Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

June 19th, 2023




From the opening sequence of Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, you can tell that this is not a Steven Spielberg film. In that regard it feels sad and as if a crime is being committed. No matter how awful the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls was, we could at least say that all the Indiana Jones movies were made by one of cinema’s greatest auteurs. Now that changes, with James Mangold taking over the directing duties, allowing Harrison Ford and the legendary Indiana Jones to get one more crack at the whip. The result is smack dab in the center of where the film industry sits today. It’s a movie that relies on the past, using the technology of the future, and hitting that nostalgia button with subtle reminders of the past trilogy. What occurred to me by the end is that The Dial of Destiny may not be a Spielberg movie, but it definitely is an Indiana Jones one, and sometimes that is enough to make it worth the adventure.

The adventure starts in the past, at the end of WWII, with the Nazis scrambling at their fall, raiding homes and churches for historic artifacts. Villainous Dr. Voller (Mads Mikkelsen) is looking on behalf of Hitler for a blade that is claimed to be the spear that pierced the rib of Jesus Christ. Someone also in pursuit is a de-aged Harrison Ford, looking 45 years younger, like the Indiana we saw from Raiders of the Lost Ark. The way I would describe it: Creepy. The effort to retrieve the artifact involves help from Indy’s good friend Basil Shaw (Toby Jones), who gets himself kidnapped, leading to a car chase, and a fight on a runaway train. The action is zippy and CGI heavy, with an obvious 81-year-old voice behind the face of a younger man, proving that no matter how good the technology is, it looks and sounds like an alien robot has taken over the body of our hero. While the action is undeniably thrilling, it feels like a science experiment mixed with a video game, something that is the opposite of what Indiana Jones stands for.

Things fast-forward to 1969, with the excitement of the moon landing swirling around and Dr. Jones doing his best to keep archeology exciting before he retires. Marion is divorcing him, his son is out of the picture, and the world is moving beyond the stars. That is until Helena Shaw (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) arrives at his door. She hopes to retrieve the mysterious Dial of Archimedes, a device to change the course of time, but Indy believes it should be left alone, while it is still pursued by the determined Dr. Voller. This brings Indy out for one more adventure, traveling from Morocco, to the shores of Sicily, and back into caves searching for artifacts that belong in a museum.

Constantly throughout Dial of Destiny is a battle of the past and the present. These themes are precisely discussed in James Mangold’s new take, a theme he has dissected before in Logan and Ford V. Ferrari. It relatively works as both a meditation on the time we have left and the mark that someone can imprint on history. But just as Mangold fights the conundrum of past vs. present, he also succumbs to it. CGI car chases look poorly lit, while Ford is clearly not as limber, making his character’s physical skills even less believable. Waller-Bridge is the slice of fun, as a new counterpart to Indy, and yet the narrative energy is lacking. You know when an Indiana Jones movie is having pacing problems because the journey for Indy and Shaw should overwhelmingly thrill, but it meanders along instead.

That’s not to say things are all bad for Dial of Destiny. It’s impossible to not feel joy to see Ford in the fedora and cracking the whip again. And although the bar was low, this is a major upgrade from Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, a movie that is still one of Spielberg’s worst. The script instead sticks to the hits with gross bugs in dark caves, Indy walking into underground black markets filled with bad guys, and a deep sea diving sequence that feels like a fresh scenario we never saw before. No matter how flawed it may feel, Dial of Destiny does have its best intentions.

Overall, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is fine. It’s not the complete disaster that critics had claimed out of Cannes. It’s not half as good as the original trilogy either. That’s because we can’t get that back. That was an amazing moment in cinema history, a trio of films that were pure Spielberg, and captured the peak excellence of Harrison Ford. There may come a time to revisit Dial of Destiny. I could rehash what an Indiana Jones movie is “supposed to be” but this is the last run of a great action hero. He’s left his mark and now we can let Indiana Jones ride off into the sunset.



Written by: Leo Brady

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