After achieving immense success with blockbuster hits like Jaws (1975) and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Steven Spielberg faced a setback in his career with the release of 1941 (1979), a costly comedy set in the aftermath of the Pearl Harbor bombing. Despite its significant budget, the film failed to match the box office performance of Spielberg’s previous works. In response to this, Spielberg collaborated with George Lucas to create Raiders of the Lost Ark, a moderately priced film inspired by 1930s and 40s serials. This collaboration proved to be a turning point, with the movie becoming the highest-grossing film of 1981 and helping Spielberg return to his crowd-pleasing roots.
Fast forward four decades and several sequels/prequels later, the Indiana Jones franchise remains a lucrative venture. However, the franchise’s original low-budget and carefree ethos has given way to soaring budgets, exemplified by the nearly $300 million cost of the latest installment. The film, titled Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, blends cutting-edge, computer-enhanced nostalgia with a series of action sequences reminiscent of this summer’s Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One, albeit with a more relaxed approach.
With Spielberg stepping back from directing, James Mangold takes the reins, supported by writers Jez and John-Henry Butterworth. Fortunately, the insufferable character Mutt Williams is absent, allowing Indiana Jones to find himself alone once again.
Set in the late 1960s, the story follows an aging and grouchy Indiana Jones, who reluctantly gets involved in a mission related to former Nazi Jürgen Voller and Nasa’s moon landing efforts. The focus is on obtaining a magical MacGuffin known as Archimedes’s Antikythera mechanism, capable of predicting and perhaps controlling temporal anomalies. Younger Indy, accompanied by the eccentric Prof Basil Shaw, engages in a comedic battle with Voller’s Nazi henchmen. Simultaneously, in the 60s, Basil’s daughter Helena, played by the delightful Phoebe Waller-Bridge, has her own designs on the mystical dial, setting the stage for lively quasi-familial conflicts.
The film, according to the British Board of Film Classification, maintains the series’ expected violence and threat, offering a familiar experience for fans. Despite the preposterousness of the final act, the movie invites viewers to relish the nostalgia of reuniting with old characters and appreciate the scenic vistas and passably unremarkable popcorn adventures set to John Williams’ sturdy themes. Harrison Ford, at 80, continues to impress with his reprisal of iconic roles, carrying the weight of the film. Despite its gargantuan expense, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny feels reminiscent of the throwaway serials that initially inspired George Lucas – enjoyable while it lasts but ultimately forgettable upon exit.