Indiana Jones 5 Is Just a Flash in the Pan

Spoiler warning: This article contains spoilers for both Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny and The Flash

Keeping up with the Joneses ain’t what it used to be

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is currently creaking its way across multiplexes the world over, and the only response is, Why? Why did they choose to end the Jones saga with such a slice of mediocrity? Why did Harrison Ford wait 15 years to tell such an inconsequential story?

And why do we keep traipsing to the cinema to watch obscenely expensive examples of bad storytelling?

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is as clumsy as its title. By comparison, the much-maligned Kingdom of the Crystal Skull resembles Raiders of the Lost Ark or The Last Crusade. Okay, at least Temple of Doom. 2008’s Crystal Skull ended with Indy and Marion tying the knot, the future bright for them and son Mutt. Fast-forward 15 years and Mutt has been killed off. True, Shia LaBeouf most likely would not have returned even if invited, and would do a Crispin Glover if they attempted to use his likeness. But, killing him off just to give the hero something to feel sad about is bad storytelling, as insipid as it is cynical.

For more on why Dial of Destiny sucks, head over to Rob Wallis’ review at Of All The Film Sites, or listen to my podcast review with him.

What we’re going to talk about here is how summer blockbusters seem to be eating themselves, leaving only scraps for the rest of us.

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. The Flash, with its Michael Keaton Batman selling point. The Little Mermaid live-action remake. Fast X, the 10th (or 11th counting spin-off) instalment of a 22-year-old franchise. Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, grinding the gears of lazy plotting 16 years after Michael Bay first lowered the standards of the Earth with that first movie.

All I can see is a long tasteless rope of meat, joylessly oozing out of the cinematic sausage machine. Some may argue this is not exactly new news. The MCU has cookie-cuttered its way to billions of dollars for fifteen years now. But cookie-cutter suggests we will at least have an ephemerally enjoyable treat to enjoy. Blockbuster cinema is rapidly becoming either bland or indigestible.

All Flash no bang

Take The Flash. For the most part it is a middling, mildly diverting superhero movie with visual FX ranging from adequate to oh-dear. The surprisingly traditional buddy-origins-story plot is elevated by genuinely funny comedy and strong performances all round. Yes, including Ezra Miller, if you can put all that baggage aside, and we understand if you can’t. But also Michael Keaton, slipping back into the Bruce Wayne character with quirky charm, and Sasha Calle, who deserved a much better outing as Supergirl than the thankless role she has here.

Adding to the enjoyment is fan service nostalgia. Although the movie is ultimately sunk by the bizarro meta-climax the filmmakers opted for, there is fun to be had in watching Michael Keaton don the cowl for the first time in 31-years, joining Flash and Other-Flash on their adventure. A small moment in which Keaton’s Bruce Wayne regards himself in the mirror, smiling with revitalised energy, is a beautiful character note.

But The Flash has tanked at the box office, and for all the fan speculation as to why, it seems perfectly clear. That ending. That bafflingly misconceived ending, in which planets of Intellectual Property smash against each other.

You know, that moment when the ethically queasy, glassy-eyed CGI resurrection of Christopher Reeve’s Superman watches impassively (alongside a CGI Helen Slater’s Supergirl) as a Golden Age Flash planet collides with a George Reeves Superman planet. And an Adam West’s Batman planet, and a Nic Cage-fighting-a-big-spider-in-a-film-that-never-was planet.

The climax to The Flash is so out-of-kilter with the rest of the movie it is small wonder that general word-of-mouth is sub-equatorial. Yes, the worlds colliding thing was lifted from a Flash comic, but boffo box office is not made by fanboy dollars alone. Regular cinemagoers who emerge from the movie scratching their heads are likely to tell friends to wait for it to hit streaming.

On a brief tangent, hey DC, Man of Steel was never a franchise lodestar, so why did you return to it so often? No-one cares.

As well as being conceptually muddled, The Flash’s climax is dramatically inert. The main lesson being taught seems to be that sometimes a hero must do nothing and just let shit happen. So inspiring.

Short Round? Long and flat…

Someone who took that lesson to heart is Indiana Jones in his latest outing. Indy was always going to look a little held together by Fixodent this time around, what with Harrison Ford being 77-years-old when making the movie. But the script is similarly cracking at the joints and ends up with the hero basically sitting out the climax of his own movie.

But this blockbuster Ouroboros fails in precisely the opposite way to The Flash. It resolutely turns its back on fan service. Bar the odd mention of his advancing years, and dialogue throwbacks to previous adventures, there is little that ties this to past Indy instalments. Maybe director James Mangold and co. wanted it that way; Crystal Skull aside, Indiana Jones films were always pretty much standalone adventures.

If this was the reasoning, what a massive misstep it turned out to be. We live in an age of nostalgia filmmaking, and few franchises draw as much affection as Indiana Jones. Meaning audiences are expecting to see appearances from Karen Allen’s Marion Ravenwood, Kate Capshaw’s Willie Scott, and Ke Huy Quan’s Short Round.

Especially Ke Huy Quan’s Short Round. Oh, how the filmmakers must be kicking themselves that they didn’t write Indy’s one-time sidekick into this one, now that Quan has an Oscar under his belt. And how did they miss the open goal of putting him in the movie? Or Karen Allen’s Marion for that matter, bar a few minutes at the end?

Surely if one of the major story points is their dead son, then Indy and Marion should work through that grief together by her joining him on the adventure? By keeping Karen Allen absent for most of the movie, Dial of Destiny falls foul of the trope that female characters exist only for how they affect the emotional state of the male lead.

If Allen didn’t want to do another movie save for a cameo, and Quan wasn’t up for it, and Capshaw neither, then we’re back to asking the question of what was the point of another Indy film? Save for Harrison Ford presumably wanting one last hit, and the Disney number crunchers thinking it would give their quarterly figures an extra boost.

Which looks to be for nought, by the way. Where The Flash ultimately fell flat on its face by overdoing it on fan service, saddled with an ending only die-hard Flash-heads could love, Dial of Destiny fails by refusing to indulge the fans. Meaning Indy’s swansong has whimpered onto the big screen with an opening weekend box office in the same bracket as The Flash’s.

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny reportedly cost around $300m. The film has no bad press surrounding it. The movie features one of cinema’s most beloved characters. In its corner is the might of the Disney marketing machine. So a s $60m domestic opening must be seen as disappointing indeed. It’s only $5m more than The Flash managed to whip up. Globally it has done $152m, only a little more than The Flash’s $130m.

Maybe the failure of these films will teach studios that audiences want something fresh. Or at least a fresh take on familiar IP, with Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse shaping up to be the summer’s big success story. That film had an engrossing story, with compelling characters. With the Writers Guild of America currently striking, now seems a good time to remind everyone that a good script is King. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is a salutary glimpse of what cinema will look like if we leave the story to AI algorithms.

For a film that captures the old-fashioned (ie, 1980s and early 90s) adventure movie magic, check out Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves. That film also flopped, but is the fantastical action movie audiences don’t realise they need. It is destined for word-of-mouth love when it lands on SVOD streaming channels. Maybe Barbie will be the summer blockbuster we didn’t know we needed?

Speaking of underrated action movies, Extraction II, one of the year’s best, went straight to Netflix.

Extraction II clocks in at 120mins, leading onto the final point. Blockbuster Ouroboros likes the taste of its own flesh. The Flash is 150-minutes. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is 154-minutes, almost half hour longer than the previous longest Jones film, The Last Crusade.

Remember, less is more…

Can we put a moratorium on blockbusters coming in well over two hours? They rarely earn the extra minutage, and make you pine for a time when popular cinema was fleet of foot. Excise the subplots setting up the next movie or TV spin-off and just tell the damn story. Like Extraction II does… and manages to tease a sequel within its two-hour runtime.

Yes, I realise Across the Spider-Verse is 140-minutes. And I can’t wait for Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning: Part One, a film whose title is almost as long as its 163-minute duration. Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer is being treated like a blockbuster, and comes in at a hefty three hours. I’m also looking forward to that. Plus, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is a relatively swift 127-minutes, and I ain’t checking that out anytime soon.

Yet I still stand by the argument that films have generally grown too long. In the 1950s, the advent of widescreen meant more stuff could happen onscreen in a single shot. As a result, films became longer and often more bloated. This current crop has to compete with a golden age of TV, and a medium that has space to evolve expansive story lines. Once upon a time, TV competed with cinema and more often fell short. Now the opposite is true, and cinema is proving itself less than match fit.

Raiders of the Lost Ark came in at 115-minutes and left everyone satisfied. Blockbuster cinema – be like Raiders. Or possibly Barbie, which runs 114-minutes… although that seems a bit long for a comedy. (Er Rob, Pretty Woman, There’s Something About Mary, and Trading Places are all around the 2hr mark…)

Rob Daniel
Twitter: rob_a_Daniel
Letterboxd: RobDan
Podcast: The Movie Robcast

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