Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny Is Good, Actually

The fifth and final Indiana Jones is a throwback in more ways than one.

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An image of Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones.
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Inverse Reviews

Indiana Jones has always been a man out of time.

Beginning with Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981, the franchise was conceived by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg as a throwback to 1930s pulp adventures, a modern take on a genre that had long fallen out of fashion. In the process, they invented a whole new visual language that would become more familiar to new generations of moviegoers than the creaky old serials that inspired it. People have expectations for an Indiana Jones movie, and it’s entirely based on what they remember of their favorite Indiana Jones movie.

That’s what makes Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny such a fascinating, if imperfect, swan song for the franchise. James Mangold (Logan, Ford v Ferrari) takes over as director from Spielberg, whose indelible style left such a stamp on the franchise that his absence looms large even in Dial of Destiny’s most riveting moments. But though Mangold is no Spielberg, there’s no question that he gets Indiana Jones. Dial of Destiny is a rollicking adventure that brings an earnest goofiness to the franchise, with a third-act twist so off-the-rails you have to applaud it for its ballsiness.

Dial of Destiny is a throwback movie in more ways than one, made as much in the shadow of Spielberg as it is in homage to the pulp adventures that started it all. While it doesn’t quite measure up to either, the joy of Dial of Destiny is in how it manages to capture the spirit of both while finally bringing full circle the original concept of Indiana Jones.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s spirited Helena Shaw is a highlight of Dial of Destiny.

©2023 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

Dial of Destiny takes place in 1969, 25 years after Indy (Harrison Ford) and his colleague Basil Shaw (Toby Jones) recovered a precious artifact from the Nazis called the Archimedes Dial. But as is the case for many an Indiana Jones McGuffin, there’s more to the Archimedes Dial than just its historical significance — it may actually hold the key to time travel. This detail is more significant to Indy’s life than he’d like. At 70 years old and on the cusp of retiring, he can no longer keep up with a generation that would rather look to the stars than at their own history. When Basil’s daughter and Indy’s goddaughter, Helena Shaw (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), crashes into his life in search of the dial, he is dragged back into one last adventure.

The biggest criticism levied against Dial of Destiny is that it feels like a copy of an Indiana Jones adventure. But I’d argue this is a feature rather than a bug. The Indy we meet in Dial of Destiny is an older Indy left behind by the times. The U.S. is in the midst of the Space Race, and neither his students nor the United States have any interest in old fossils. Shady C.I.A. agents only get involved in the frantic hunt for the Archimedes Dial out of an obligation to Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen, deliciously sinister), a scientist who was instrumental in getting America to the moon. But Voller is also a former Nazi who crossed paths with Indy during that fateful mission 25 years ago, and he’s obsessed with the idea of using its time-travel properties to “fix” history. Indy’s quest, then, becomes a mission to protect history itself.

Mads Mikkelsen is perfectly cast as the villain of Dial of Destiny.

©2023 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

Indy’s dilemma as a man abandoned by history and suddenly tasked with saving it is best explained by the movie’s 25-minute opening sequence featuring a de-aged Harrison Ford — a choice that has been at the center of much unearned controversy. Mangold’s camera energetically weaves through burning buildings and cramped train compartments of a speeding train as a younger Indy fights his way through waves of Nazis. This is Mangold’s take on classic Indiana Jones, and it’s a brisk, hard-hitting one full of that spirit of adventure.

But the sequence also has that unintentional effect of de-aging that Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman used to its advantage: though the CGI is seamless in close-up, Ford still moves and talks like an older man. It gives the effect of this flashback sequence feeling like a distorted memory. When an older Indy chases the Archimedes Dial after it’s stolen by Helena, his zeal comes as a bit of a surprise from a dejected retiree in his twilight years.

Perhaps the Dial of Destiny’s biggest failing is that the script by Mangold, Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, and David Koepp unfurls so fast it doesn’t give much time for us to dwell on these larger themes. It’s a globetrotter that briskly moves from New York, to Morocco, to Greece, with even a deep-sea dive adventure featuring an underused Antonio Banderas. But the chemistry of Indy’s new team holds it together — Phoebe Waller-Bridge brings a grifter Girl Friday energy to the movie, while Teddy Kumar (Ethann Isidore) is clearly the movie’s street-savvy take on Temple of Doom’s Short Round. Ford is thornier than ever as Indiana Jones, lending an interesting friction between him and Helena, whose greedy pragmatism clashes with his old-school antics. Paired with some of the franchise’s most cold-blooded villains (including Boyd Holbrook’s wild card of a henchman), Dial of Destiny manages to up its stakes and momentum, even as its runtime drags.

Harrison Ford brings a thorniness to Indy.

©2023 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

The one thing missing from Dial of Destiny is the surprising nasty streak of the first three films. Even the over-maligned Crystal Skull displayed a glimpse of this in the sequence where giant fire ants eat a man alive as he screams in pain. Dial of Destiny has the franchise’s requisite skeletons, elaborate puzzles, and booby traps, but it’s disappointingly bloodless. This just keeps Dial of Destiny from achieving greatness, though its wild third-act twist does manage to tip the scales back in its favor.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about Dial of Destiny is how close it comes to greatness. There are a series of missed opportunities and lost potential. But, and this might be cliché to say, it’s got the spirit. Sure, Dial of Destiny doesn’t reach the highest heights of the Indiana Jones franchise, but in its wilder, weirder, goofier moments, it comes pretty darn close.

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny opens in theaters on June 30.

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