Indiana Jones Has Lost the Crack in His Whip in 'The Dial of Destiny'

Directed by James Mangold

Starring Harrison Ford, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Antonio Banderas, John Rhys-Davies, Shaunette Renée Wilson, Thomas Kretschmann, Toby Jones, Boyd Holbrook, Olivier Richters, Ethann Isidore, Mads Mikkelsen

Photo courtesy of Lucasfilm

BY Rachel HoPublished Jun 30, 2023

Growing up, there wasn't anyone cooler than Indiana Jones. An archaeology nerd whose field research requires him to holster a whip and fight Nazis? It's obvious, really. Even the most ardent of fans, however, can agree that his story should have ended with 1989's Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Arguably, the only reason for a fifth (and supposedly final) instalment is because of how ill-advised 2008's Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was, and while Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny doesn't quite sink to the same lows, it's a far cry from the glory days of Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Last Crusade.

Like all good Indy movies, The Dial of Destiny starts in World War II. At this point, the Allies are liberating Europe and the Nazis are making last-ditch attempts at glory and/or self-preservation. A Nazi astrophysicist, Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen), believes he has found the Archimedes Dial, an artifact thought to be capable of finding fissures in time allowing for time travel. Indy (Harrison Ford) and his colleague Basil Shaw (Toby Jones), having been captured by the Nazis, manage to acquire half of the Dial during their escape. 

The movie makes a jump to 1969 where Indy is a slightly crotchety older man who is now separated from Marion (Karen Allen) and involuntarily retiring from his long-held post at the university. Unhappy and begrudgingly accepting of his circumstances, Indy receives a jolt when Helena Shaw (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), the daughter of the now-deceased Basil, finds him in search of the Dial. Although initially reluctant to join Helena on her hunt, Indy soon has no choice when Jürgen tracks them down.

A lot has been made of the use of AI to de-age Ford and Mikkelsen in the first section of the film, so let's get it out of the way: it's markedly better than The Irishman, but clearly the technology still has a ways to go. There is nothing egregiously out of place with the de-aging, and perhaps it's knowing that Harrison Ford isn't a 30-something anymore, but his appearance as his younger self never moves past the stage of unsettling to become seamless reality. 

The cinematography and visual effects across the film can be summed up in a similar manner. The reported $295 million budget warrants a degree of expectation, which The Dial of Destiny fails to meet, although it never looks terrible. The most suspect of sequences is in the grand finale, which looks more like a video game cutaway than the climax of a beloved franchise and character. 

The visuals aside, franchise newcomers Mikkelsen (though severely underused) and Waller-Bridge both turn in great performances, while Ford slips into an older Indy with the greatest of ease. Director James Mangold hits all of the Indy buttons — obstacle courses, mystical lore — in a mechanical fashion that becomes dull as he goes through the motions. It's frustrating, to say the least. There's a formidable story within The Dial of Destiny, combining ancient history with a Nazi twist yet, but it somehow doesn't add up to a very compelling film.

Across the two-and-a-half-hour runtime, I found myself willing the film to speed up and find its conclusion; and once a conclusion did present itself, I was overjoyed with it. It was a poignant way for Indy to hang up his hat and walk into the sunset — only to be thwarted by a swift punch in the face that favours a decidedly less interesting ending.

The Dial of Destiny has intriguing ideas that makes for a better send-off than Crystal Skull, and seeing Ford don that khaki outfit one last time is a real treat — but despite Mangold's efforts to recapture the whimsy of Indy, The Dial of Destiny falls flat. Probably the most disappointing part of this goodbye is that the story presented is actually intriguing and hearkens back to the joyous action-adventure genre the franchise helped form, but the movie ultimately feels like an imitation of its former self.

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