movie definitively runs out of style. It has a series of beats where the vehicles will navigate thin alleys and tight corners, but no flow to get from beat to beat.
The production did film in Morocco, Sicily and Canada, with some underwater work at Pinewood Studios and background plates filmed in Austria. Every action sequence loses the feeling of adventure when it includes shots that look like the stars were added to them later.
Having Ford engage in fisticuffs is not a problem. Audiences suspend disbelief for aging action heroes, from Liam Neeson to Clint Eastwood.
Ford even looks like he's really riding the horse, as Ford does have equestrian skills. It's just unfortunate he's always riding the horse in front of a screen with the subway added behind him.
True Lies did a horse chase through Washington, in 1994. Of course, Arnold Schwarzenegger didn't do the dangerous stunts, but someone did.
Finally, the Temple of Archimedes looks like a set. It forces Indy and Helena to solve puzzles like the temples in Raiders of the Lost Ark and Last Crusade, but it's far too little too late at that point. There's still more disembodied action to follow.
2008's Kingdom of the Crystal Skull got a lot of guff for incorporating too much digital work, but at least Spielberg still staged practical stunt sequences. And if fans thought aliens were a bridge too far in Crystal Skull, the artifact of Dial of Destiny has powers even more outlandish.
As a nonromantic leading lady, Helena has potential to provide Indy a new dynamic. Unfortunately, their one-upmanship and contentious banter feel unmotivated by their actual relationship or characters.
The plot needs them to be fighting right now, so they hate each other. Helena needs to bail Indy out right now, so she comes around.
Oh, they also pick up a kid in Tangier, Teddy (Ethann Isidore). Someone should probably look into Indiana Jones enabling several generations of street hustling children.
When long-awaited sequels disappoint, it tempts fans to swear off the whole endeavor of a franchise. It's not that Indiana Jones should retire; rather his adventures should be crafted with the same standards of his classics.
Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001, a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012 and the Critics Choice Association since 2023. Read more of his work in Entertainment.