The passage of time stops for no one, not even Indiana Jones. The treasure-hunting, whip-cracking archaeologist has been nothing short of an icon for over 40 years. But every hero eventually gets old and has to hang it up. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is touted as the series’s final installment; if it is, there have certainly been worse ways for Jones to go out.
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny opens with an extended prologue in 1944, wherein Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) is captured infiltrating a Nazi base. Soon enough, he and his friend Basil Shaw (Toby Jones) manage to escape from a moving train whilst also stealing one of the Nazis’ stolen treasures: one half of Archimedes’ Antikythera, a dial that has the potential to transport its user through time. Jump cut to 25 years later: it’s 1969, the world is celebrating the moon landing and old man Indy’s adventuring days are long behind him.
On the verge of retirement as a college professor and in the middle of a divorce with longtime love Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), he spends more time arguing with his hippie neighbours instead of punching Nazis. One day, he is visited by Basil’s daughter Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), who wants his help to find the second half of the dial. Unfortunately, so does Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen), a Nazi scientist Indy encountered in ‘44 who wants to use the dial to rewrite World War II potentially. Indy reluctantly grabs his hat and his whip and embarks on one last grand adventure.
“Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is touted as the series’s final installment; if it is, there have certainly been worse ways for Jones to go out.”
The best thing about Dial of Destiny is Indiana Jones himself. Even at 80 years old, Harrison Ford still manages to put his all into it. He clearly holds a lot of love for the character, and there’s still an infectious energy to his performance. It’s hard not to cheer when you see him put his iconic fit back on as John Williams’ score blares in the background. In addition, Indy’s strongest aspect as a character this time is similar to what director James Mangold did in Logan: Tackling the idea of the aging hero head-on.
Indy is slowing down and often finds himself reflecting on his past adventures friends (and family) he’s lost along the way. Phoebe Waller-Bridge is a solid addition to the series by that same measure. As the younger, shadier but equally whip-smart Helena, she’s a great foil to Indy, and her back-and-forths with Indy are some of the movie’s highlights.
The opening sequence uses some of the most impressive de-aging technology I’ve seen to date, turning the 80-year-old Harrison Ford into a spitting image of his younger self. It’s almost compelling until he starts talking, his now-gravelly voice breaking the illusion. That “almost but not enough” can describe the feeling I felt throughout most of Dial of Destiny.
With Dial of Destiny being the first movie in the series not directed by Steven Spielberg (he stayed on as an executive producer alongside George Lucas), directing duties went to Mangold, who does a primarily solid job with the Herculean task of bringing all the hits you expect from an Indiana Jones flick. You get the travels to exotic locations, the numerous chase scenes, the whip-cracking and the fear of snakes.
“All in all, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is a decently entertaining swan song for the whip-cracking hero.”
The first act especially has some really fun moments, like the entire prologue as well as a chase scene throughout the streets and subways of New York. Although those moments were cool, I felt like there was something indescribably missing from it all. Maybe it’s the more obvious use of CGI for most of these action sequences or feeling like the movie’s rushing to hit the checklist of nostalgic references to make, but there’s just a lack of “Spielberg magic” throughout that makes the whole thing feel weirdly faker than usual, despite it not having anything as ridiculous as the fridge-nuking from Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
Say what you will about that movie, but at the very least, the warehouse chase feels like something that would feel fine in that original trilogy. The big set-piece in Dial of Destiny’s climax does liven things up, but at that point, it felt like too little, too late. Despite Mikkelsen’s talents, it also doesn’t help that Voller feels like a generic, underwritten baddie.
All in all, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is a decently entertaining swan song for the whip-cracking hero. It’s definitely an improvement over Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but it also lacks that unmistakable Spielberg magic that’s made the first three films as beloved as they are.