Indiana Jones 5 Disappoints as an Entry Point for Series Newcomers

I’m very familiar with the cycle of nostalgia; the way pop culture has a tendency to cycle through trends every 20-30 years and bring back media properties from that time to appeal to old fans. I’ve also been going to the movies for most of my life, so I’ve seen the rise of remakes and the discussions of how well (or not) they thread the needle of playing to nostalgic longtime fans while trying to bring newcomers on board. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is the latest of these, bringing the classic adventurer back to the big screen for what Lucasfilm claims is the last time.

This isn’t the first time the studio has done an Indiana Jones revival film; back in 2008, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was released, and it was not received well by fans. Dial of Destiny seems to exist in an attempt to end the franchise (or at least Harrison Ford’s time in the title role) on a high note. But I’m not here to judge whether or not it does that, because I’m actually a total newcomer to the franchise (theme song and Disney theme park attractions notwithstanding) and Dial of Destiny was the first Indiana Jones movie I ever watched. Therefore, I can’t speak to whether the movie will satisfy longtime fans of the franchise, but I can provide a newcomer’s perspective. And as a newcomer, it really doesn’t seem like this movie was made with me in mind.

The best things I can say about this film was that it held my attention and I enjoyed Harrison Ford’s performance, though it didn’t make me think “iconic role,” and I got the sense that he probably wasn’t as sharp in the part as he probably was in the previous installments. But unfortunately, there weren’t any highlights or big moments to note other than maybe the Nazi-punching. It’s not that there weren’t any big moments in the movie — it’s that virtually all of them were meant to evoke a response based on nostalgia for previous Indiana Jones movies.

I don’t know what the specific significance of all these moments are, but I’ve seen enough nostalgia-bait movies to know when a shot is being set up for audience applause. The swells in the music and lingering pauses when certain characters first appear and when certain lines or actions come up is enough to let me know I’m supposed to feel reverence for them, but having no background knowledge of these things just makes the moments feel awkward for a newcomer to the Indiana Jones franchise. It’s like an inside joke you don’t understand, but rather than even attempting explaining it to you, your friends keep laughing and move on.

The movie explains what the audience needs to know in order to follow the plot. However, it doesn’t give those who are new to Indiana Jones a reason to care about stuff that it really seems we should care about in order to be truly invested in the movie’s story. Without giving too much away, there are moments in this movie that are clearly engineered to evoke strong emotions in viewers — mostly in regards to mentions of or appearances from various characters from previous installments — that the movie doesn’t bother building up to and assumes the groundwork laid previously is sufficient buildup.

There’s stuff in here that should hit hard whether you’ve seen the other movies or not, but the movie doesn’t spend enough time on it or emphasize the weight of it quite enough for it to stick in the minds of people who don’ t have that history, which is especially a problem given that it’s supposed to be the main emotional core of the film. I imagine this may even be jarring for people who have seen the others, because the movie doesn’t just assume audiences have that history with certain past characters, a lot of the time it doesn’t even give them the significance it seems like they may deserve (particularly when it comes to one mentioned-but-not-seen character in the film who I assumed was an offscreen-only figure but was shocked to learn had a very big presence in the past). The movie reminds audiences that these characters exist, but doesn’t really respect said characters in some cases.

Of course, all of this isn’t unique to Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, but experiencing a legacy movie from the perspective of a franchise newcomer showed me how other movies focusing on nostalgia above all else can fall flat for newcomers. Maybe it’s because the filmmakers knew this would be Harrison Ford’s last hurrah in the role and didn’t care to bring new fans in, but while that might be a creative choice, it’s probably not going to fly financially.

I wouldn’t call Dial of Destiny inaccessible to those who haven’t seen the other ones; the plot should be pretty understandable to most people, Indy fans or not. But there really isn’t much of an effort to entice franchise newbies. This an odd choice considering the last Indiana Jones film came out 15 years ago, meaning there’s a whole new generation of people who may be introduced to Indy through this movie that the filmmakers just don’t seem to care about. To be fair, this would probably be fine if the budget wasn’t astronomically high (like it is for so many movies these days). But too many movies are taking the easy way out with nostalgia and other references these days. We’ve seen it with DC and Marvel quite a bit, and we’ve even seen it to an extent with The Super Mario Bros. Movie earlier this year mostly consisting of game references.

Bottom line, we need more nostalgic movies like Top Gun: Maverick — which honors the legacy of the first film while telling a fresh story and being inclusive of new audiences — and less like Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.