Harrison Ford returns for his fifth time as archeologist Indiana Jones in one final big-screen adventure. This is it kids! Harrison Ford as Dr. Henry Walton ‘Indiana’ Jones Jr. is back for this one last time! Maybe there’ll be eventual potential spinoff projects with other characters or Indiana Jones comic books and video games, but this is the last feature film to star Ford as the man with the famous hat and whip.
It’s no surprise, Ford would declare this is it for him in the series. When Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny was being filmed Ford was seventy-nine years old. Sean Connery was fifty-three when he did his final stint as James Bond. Clint Eastwood was fifty-eight when he hung up his holster and said goodbye to playing Dirty Harry. Age is a detriment to action heroes. Being eighty-years old and convincingly playing a rip-roaring, globe-trotting adventure hero is starting to push things.
Much is said both in admiration and criticism of Ford’s advanced age continuing to play his iconic action icon. The ‘old jokes’ have been done to death about it. It’s not really witty to say ‘what’s this movie called – Indiana Jones and the Hip Replacement?’
Yep, very funny. Ha ha. Yes, Ford is old. We all can see that. Yet, he still has charisma, impressive continued athleticism and owns the character. There’s no way of hiding his age, so The Dial of Destiny leans into it and the film becomes the most somber entry in the Indiana Jones series by acknowledging the exciting adventures are behind him and his quest now is accepting that and finding the will to continue to live.
Let me just warn now – POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD!
I grew up on the Indiana Jones films. Saw all of them upon their release in theaters. Raiders of the Lost Ark will always be my favorite. Even once aiming some fanboy nitpicky questions at it (Nitpicking Raiders of the Lost Ark), it still remains just as thrilling and exciting as when I first saw it. I still treasure the movie poster I was given after badgering the local theater owner to let me have it.
Then the follow-ups of The Temple of Doom and The Last Crusade came. Both I enjoyed and I accepted that was the end of the series and Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones. There was a small window of hope that a fourth Indy movie could possibly happen when Ford did a cameo as an older Indy in a 1993 episode of television show The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. But alas there was no news that came from it, so I thought ‘OK, that was it for Ford as Indy’.
Then in 2008 Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull was released. Ford, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas reteamed and made the long delayed sequel. It was met with a very lukewarm response. I didn’t care for it and thought it was very disappointing. I still have never rewatched it to this day. It brought the phrase ‘Nuke the fridge’ into the movie lexicon, but as for being a glowing finale for the Indiana Jones series….well it missed. I think the majority of fans felt after seeing it, they should have just ended things with The Last Crusade. But they did it and that seemed to be the end of Indiana Jones
After Disney acquired LucasFilm in 2012 they had free reign to raid their vaults of beloved IPs. They set out to make new Star Wars projects and rumblings started that a new Indiana Jones film would be made. Then it became official. Fans wondered about Ford’s age, the news Spielberg wouldn’t be directing and James Mangold would take over. Who would be in the cast. Rumors of the story trickled out and finally the release came for – Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. So, let’s get to it!
The biggest action set piece is the first twenty minutes, which sets the story up and almost plays like an Indiana Jones mini adventure movie. We’re in Europe in 1944 and a de-aged Indiana Jones and accomplice Basil Shaw (Toby Jones) are attempting to retrieve a looted artifact from fleeing Nazis.
You get a lot here. A young Ford being captured by the Nazis, he’s interrogated, hung, escapes from an exploding bomb, gets into a motorcycle chase, runs through a train of Nazis, has a fight on the top of the train, has to escape before the train crashes from a blown out bridge. After all this action the pair discover the Nazis are in possession of a part of Archimedes’ dial aka ‘the Dial of Destiny’ – an astronomical calculator that supposedly can lead one to fissures in time.
Fast forward to 1969, Dr. Jones is retiring from teaching at Hunter College when Basil’s daughter and Indy’s goddaughter Helena Shaw (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) pays him a visit. Despite Basil being driven mad by trying to unlock the secrets of the Dial, Helena wants to continue his studies and find the other pieces to it. She’s not doing it for any kind of historical or archeological study, she just wants the money she can get for selling it. But first she needs from Indy, who took it away from Basil decades ago.
Helena is not the only one looking for the Dial. Former Nazi scientist Jurgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen), who Indy encountered back in ’44, wants it. He wants to harness the power it has, use it to travel back in time and help the Nazis win the war. It’s now a race for Indy and Helena to travel from one country to another, decipher the clues, get all the pieces to the Dial and be sure to keep it out of the hands of Voller and his henchman who are right on their tail.
The big question fans have is – is Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny any good? After seeing it I thought it was fine. Was it a great entry in the series. No. After the letdown of The Crystal Skull, I kept my expectations quite tame going to see Dial of Destiny. I would have been satisfied if The Dial of Destiny was just more entertaining than Crystal Skull. Maybe low standards and not a difficult mark to hit, but that’s the objective I hoped it would hit.
Plus, with the regularity of all these subpar reboots and decades-old new legacy sequels Hollywood has done in recent years, I didn’t think the chances were too good for Dial of Destiny to be anything other than a trite retread of what’s come before for Indiana Jones. That it would just bank on getting by with nostalgic nods, have Ford do some quaint action scenes, not really offer anything new and just be more of a tribute to adventures from the past.
And it does all that to some extent, but it does manage to be entertaining for some stretches of it. I certainly enjoyed it more than Crystal Skull! Ford gives it a slight emotional heartbeat as the elderly adventurer, whose life when we rejoin him at the start of the movie is currently empty.
Ford is good and looks remarkably more lively than you might expect for an eighty-year-old leading man. Mads Mikkelsen is an effective villain. True, he could do this role in his sleep, but he’s does the job needed.
There are a few fun action bits. Ford isn’t doing the ‘mano a mano’ thing anymore, throwing down punches with big burly bad guys. The most classic ‘Indiana Jones’ sequence is the flashback with a de-aged Ford. Much was talked about with the de-aging effects and how well they worked and it was hit and miss for me. Some shots look convincing, while at other points his face just looks too waxy and artificial. It’s a very long sequence to be using a de-aged face for Ford and since we know it’s an effect done to make Ford look younger my eyes were constantly focused on it. I never fully forgot during it that what I was watching was computer effects creating his younger face.
A very odd part of the de-aged Indy scenes was they went through all the trouble of making a young Harrison Ford’s face, yet when he talks you hear an eighty-year-old Harrison Ford’s voice coming out of it.
I was surprised they didn’t try to remove the gravely tone that Ford now has and tried to tone it back to give him a more youthful sounding voice. The voice stuck out to me and didn’t help sell the illusion. In addiction, for some reason his clothes looked a little too big on him. I have no idea why, but somehow the wardrobe of him wearing his classic brown leather jacket and hat looked like they were a few sizes too big on him.
The finale previously given to him in Crystal Skull was a happy ending by marrying Marion (Karen Allen) and learning he had a son Mutt Williams (Shai LaBeouf). Well, that all had to be snatched away from him here in order to allow the movie to start with Indy down in the dumps and for this ‘new final film’ to have something to give to Indy at the end so things could fade out on a high note.
It’s kind of contrived in order to give him sort of a revamped happy conclusion that he had already been given in the last movie. This time around it’s not that much different, but it does work much better and has a more emotional punch this time around. So, at the start he no longer has a wife, his son is dead and his teaching job is just ending. There’s little he has to live for.
This is might not be the way fans want to see the heroic Indiana Jones. I can completely understand that. This is the aspect as to why this ‘Indiana Jones’ film has a sadness over it. It has more mature, heartfelt themes than just being an archeological death-defying adventure. Is that what fans want to see in an Indiana Jones film? Maybe not, but to his credit Ford does play it awfully well and wrings out some poignant moments from it.
Indy needs his allies and Joh Rhys-Davies returns as Sallah. I thought it was a little odd seeing that Sallah is now living in NY and driving a taxi. It’s far from the days when he was the ‘best digger in Egypt’. But it’s nice they found a place for him in this.
The newer characters aren’t nearly as memorable. Waller-Bridge is Ford’s co-star and plenty has been said about her becoming involved in beloved fan franchises (Star Wars, James Bond). I’m not at all familiar with Fleabag, but I thought she was ok in the first half of this. Helena is arrogant and selfish and has a money hungry drive in wanting the Dial. So for most of the film she is not a very likable character and she delivers on being that.
Towards the start after getting the Dial from him, she leaves poor Indy behind to deal with the Nazis who have been following her and he has no idea what is going on. They end up killing his co-workers and Indy is clearly upset by it. He also now looks like the guilty one and Helena doesn’t seem to be bothered by this in the least.
I felt it difficult to turn things around with Helena and have any sympathy or forgive her after that. Multiple times she turns her back on Indy leaving him to hold the bag, be left in danger and she doesn’t even flinch doing it.
Later, after all the adventuring they’ve done together and, she is meant to be more sympathetic towards him and trying to save him, I never came back around on her and felt she fully redeemed herself. She didn’t have that ‘awakening moment’ where she sees the error of her ways and regrets how she behaved. I remained cool on her character through the entire film.
If Disney does ever plan on doing a spinoff movie or show with Helena to continue the franchise, I don’t think her character is interesting enough to carry it.
Another new character is Helena’s young sidekick Teddy (Ethann Isidore). He’s clearly reminiscent of Short Round (Ke Huy Quan) from Temple of Doom. He even has a similar backstory to Shorty and Indy’s relationship of being a pickpocket Helena befriended. Teddy doesn’t have the charm or humor that Shorty gave Temple of Doom and doesn’t even have a personality. Teddy just seemed like a bland, unnecessary character that is dragged along to provide some needed stakes and some problem solving when its needed. I didn’t even know what his name was, I had to look it up.
In fact, most of the bad guys aside from Mikkelsen are pretty forgettable. The violent guy. The big burly guy. They just kind of stand off in the background while Mikkelsen delivers ominous threats.
With the new characters it seemed exactly like what I thought it would be – just kind of retreading old ground with new versions of it.
Toby Jones looked like he might be fun to watch, but he’s only in the opening sequence. Even Antonio Banderas’ role is very brief. He shows up as a ship captain to help Indy and Helena do some diving for another piece of the Dial puzzle. He comes and goes so quickly he’s not given any time to make an impression. I always find it funny the film posters feature some of the supporting characters and they barely make a ripple when you watch the movie. “Oh yeah, Antonion Banderas is in this.”
While the film is 2 1/2 hours, I wasn’t bored, but I wasn’t exactly riveted either. It was a strange feeling, like every scene could have ended sooner and nothing would have been lost. Had the film gotten tightened down and the set pieces were pared down to the best bits and not be so overlong, it might’ve benefited the film. This is the longest Indy film and doesn’t seem to need to be.
Mangold took over directing duties from Spielberg. I started to think how Spielberg might have filmed some of the action scenes had this been made in the 1980s. There is a lot of lifting done by CGI, which is expected to see today in big-budget action films, but to see it in film series whose proudest and most glorious moments were achieved by stuntmen and in camera effects, Dial of Destiny feels removed from those glory days. This and Crystal Skull I think of as the ‘CGI Indiana Jones films’.
There’s no real finesse or style to the action scenes and they go on too long. They almost get tiring and they don’t build or lead up to a rousing conclusion. It’s mainly a series of chases with rapid cutting. A tuk tuk chase in the streets of Tangiers, starts to get monotonous and at points with the choppy editing I started to get lost with what was happening.
Even the underwater dive Indy and Helena take to retrieve an artifact seems set up to be a tense scene with a countdown clock they have to race against. But then it doesn’t lead to any real suspense or narrow escape or pay off or anything. It just ends and we move onto the next spot on the map.
I missed the stylish way Spielberg would build up the action sequences, put all the players in their spots and would begin cranking the pace up delivering the thrills throughout it. The music also was lacking. John Williams returned for this and unlike the earlier films with notable pieces of music for individual characters would creep in and stick in your head, none of the music struck a cord for me.
Then there’s the ending. Shaw is in possession of the Dial on a plane. Indy is captured and Helena has just managed to sneak aboard. The Dial gets turned on, a time fissure opens and they are all pulled through it.
It was a risky road to take. It is pretty odd and I wasn’t expecting it to go where it does. In a way I wish the film took more of those unpredictable chances. For the most part The Dial of Destiny sticks with what you would expect from it and follows a very mundane road map. Indy and Helena go somewhere, the Nazis catch up to them, a chase, they escape and then repeat.
Then that climax is….well it takes a pretty radical left turn and things suddenly got very interesting. Maybe it goes too far for Indy fans, but it kept me absorbed waiting to see what would happen next. Too bad more fissures didn’t open for them to explore.
It was said the film had multiple endings shot and tested and would be curious to know what were the other endings that were proposed. Were they better, darker, sadder, more outlandish? Hopefully one day fans will learn just what other possibilities were proposed for ending the Dial of Destiny.
So, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, it was fine. There’s nothing in it that I would rave about and nothing that I hated about it. There was no truly embarrassing moments that really stuck out to me and could be meme worthy, like ‘nuking the fridge’, comedically going over multiple waterfalls, flying saucers or Mutt swinging on vines with an army of monkeys.
Dial of Destiny just kind of landed in the middle for me. I was happy I saw it, but it wasn’t a final chapter that Indy desperately needed. It doesn’t have the rewatch factor for me like the original trilogy holds. Those first three films I could sit down, watch them and have a fun time. There’s not enough in it that makes me hanker to get another Dial of Destiny fix.
I always think back that if they had wanted to do more Indy films I so wish Ford, Spielberg and Lucas just did them back in the 1990s. They could have just tried to squeeze them in with all the other projects they were doing back then.
I started to think back on Spielberg’s dissatisfied feelings about the Temple of Doom and how he wanted to apologize to fans for it with the Last Crusade. For me, if there was any film in the series that required an apology it was for The Crystal Skull! So perhaps we can view Dial of Destiny as atonement for Crystal Skull via Mangold’s lens. In that respect, it improved on being a more satisfying final chapter for Indiana Jones.
Of course it doesn’t touch the original trilogy for me. I was fine that the series ended with Indy in The Last Crusade, with him, his father and friends riding off into the sunset together. I’m quite content with just owning the original three films, continuing to watch them and categorizing these latter two Indiana Jones films as something like post scripts to that original trilogy. Crystal Skull and Dial of Destiny are there, but I’m not likely going to be rewatching them much, if at all.