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Review: Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023)

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023)

Directed by: James Mangold

Premise: The fifth film in the Indiana Jones series. Set in 1969, Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) and his goddaughter (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) search for Archimedes’ Dial, a device that allows for time travel. A former Nazi (Mads Mikkelsen) wants the dial to undo the result of World War II.

What Works: Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is both an addendum to the series and a course correction after the disappointment of 2008’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Much like Last Crusade, the new film returns to some of the classic elements associated with Indiana Jones, namely his conflicts with Nazis, and restores some of the rougher edges that made the earlier films so memorable. There was always an understated antihero element to Indiana Jones with the inference that he treaded between archeology and grave robbery. In Dial of Destiny, Indiana Jones is retiring and feels lost and anachronistic. The film and the character possess a gruff wisdom that comes with age. Jones teams with his goddaughter Helena Shaw, played by Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Shaw is the most interesting character in the film. She’s complicated and reckless in the way Indiana Jones was as a younger man and Waller-Bridge brings a lot of charisma and humor to the role. The heavy of Dial of Destiny is a former Nazi who has been working with NASA and the CIA. Given the place of Nazis in this series, it’s a subversive (and true) story development. The Nazis of the Indiana Jones films have been villainous but also simplistic. Dr. Voller, played by Mads Mikkelsen, is a little more complex and his plan adds an interesting twist to the time travel plot. Like other Indiana Jones films, Dial of Destiny has plenty of humor and action and although it lacks some of Steven Spielberg’s knack for choreography and kineticism the set pieces are done well. The film has an organic look that was missing from Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

What Doesn’t: Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny begins with a prologue sequence that is set in 1944. The actors have been digitally de-aged to account for the time difference. Some shots are done well but others are not. Harrison Ford mostly looks convincing but some of the other actors haven’t been rendered so well and the illusion is often disrupted when the characters speak. A surprising disappointment of Dial of Destiny is the score by John Williams. The music isn’t bad but it is derivative. Williams repurposes segments of the score from previous movies especially Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The weakest element of Dial of Destiny is its retirement theme. This story is about characters wanting to undo the mistakes of their past but ultimately have to accept outcomes that were beyond their control. The movie doesn’t really resolve that idea and the final sequence feels tagged on. This film is intended to be the last chapter of the Indiana Jones series but the ending doesn’t have a satisfying finality to it in the way of Last Crusade or even Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Bottom Line: On its own merits, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is a fine movie and a satisfying adventure. It’s better than Kingdom of the Crystal Skull but it’s nowhere near the status of the first three films and it’s not much of a sendoff for the character.

Episode: #956 (July 9, 2023)