'Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny' Review
June 29, 2023
For each new movie I’m reviewing, I bring along a mini journal that’s used to jot down small observations. Most of these scribblings turn out to be near illegible due to writing in the dark while still looking at the screen. But I can still recall them well enough once I piece a few of the letters together. On average, I fill up about one-page front and back, equalling about 15-20 bullet points.
But for Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, I was only able to muster just six bullet points. Nearly half of those observations were made during the film’s opening set piece, which finds Indiana Jones hurtling aboard a Nazi train as World War II is coming to a fiery conclusion. I was perplexed at the moment as to why I couldn’t think of anything to write, and I’m still perplexed right now as I attempt to formulate my thoughts in an informative and entertaining manner. It was the same problem I had with Murder Mystery 2 and The Super Mario Bros. Movie a few months ago. But I always knew those two were airless junk. This is Indiana Jones for god’s sake, a franchise that has set the bar that no one else has come close to passing within the action/adventure genre! How is it possible that I could watch this finale and not have anything to say about it?
To be fair, I was never bored, nor did I ever think that I was watching something that wasn’t worth my time. But I also never felt like I was watching something I hadn’t seen before or something that I hadn’t seen done much better.
Some of the blame can be put upon director James Mangold, who’s placed himself in the unenviable position of taking over the reins from Steven Spielberg. Mangold has proven himself to be an above-average studio director, most notably in the past few years with Logan and Ford v Ferrari. But being above average doesn’t mean a whole lot when you’re being compared to God himself.
Mangold’s use of a semi-convincing (at least when he’s standing still) de-aged Harrison Ford during the opening is deliriously entertaining. The meaty whack of a Nazi being punched and the cracking of a whip is music to my ears, as is hearing John Williams’ famous score as Indy leaps further into danger. But that introduction ends up being the peak, with all the other set pieces - of which there are many across this slightly bloated 154-minute movie - going through the motions.
This adventure finds Indy going after Archimedes’ Dial, which is believed to be able to open and locate time fissures (just as the movie does for about ⅔ of its runtime, I will liberally dance around saying what those fissures mean). Also desperately pursuing the artifact is the Nazi doctor Jürger Voller (Mads Mikkelsen). Unfortunately for both him and Indy, they’re going after only one-half of the dial, with the latter portion still lost somewhere in the world. Twenty-five years go by, with the opposing forces facing each other again as they try to unlock the mysteries of the ancient world.
Considering the fate of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, it shouldn’t be viewed as a surprise that The Dial of Destiny does its best to stick to the tried and tested franchise formula. Any combination of a train, car, motorcycle, boat, plane, and horse is used across the several chase scenes that take place in identifiable locations. Ford is still as lively as ever during these moments, moving with great freedom for an octogenarian. It’s just that the script can’t keep up with him as all it wants him to do is don that fedora and whip, even if that means sacrificing the potential for something unique to happen. There’s also the addition of Phoebe Waller-Bridge as Indy’s goddaughter Helena and her kid sidekick, both of whom add more weight than they carry.
Maybe I was asking for too much from this movie. But I also feel like a brain trust composed of Ford, Mangold, Spielberg, and George Lucas would be able to come up with a compelling reason for this character to return other than to just go through the motions. It seems like this old dog can’t (or won’t) be taught new tricks. I watched this movie, had a pretty decent time, and will likely forget about it come next week. That’s a destiny I’d like to turn back.