‘Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny’ points downward, as the film disrespects and damages our beloved hero

“Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” (2023) – “Just go ahead.  I’ll follow you.” – Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) says to Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge)

It’s been 15 years since audiences have last seen Dr. Henry Walton “Indiana” Jones, Jr. on the big screen in “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” (2008), and 42 summers since Harrison Ford first donned the famed brown fedora and cracked a bullwhip in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981). 

This critic was 11 years young in 1981, witnessed Ford’s first Indy appearance in theatres, and was dazzled by the actor’s swashbuckling alter-ego who raced against Nazi Germany and Rene Belloq (Paul Freeman) to recover the Ark of the Covenant.  Only three movies mattered to this Gen X kid at that time: “Raiders”, “Star Wars” (1977), and “The Empire Strikes Back” (1980). 

That’s it.  That’s the list.  Well, until “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” (1982) invaded cinemas the following year.   

Let’s just say that Ford’s stature – playing both Han Solo and Dr. Jones – towered as lofty as Dear Old Dad’s.  Still, did Pops fly the Millennium Falcon or duke it out with a hulking Nazi mechanic on top of a plane?  (Granted, the said plane hadn’t taken off yet.)

This critic has captured permanent reverence for Ford and Indy for four decades and counting.  

So, it brings me great sorrow to report that “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” is an ordinary and (sometimes) misguided adventure that attempts to recycle landmark beats – with its action set pieces, a mystical artifact, and John Williams’ score – and the film is undercut by a rambling runtime and outright disrespect towards its iconic character.

In short, I’m sorry that I watched this movie. 

However, it doesn’t begin that way. 

The picture opens in 1944, and the Nazis are collecting a treasure trove of relics.  A 40-something Dr. Jones and his colleague Basil Shaw (Toby Jones) confront seemingly dozens of soldiers and officers, and the two become tangled in their adversaries’ grand theft.  Complete with impossible escapes, clever misdirection, and a daring brawl on top of an enormous moving vehicle, Jones and Shaw attempt to secure the Lance of Longinus, otherwise known as the blade that allegedly stabbed Jesus Christ, and something called the Antikythera, a device constructed by Archimedes, the Greek mathematician born in 287 BC. 

The VFX de-aging technology applied to 80-year-old Harrison Ford looks great.  The technical know-how is on its way to almost feeling authentic, but yes, the illusion is flawed when Indy speaks. 

Despite the realistic but admittedly imperfect images of a middle-aged Indiana and also the final confrontation looking manufactured in a lab, this 21-minute opening sequence feels like the DNA of a classic Indy adventure, as the nostalgia and joyous action-adventure accolades return. 

The pacing and thrills are on-point!

Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford)

But the warm, enjoyable feelings don’t last.

The emotional gulf between 1944 Europe and the film’s sudden shift to 1960s New York City feels as jarring as Indy securing the Chachapoyan Fertility Idol versus the tiny podium sinking, triggering pandemonium and a giant rolling boulder in “Raiders”. 

The earnest, heartfelt memories – permanently etched in our brains – of this virile and brilliant hero of three big-screen adventures – and yes, begrudgingly, a lackluster fourth too – dramatically crash into this late 1960s reality that director/co-writer James Mangold and writers Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, and David Koepp conjured.

Dr. Jones wakes on a recliner in his cramped NYC apartment, attempts to get organized, tramps to his 20-something neighbors’ abode to complain about the noise (in a stereotypical “get off my lawn” moment), and leaves to teach at a nearby college.  Hunter College, I believe, but only after Mangold’s camera reveals that Marion (Karen Allen) issued divorce papers. 

Remember the happy ending of “Crystal Skull”?   Well, forget it.  This introduction spells out Dr. Jones’ sad life.  Why would the filmmakers and Lucasfilm portray our hero this way?  Is this how diehard and casual fans dreamt of Indy’s golden years? 

Oh, while he lectures at school in front of a smattering of uninterested students who would all rather be navigating on their phones if it was 2023, memories of his class during “Raiders” seem like a million and a half years ago. 

You know the scene. 

A student wrote “Love You” on her eyelids and blinks slowly, so our hero could see her artwork.   Go back and watch that moment.  As Steven Spielberg pans across the classroom, every young woman is transfixed, even mesmerized by every word spoken by a 30-something Indy!  

So, the deliberate, striking contrast between the classrooms is all by design. 

No question, the filmmakers and Lucasfilm want to portray that Dr. Jones’ life is in misery.

Drudgery.

Indiana is now a relic. 

Indiana Jones (Ford) and Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge)

Enter Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge). 

She’s 30-something years young, Basil’s daughter, and Indy’s goddaughter.  Dr. Jones hasn’t seen Helena in a couple of decades, but she’s here for a purpose:  to find clues to locate Antikythera, otherwise known as the Dial of Destiny, and even better if Indiana possesses half of it!  This ancient item could wield incredible power, and Helena – a scientist or at least an immeasurable study of the Dial – looks to sell it and make some cold, hard, black-market cash. 

Wait?  Doesn’t she want to follow in her late dad’s archeologist footsteps? 

Well, a small band of well-armed villains – led by former Nazi, Dr. Jurgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen)  – want the Dial at any cost and are willing to pay for it by leaving a hefty body count.  They appear out of nowhere, and Indy and Helena are on the run in The Big Apple.  The script doesn’t give Voller much to say – other than one sinister, memorable exchange with a New York City hotel worker – or do. 

(I can’t recall a second Voller line either.  He’s the opposite of Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) from “Die Hard” (1988).)  

Still, he and his baddies are consistently ever-present.  They routinely materialize out of thin air, like magic, or after taking extensive lessons from Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) from “No Country for Old Men” (2007) or the T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) from “The Terminator” (1984), so there’s that.

Anyway, Indy also chases after Helena, and as a detour, he takes a horse ride in the subway system to showcase an eye-rolling, silly sequence. 

Eventually, they both arrive across the pond in Morocco (and other locales) to secure the Dial’s other half.  However, Indy is forced to continue to trail her for a while because this is Helena’s journey for the money or, perhaps, altruistic reasons down the line.    

During the 1st act, Helena attempts to convince Indy that finding the Dial’s other half could be one last triumphant adventure for him.  Then again, she leaves him for dead at one point. 

Really?   She’s not a very thoughtful goddaughter.

Teddy (Ethann Isidore), Indiana (Ford), and Helena (Waller-Bridge)

What we do know is that Helena is exceptionally smart and athletic.  She can fire a gun with deadly accuracy, ride a motorcycle, and leap onto a plane without breaking a sweat.  Helena, however, has some help.  Teddy (Ethann Isidore), a proficient teenager, is her right-hand man in helping her navigate out of precarious predicaments.  Still, the script doesn’t build opportunities for friendly chemistry between Teddy, Indy, and Helena, despite the young man possessing a never-ending reserve of ingenuity.

Even though “The Dial of Destiny” has Indiana Jones in the title, the plot is centered around Helena’s pursuits.  For some stretches, Indy feels like HER sidekick.  Meanwhile, Indy’s advanced age is verbally and physically raised frequently, including Helena zipping by him while climbing up a rock face. 

For the record, where is Dr. Jones’ son, Mutt (Shia LaBeouf)?  The screenwriters – in a cheap trick – ensured that Mutt won’t return in this movie. 

Imagine a Tarzan film where the Lord of the Jungle is in his golden years, his late 70s.  Jane breaks up with him off-screen, and Boy is no longer in the picture.  Meanwhile, a new 30-something heroine – who we had never met before – arrives.  First, she antagonizes him.  They reluctantly form a team, but she swings on Tarzan’s old tree vines toward her destination while he follows close behind.  Although walking would be a better option because he regularly has back pain.

That is essentially the mojo of “Dial of Destiny”.

The 1960s action scenes are competently drawn up but seem like derivatives from past films, such as a haphazard but ineffectual auto rickshaw dash across narrow streets, yet another creepy-crawly critters reveal, and a scuba gear dive complete with eels instead of snakes.  During the scuba sequence, we can’t see Helena’s, Indy’s, or a special cameo’s faces behind the masks, and this fact siphons the suspense.  Again, these moments (and more) were competent but not engaging, no matter how many times Williams’ score kicked in.  To be fair, the final reveal of the Dial’s power earns a genuine surprise, but it occurs very late in the 3rd act, after an awful lot of running around. 

Dr. Voller (Mads Mikkelsen)

(I should also mention that a certain miracle occurs sometime during the 154-minute runtime that doesn’t endure through cinematic magic but through the screenwriting sorcery of a ridiculous plot contrivance.)

Ford – in his late 70s during the filming – doesn’t possess the dexterity of his 39-year-old self in 1981, so from a physical perspective, playing more of a supportive role in this film makes sense.  Age comes into play in a real way.  For instance, one of Voller’s henchmen, a humongous sight with the imposing size of Alan Ritchson, takes a swing at Indy, and one might wonder if one punch would kill our beloved doctor. 

Granted, Harrison is in tremendous shape, as shown during the opening shot of the 1960s Indy.  We should all be grateful to be in his physical condition at 80 years young. 

However, why not have Indy pseudo-cater to a character we know, like Mutt?  Recast Mutt if including Shia is a problem. 

Okay, why not pair him with Short Round (Ke Huy Quan)?  After the success of “Everything Everywhere All at Once” (2022), failing to cast Ke is an unbelievable missed opportunity. 

How about an Indy-Short Round adventure?

Raise your hand if you’d like to see THAT movie!

How about de-aging Harrison for the entire film? 

Here’s a novel idea:  don’t greenlight this movie at all.   

“Dial” is not an awful movie, but the filmmakers made some dreadful decisions, including an exchange during the 3rd act when Helena and Indy engage in the most shameful moment in the entire series, and there’s not a close second place. 

A moment so egregious and appalling, I set down my notebook and held my head in utter disbelief.  This scene significantly damages and – as mentioned earlier – disrespects this character.  

So, should fans watch this final installment of Ford playing his legendary role? Go ahead if you want, but this critic won’t follow.

⭐⭐ out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Directed by:  James Mangold

Written by:  James Mangold, Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, and David Koepp

Starring:  Harrison Ford, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Mads Mikkelsen, John Rhys-Davies, and Ethann Isidore

Rated: PG-13

Runtime: 154 minutes

Image credits: LucasFilm, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

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