Archimedes, one of the most renowned mathematicians of the ancient world, doesn’t usually show up in fantasy-reliant action movies.
He nonetheless finds his way into Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, the latest story about the fabled archeological adventurer who made his first screen appearance in Raiders of the Lost Ark way back in (gasp!) 1981.
This time, Indy packs his bags with references to the previous movies as well as a search for the fabled Dial of Destiny, a.k.a. the Antikythera mechanism.
In the movie, the Antikythera is said to be one of Archimedes’s inventions, a device that, in fictionalized IndyWorld, can locate fissures in time that allow for travel into the past.
In a way, the entire movie — with James Mangold taking over directing chores from Steven Spielberg — is like traveling into the past, an action-heavy adventure in which Mangold demonstrates journeyman competence but fails to generate enough of the ingredient that has distinguished the best Indiana Jones’ efforts: fun.
The movie features appearances by a de-aged Harrison Ford, as well as the well-preserved Ford, who — in his 80s — is still willing to don his fedora and take on physical challenges.
Once again Indy battles (who else?) Nazis.
An add-on: Phoebe Waller-Bridge plays Helena, the daughter of one of Indie’s old archeological cohorts (Toby Jones).
Part adversary and part ally, Waller-Bridge adds a touch of naughtiness to the proceedings, but not enough to sustain a gleeful, whip-cracking romp.
Other names include Antonio Banderas, as a sea captain, and, more importantly, Mads Mikkelsen as Dr. Voller, a Nazi scientist who, after the war, began working in the American space program.
The movie kicks off with a speedy train sequence set during World War II and leaps forward to the late 1960s, the period when most of the action takes place.
Many of the movie’s characters want to find the Dial of Destiny, the movie’s MacGuffin. Indy thinks it belongs in a museum. Voller wants to find both halves of the device and use it for his own evil purposes.
Note: In these kinds of movies, there always seem to be missing parts that need to be recovered to activate a device’s potential.
In this case, Voller has a cockamamy plan to travel back in time, change the course of the war, and mastermind a German victory.
Of course, there’s plenty of globe-hopping, taking the movie to Morocco and Sicily, among other places.
And, yes, there are chases galore, most executed by Mangold and company with the required skill.
Still, it's difficult not to realize that we’re watching Mangold and his team blend the ingredients into the familiar Indiana Jones recipe, a self-conscious awareness that works against surprise.
Yeah, time for another chase. Yeah, time to squirm, this time thanks to a cave full of bugs.
Ford brings a carload of trademark grumpiness to the role. He remains credible as an aging action hero — albeit one who occasionally creaks.
The early Indian Jones movies had a celebratory quality that returned us to the days when movies could be approached with naivety and wide-eyed expectation.
Belonging to a now-faded moment, that feeling is difficult to revive. So it's no surprise that Dial of Destiny can feel a bit stale.
Designed as the final chapter in the Jones saga, Dial of Destiny doesn’t generate all of the thrills we expect from a series that arguably already should have been put to rest.
Sigh deeply and move on.