‘Dial of Destiny’ Sends Indiana Jones off on a Pleasing High Note (Review)

by | Jun 27, 2023

Indiana Jones must keep an ancient time-bending artifact from falling into the wrong hands in his latest, and possibly last, adventure. 

After the original Indiana Jones trilogy established Harrison Ford’s titular hero as an adventure movie icon in the 1980s, creators George Lucas and Steven Spielberg brought the explorer back in 2008 with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but the hero’s welcome he initially received was marred by the mixed-to-negative reactions upon the film’s conclusion. With the franchise now in the hands of director James Mangold after Lucasfilm’s acquisition by the Walt Disney Corporation, audiences everywhere will find that its proverbial ship has been righted with Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, a film that ends the Indiana Jones adventure saga on a high note and gives Harrison Ford’s run as the character a proper sendoff.

Dial of Destiny takes place during the Summer of Love in 1969, where an aged Henry “Indiana” Jones (Harrison Ford) lives separated from his wife Marion Ravenwood, and is mere days away from being forced into retirement from teaching archaeology at Marshall College for openly disagreeing with his colleagues about the United States government’s strategy of hiring former Nazis to assist in the race against Russia to go into space and land on the moon. 

One ex-Nazi hired by NASA for this practice is Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen), who Indiana Jones and his adventuring partner Basil Shaw (Toby Jones) encountered twenty-five years prior toward the end of World War II to steal an artifact from the Third Reich. This relic is the Antikythera: a dial assembled by ancient Greek mathematician Archimedes and rumored to have the ability to open wormholes in time. With a team of spies, Voller searches for the antique intent on bringing the Nazis back into power, but Indy’s goddaughter Helena Shaw (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) steals it from his possession with the goal of selling it in an auction for money. This sends the titular hero on another globetrotting adventure that sees him reunite with old friends, bond with his goddaughter, and fight the Nazis on his tail with all the strength he has. 

Since the announcement of Dial of Destiny, speculation has ran rampant over the possibilities of James Mangold perfectly filling the big shoes left by longtime helmer Steven Spielberg, but thankfully not only is he up for the challenge, he did a stellar job in bringing the series back to its joyful, adventurous roots influenced by the film serials of the 1930s. The action sequences are thrilling and adapt to Ford’s age very well by writing the aged explorer into situations where he has to use his intelligence rather than his brawn, such as an instance where Indy must masquerade as a protestor before engaging the Nazis in any sort of combat. 

What also must be commended is the score from John Williams; the prolific composer first paired Indiana Jones with his iconic leitmotif in 1981, and ends the character’s cinematic adventure along with his own career in tremendous fashion with an old-fashioned approach to the music, one that cues a scene’s transition from silence to suspense through the high notes of an unsettling piano flourish, and a thrilling orchestra that matches the film’s fast-paced action.

Mangold is also no stranger to telling stories about withered old heroes tormented by pain; succeeding with Logan and continuing the streak here; once the full extent of his separation from Marion is revealed, Indy’s character arc about moving into the twilight of his life with nothing becomes equal parts melancholy as well as affecting, and Ford sells his anguish during character moments with an internal, pained sadness in what is a solid lead performance. 

The narrative of Dial of Destiny also remains compelling throughout thanks to the addition of Waller-Bridge as Helena, who steals the show as the perfect counter to the curmudgeon Indiana Jones has become. She is written and performed with the adventurous spirit her godfather had in the early days of his adventures, but unlike Indy, she’s driven by avarice rather than passion, conveyed through a recurring joke that sees the two bantering over whether the Antikythera should go to the highest bidder or a museum. 

As excellent as all these elements are within Dial of Destiny, it does run long at two hours and twenty four minutes, which may test the patience of younger audience members. What’s also worth noting is that the character moments as aforementioned are well directed with moody shadows and grounded acting from the entire ensemble, but the movie does spend more time on the gadabout fun rather than meandering in something more substantial. Meanwhile the opening action sequence is thrilling, although it can be difficult for some viewers to follow if only for how darkly lit the set piece gets in scant exteriors.

There may be elements that appeal more to the generation of moviegoers who grew up with Indiana Jones than contemporary spectators, but Dial of Destiny still captivates with the exhilarating fun that the famed explorer has provided for audiences of all ages for over 40 years. Audiences will appreciate the kitschy beats of the action sequences, be endeared to Indiana Jones and Helena Shaw, recognize cameos from franchise mainstays, and feel enthralled by the wondrous twists and turns of the on-screen adventure. If this is indeed Indy’s final bow, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny sends its hero on a satisfying ride into the sunset.

RATING: ★★★★

(out of five stars)