Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny’ Premieres at Cannes: First Reaction

After paying tribute to an emotional Harrison Ford, the festival unspooled the newest sequel to decidedly mixed results.

By guest author Manohla Dargis, Reporting from Cannes, France from the New York Times. Manohla Dargis is the chief film critic of The Times, which she joined in 2004. She has an M.A. in cinema studies from New York University, and her work has been anthologised in several books.

On Thursday, Harrison Ford stood before a rapturous crowd at the Cannes Film Festival and reminded us that Tom Cruise isn’t the last movie star.

Ford, here with the latest “Indiana Jones” sequel, didn’t arrive at his premiere with a retinue of fighter jets, as Cruise did last year for “Top Gun: Maverick.” Instead Ford, now 80, gave the festival and the volubly appreciative audience exactly what it wanted and needed: glamour, yes, but also soul, emotion, that familiar crinkly smile and a lot of great history.

That history was on display in a snappy, coherently edited homage that got the evening started. The salute took off with a clip from Agnès Varda’s “The World of Jacques Demy” (1995), itself a feature-length tribute to her husband that’s a reminder of Ford’s French connections. In the late 1960s, Demy had wanted to cast the then-unknown Ford in “Model Shop” but couldn’t convince the studio to hire him. Demy settled for another actor, but he and Varda remained friends with Ford. It’s a blast when the actor, looking at the camera, says with a smile, “I’m told that the studio said to forget me, that I had no future in this business.”

After racing through other career touchstones like “Blade Runner” and “Star Wars,” the homage culminated with a title card that proclaimed Ford “one of the greatest stars in the history of cinema.” It’s no wonder that when Ford took to the stage of the Lumière theater, which with some 2,000 seats is imposingly large, he looked so visibly moved. By his side was the festival’s director, Thierry Frémaux, who, speaking in English, gushed about Ford as giddily as a kid who’s still high after seeing Indy onscreen for the first time. Rather anticlimactically, Frémaux also presented Ford an honorary Palme d’Or.

“I’m very touched, I’m very moved by this,” Ford said. “They say that when you’re about to die, you see your life flash before your eyes. And I just saw my life flash before my eyes — a great part of my life, but not all of my life. My life has been enabled by my lovely wife,” he continued, looking out into the audience at Calista Flockhart. He then told the attendees that he loved them — people shouted, “We love you!” in return — and after a few more sweetly gruff words, Ford reminded the room that “I have a movie you ought to see.”

That movie, “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” — oops, I mean “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” — was, alas, a disappointment and not just because a funny, misty-eyed and charming Harrison Ford proclaiming his love in the flesh to fans is a tough act to follow. One problem is that the movie itself plays like a greatest-hits reel. It’s stuffed with Nazis, chase sequences, explosions, crashes and what seems like almost every adventure-film cliché that the series has deployed and recycled since it began, though unlike the Cannes reel, there’s nothing snappy about this 154-minute slog.

It’s too bad. Ford certainly deserves better, and the director James Mangold can do better. (He shares script credit with Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth and David Koepp.) Mangold has toggled between Hollywood and indiewood throughout his career, with credits that include “Cop Land,” an indie crime drama with Sylvester Stallone, and “Logan,” one of the finest Marvel-superhero movies. “Logan” was especially striking simply because Mangold managed to put his own stamp on material that all too often is so deliberately generic and industrial that the results could have come off an assembly line.

“The Dial of Destiny” — the title alone didn’t bode well — isn’t terrible. It’s at once overstuffed and anemic, both too much and not nearly enough. It’s also wildly unmodulated for roughly the first half. It opens in 1944 Europe with Indy being manhandled by Nazis amid a lot of choreographed chaos, his head covered in a cloth bag. When the bag comes off, it reveals a distractingly digitally de-aged Ford, looking kind-of-but-not-really like he looked in the first couple of films. A lot happens and happens again, mostly character introductions, explanations and stuff whirring rapidly.

The movie improves in the second half, slowing and quieting down enough for the actors to do more than run, grimace and shout. By then, the casting of Fleabag, a.k.a. Phoebe Waller-Bridge, as Indy’s latest partner-in-adventure makes sense, whether she’s quipping or flexing her action-chick muscles. She’s fun to watch, as are Mads Mikkelsen, Toby Jones and Antonio Banderas, who exit and enter with winks and sneers.

Of course the real attraction here is Ford, who holds your attention when the movie doesn’t and whose every wisecrack, flirty gaze and slow burn make it clear that he didn’t have to be de-aged because — as everyone in that vibrating room at Cannes knew — he’s immortal.