‘Indiana Jones and The Dial of Destiny’ Review: Harrison Ford’s Last Adventure as Indy is a Faltering But Thrilling Ride

‘Indiana Jones and The Dial of Destiny’ Review: Harrison Ford’s Last Adventure as Indy is a Faltering But Thrilling Ride thumbnail

The veteran actor signs off from the Hollywood franchise after nearly 40 years, albeit with a less compelling world created by director James Mangold

Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) in Lucasfilm’s ‘Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.’ Photo: ©2022 Lucasfilm

Indiana Jones and The Dial of Destiny

Cast: Harrison Ford, Mads Mikkelsen, Phoebe Waller-Bridge

Direction: James Mangold

Rating: ***1/2

Releasing in theaters on June 30th

There is something both thrilling and underwhelming about Indiana Jones and the Dial Of Destiny, the fifth edition of the franchise that swirls around the global voyages and deadly adventures of the treasure-hunting American archaeologist, Dr. Indiana Jones

The film, which had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival on Thursday, takes us back to those silly but urgent quests for ancient relics and artifacts that, in the wrong hands, are sure to destroy the world. 

Directed by James Mangold, Indiana Jones and the Dial Of Destiny has many exciting, death-defying action sequences that are the staple of all Indiana Jones films. But what’s missing is the emotional connection — between the characters, but also ours with Jones’ mission and the characters around him. 

The Dial of Destiny kicks off with a fight with Nazis on top of a train, has crazy chases in Morocco, a frantic horse ride in a New York Metro, screaming sprints through claustrophobic dungeons in Italy, creepy-crawlies in caves and sudden falls through secret passages as Indiana Jones retrieves-loses-retrieves-loses a precious piece of ancient gizmo. His accomplice in this ride is British actor Phoebe Waller-Bridge who, unlike the earlier women in Indiana Jones’ past, doesn’t need saving. 

The thrill of Indiana Jones‘ films were the stunts, of course, but we were in for the ride because of Jones’ entertaining irritability, his gripping, his jokes and snide remarks. We cared about him dodging death, bullets, sharp weapons and psychotropic substances not because he was saving the world, but because he made us laugh while doing deathly stunts. There aren’t enough wisecracks in The Dial of Destiny because the chemistry between Phoebe and Harrison Ford is listless. 

Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) in Lucasfilm’s ‘Indiana Jones and The Dial of Destiny.’ Photo: ©2023 Lucasfilm Ltd.

She sparkles in several scenes and pulls off insane stunts, but her character doesn’t lean into the mythology of Indiana Jones nor does it feel invested in it. It exists on its own, in a modern world, carrying along with Dr. Jones for the thrill of it. She seems to be there to save the day and save Indiana Jones.

Indiana Jones and the Dial Of Destiny begins in 1944 as Dr. Indiana Jones, or Indy (Harrison Ford), helps Basil Shaw (Toby Jones) save one half of Archimedes’ Antikythera, a 2nd century BC gizmo which, according to the film’s script and its core belief, has to be saved from falling into the hands of the Nazis. This is important, we learn later, because once the two halves are joined, the Antikythera can find fissures in time and take people back to the past to change the course of history. 

In this flashback to the end of World War II, Indiana Jones is played by an AI-enhanced young Harrison Ford quite convincingly. 

We next meet Indy in 1969 in New York. He is a bored, surly, lonely college professor who is retiring. But as he walks through a parade in New York, being held to honor Neil Armstrong’s landing on the moon, too many people, including the CIA, Dr Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen), a former Nazi, and his own goddaughter, Helena Shaw (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) are after that half of Antikythera which lies in the archaeological vault of his college.

As Indiana Jones goes chasing after them to retrieve one half of the Dial of Destiny, en route decoding clues left by Basil to crack the puzzle of where the other half lies, Dr Voller and his murderous henchmen are constantly shooting at him, at Helena and little Teddy (Ethann Isidore), her sidekick.

This journey involves some delightful but ultimately inconsequential special appearances, including by Antonio Banderas as Renaldo, John Rhys-Davies (Indy’s old friend Sallah, from Raiders of the Lost Ark), and the generous use of John William’s delightful, mood-enhancing signature Indiana Jones theme music.  

Doctor Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen). Photo: ©2022 Lucasfilm Ltd.

There’s an underwater expedition, some time travel, airplane stunts and a meeting with a Greek mathematician-physicist-astronomer-inventor in the ancient city of Syracuse in Sicily, after which order is restored and Indy returns home to be reunited with a woman he met in 1981, as he signs off from the franchise.

There is a real Antikythera which is considered to be the first known analog computer used for astronomical predictions, including eclipses. But in The Dial of Destiny, the Antikythera can help locate cracks in time, assist temporal travel and help twist events. In the hands of the Nazis, who lost World War II, this means a very different outcome and world order.

The plot of The Dial of Destiny is rooted in this gizmo, but it is made needlessly convoluted. The other problem is the World War II, Germany-Nazi angle and the summoning of Mads Mikkelsen. All very James Bond and not really Indiana Jones. 

The character of Dr. Voller, played with filmy-German, clenched jaw restraint by Mikkelsen, seems to be based on real-life German scientist Werner von Braun, who is considered the father of the American lunar program. But how Dr. Voller was living under an alias and working for NASA’s space program, including the Apollo 11 mission to the moon, is not explained in the film. In fact, Dr Voller is never introduced properly nor is his motivation made very clear. Thus, we are not invested in hating him enough.

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny comes 41 years after George Lucas created Dr. Henry Walton ‘Indiana’ Jones, and Steven Spielberg directed Raiders of the Lost Ark. Harrison Ford was about 41 years old when he first arrived on the big screen in a fedora, carrying a whip. Ford is now 80 and still the throbbing heart of The Dial Of Destiny, but no one around him seems to belong to or care for those enchanting worlds of voodoo and skulls, secret vaults and cults.

Unlike the earlier four editions of Indiana Jones, this one is not directed by Spielberg, but by James Mangold, who made WolverineLogan and, most recently, Ford Vs Ferrari. In this changing of the guard, some things are lost, some things are gained. 

The Dial of Destiny is politically correct. There are no jokes at the expense of ancient cultures, there is no primitive society rooted in superstitions, nor any Third World hapless lot looking at a white man to save them. And Phoebe’s Helena breaks the mould of women in Indiana Jones who had to be saved repeatedly. 

But, while Mangold does away with the world that Indiana Jones inhabited, he hasn’t been able to create another, alternative compelling world. There is nothing here to replace the playfulness and magic of Spielberg, the myths and cults with a touch of the supernatural, nor an Indiana Jones partner necessary for constant carping.

The Dial of Destiny‘s stunts are impressive, but emotionally the film runs on the charm of Harrison Ford and our nostalgia for Indiana Jones and the voyages he once took us on.

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