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Review: Indiana Jones and the Dullness of Destiny

With Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, director James Mangold takes another shot at portraying the final adventure of an aging action-hero, but this time the result feels old and tired. If you want to see a good version of that story, watch Logan. If you want to see Harrison Ford reprise one of his iconic ’80s characters, watch Bladerunner 2047.

Full disclosure: We have never been a fan of Indiana Jones, and his latest adventure, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, did little to change our mind. The franchise has always been overrated because of its pedigree (“Spielberg plus Lucas must equal greatness!”); its attempt to capture the nostalgic appeal of old-fashioned action-serials always had something rotten at its core (“When the white hero shoots a dark-skinned foreigner, it’s funny!”). After Raiders of the Lost Ark, things got even worse with Temple of Doom. The Last Crusade at least had Sean Connery, so the original trilogy ended on a relatively high note. But then Hollywood revived the character for a new generation, and the results have not been good.

Nice de-aging of Harrison Ford in the prologue

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is a slight improvement over 2008’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – in the sense that the new film is merely dull as opposed to insipid. There are no aliens, just a time-traveling timepiece, and the new millennium’s shift toward digital rather than analog effects is less problematic; the CGI even manages to make Harrison Ford look authentically young in the lengthy prologue set in WWIII Germany. Probably thanks to director James Mangold, the onscreen deaths have more sting, but there is still a goofy vibe to the action that robs the film of genuine suspense or dramatic impact (e.g., early on, a character gets bashed off a train in a way that should mean instant death, but he shows up later in fine health to become the film’s villain).

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny still lacks the visceral punch of the old fashioned cinematic adventures it attempts to emulate. The film works overtime to throw in action scenes one after another whether or not they belong in the story – which would be fine if they were truly thrilling, but in the era of John Wick, Indy’s physical exertions come across as pedestrian and monotonous. For example, the prologue’s extended train sequence attempts to translate Buster Keaton’s The General from the Civil War to WWII, but it’s rather feeble: too silly to be exciting but not silly enough to be funny.

Even worse, the film’s central theme is glossed over. We are supposed to be watching an aging hero deal with the twin challenges of declining strength and a changing world, both of which threaten to render him obsolete; however, that barely registers. There is one mildly interesting moment when Indy, carrying a baseball bat, yells at some young neighbors for playing “Sargent Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” too loud. Unfortunately, the script fails to follow through on the notion that the “hero” (who casually gunned down an opponent armed only with a sword) has aged into an angry crank threatening to beat up people who annoy him.

Instead, the film simply sets Jones off and running on a new adventure, doing what he always did: riding horses, chasing cars, punching bad guys, scuba diving, parachuting out of planes – showing few sign of difficulty. Sure, he is unable to overpower the villain’s main henchman, but the brute is such a hulking mountain that it hardly makes Jones seem weak or too old.

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny Review: The Story
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny review
The Dial of Destiny – aka, the Antikythera

The plot has Jones chasing the Antikythera created by Archimedes – the titular “Dial of Destiny” – which can pinpoint fissures in time, allowing travelers to jump back to the past. Thus, the film is literally about trying to turn back the clock, which should play into Indy’s sense of alienation in the modern era (which includes being separated from his offscreen wife, Marion). Unfortunately, this does not really motivate Jones, who instead wants to keep the Antikythera from falling into the hands of Dr. Voller (Mads Mikkelsen), a German physicist imported to the U.S. after the war to aid the space program.

Yes, Indy is battling Nazis again, which is, admittedly, repetitious. Nevertheless, we’ll give the film a pass. Back in 1981, Nazis villains seemed too obvious – they were bad guys everyone could hate – but since a sitting president called Neo-Nazis “very fine people,” it is pretty cool to see Jones punching them in the face again, as they deserve to be. Weirdly, the script replays an idea previously floated in the Amazon series Hunters: that the U.S. government, having imported former Nazi scientists to aid in the post-war space effort, let them roam free to steal and murder as they saw fit.

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny review
Jones (Harrison Ford) and Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) team up to find the Dial of Destiny.

Anyway, Indy teams up with Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), daughter of an old colleague who was obsessed with unraveling the secrets of the Antikythera. Unsurprisingly, Helena wants to get her hands on the device, but for barely explained reasons (she has debts), she would rather sell it than continue her father’s work. Supposedly, Jones wants it to somehow exonerate himself from a false murder charge (for killings actually committed by Voller’s men), but nothing in the story actually flows from this idea, which is forgotten almost as soon as it is mentioned.

Their quest leads to a deep dive in the Mediterranean, where Indy encounters eels (which is supposed to be hilarious because they resemble snakes). Antionio Banderas shows up as the captain of the boat, getting third-billed for about ninety seconds of screen time – just enough to remind us that Puss in Boots: The Last Wish handled the aging hero story much better Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.

ndiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny review
Dr. Voller (Mads Mikkelsen), a German physicist with plans to save the Third Reich, and Colonel Weber (Thomas Kretschmann)

Not to belabor the laborious details, but in keeping with the template established in Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indy pretty much hand-delivers the MacGuffin to Dr. Voller, and, as in the previous film, it is only the unexpected action of MacGuffin itself that prevents Dr. Voller from achieving his goal.

This is a grave error in a film which purports to show Jones saving the world one last time. Considering his history of inadvertently leading Nazis to the dangerous artifacts they seek, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny could have offered a revisionist take, making the obvious observation that his intervention is contraindicated. Certainly one wonders why the script does not have Marion around to tell him, “The best thing you could do for the world – and for us – is stay home!” (Which would have dovetailed nicely with the ending.)

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny Review: Conclusion

So, are there any redeeming aspects to Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny? As mentioned above, it is good to see Indy beating up Nazis again (too bad Mangold did not take it to the next level, giving the villains the brutal – rather than cartoony – deaths they deserved, with the same sting attached to the demise of their victims). Though the cameo appearances are mostly fan service, the last one – whose identity you can probably guess – is actually quite heartwarming, suggesting the more deeply felt film that could have been.

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Harrison Ford is fun to watch; he obviously enjoys being back in action (even though his best recent work is in Shrinking). As expected, Mikkelsen is an intimidating villain, and Thomas Kretschmann is appropriately sinister as a Nazi Colonel, though he is not around for long. Phoebe Waller-Bridge gives an engagingly energetic and athletic performance as Helena; however, we could not help imagining Philosophy Youtuber Abigail Thorne in the role, which might have been even more fun. And the return of the Wilhelm Scream on the soundtrack is worth a chuckle.

Considering what Mangold achieved with his two Wolverine movies, it is unfortunate that he could not squeeze more juice out of this dried-up franchise, though no doubt Walt Disney Pictures will squeeze a stream of cash from fans eager to see their aging hero her ride off into the sunset of his life. Fortunately for the rest of us, better cinematic versions of that story already exist.

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

Rating Scale

1 – Avoid
2 – Not all bad
3 – Recommended
4 – Highly Recommended
5 – Must See

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny posterWith Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, director James Mangold takes another shot at portraying the final adventure of a beloved movie action-hero, but this time the result feels old and tired. If you want to see a good version of that story, watch Logan. If you want to see Harrison Ford revisit one of his iconic ’80s characters, watch Bladerunner 2047 again.

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (Walt Disney Pictures, Lucas Film, Paramount). Directed by James Mangold. Written by Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, David Koepp, James Mangold, based on characters created by George Lucas and Philip Kaufman. Produced by Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall, Simon Emanuel. Music by John Williams. Cinematography by Phedon Papamichael. Starring: Harrison Ford, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Antonio Banderas, John Rhys-Davies, Toby Jones, Boyd Holbrook, Ethann Isidore, Mads Mikkelsen. 154 mins. Rated PG-13. Release Date: May 18, 2023.

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is currently in theatres, screening in Standard Format, Dolby Cinmea, IMAX Laser, Laser, MX4D, and 4DX (the latter two offer motion simulation.) Only Universal Cinema AMC at CityWalk Hollywood offers the true IMAX screen aspect ratio, but Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny was shot in widescreen, so you might as well see where we did, at the IMAX Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, which offers amazing picture quality – contrast, sharpness, and color – along with stunning sound. If you prefer the bells and whistles of motion simulation to enhanced picture quality, we have found that the MX4D at the TLC Chinese Theatre to be superior to the 4DX offered at Regal Cinemas. Hopefully, the motion simulation will goose some of the lifeless action scenes into a semblance of life.

Steve Biodrowski, Administrator

A graduate of USC film school, Steve Biodrowski has worked as a film critic, journalist, and editor at Movieline, Premiere, Le Cinephage, The Dark Side., Cinefantastique magazine, Fandom.com, and Cinescape Online. He is currently Managing Editor of Cinefantastique Online and owner-operator of Hollywood Gothique.