Movie Review: Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny
Published 5:00 pm Friday, July 7, 2023
The first three things I associate with an Indiana Jones movie are the best stunt work in Hollywood, kick-ass opening sequences, and of course the whip/fedora combo. I am happy to report that all of these key elements are showcased in DIAL OF DESTINY, which brings Indy’s adventures back into my good graces. Because let’s be real, the franchise has a lot to make up for after KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL, which upon my recent re-watch was even worse than I remembered. I can assure you there are no scenes of characters sheltering in a fridge from a nuclear blast or (most egregiously) swinging through the trees with an army of monkeys. DIAL OF DESTINY gets us back on track with Indy looking for a lost artifact from his past, which calls for more Nazi punching and whip snapping than ever before.
The film opens in 1944 with the Nazis fleeing from strongholds as they lose the war. This chaos gives Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) the perfect inroad to look for some of the archaeologic treasures they have stolen throughout the war. When his compatriot is imprisoned aboard a fleeing train, Indy jumps aboard to save him and in the process discovers half of a mystical dial known as the Antikythera. When combined with the other half, the dial is said to give its user god-like power. Of course, the dial half’s current owner, Nazi officer Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen), isn’t going to let the dial go without a fight and the two come to blows.
Cut to 1969, Indy is now an :ahem: older man, who is finally retiring from teaching. It appears he put his adventurous days behind him several years before and has been boring his students with dull slide presentations. However, when his goddaughter Helena (Phoebe Waller- Bridge) shows up enquiring about the status of the Antikythera, a subject her father spent his life studying, Indy realizes he is going to need to don the fedora once again. But of course, it is never going to be that easy… especially when Voller reemerges as a rocket scientist who was instrumental in getting the U.S. to the moon. He has another idea on how to use the Antikythera… and spoiler alert, it involves Nazis.
The main element I was happy to see in DIAL OF DESTINY was that we finally are given a more progressive female character. I have always thought the franchise had a bit of a problem with its female characters, as evidenced by the only ones who more or less could fend for themselves were villains — a Nazi-sympathizer and KGB officer. Until CRYSTAL SKULL, the female characters had a pseudo-Bond girl element, primarily in the movie to be a love interest for Jones.
Of course, Marion Ravenwood was decent in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and did stand up for herself against Indiana. But apart from being able to drink men under the table and help translate her dad’s work into finding the ark, I would’ve liked to see a bit more from her character. RAIDERS is a near-perfect movie, but a lot of what I remember about her character is yelling “Indy!!!” when she was constantly kidnapped and needed help, or reprimanding him for treating her terribly when they dated. And then we have TEMPLE OF DOOM. Not every movie needs to have a strong female character, and I do find Kate Capshaw’s performance to be over-the-top and funny, but Willie is the quintessential damsel in distress.
However, in DIAL OF DESTINY, Helena is a fleshed out character that has her own agency outside of Indiana Jones and whose primary function in the storyline is not to be a love interest. She has her own objectives that directly contrast Jones in many instances, and has antihero qualities, which causes you to doubt whether you can fully trust her. She is never meant to be a substitute for Indy, but is a supplement, able to figure out situations on her own and formulate ways to get them out of hairy moments when she needs to. Without giving too much away, Helena has one of my favorite scenes in the film, using a token Indy action to directly impact his legacy… a perfect metaphor to what this character brings to the franchise.
The film starts with phenomenal CGI, spending approximately 20 minutes with Harrison Ford in de-aging technology to make him look like he was in his 40s, around the time of RAIDERS. There are some uncanny valley moments when there is more light in the scene, but I was shocked by how good the technology looks. Still, the film does lean a bit too much on CGI overall, even in the scenes during “present” day. One of my favorite elements of Indiana Jones movies is the stunt work, and when it is done on practical sets, like the 80s films, it looks even more realistic and spectacular. A lot of the sets in this film seemed to be heavily CGI, which negatively affected the atmosphere of the action scenes and took away from an element I find so critical in these films.
On that note, I have always loved the adventure-heavy story and exotic locations in an Indiana Jones film. However, I do struggle a bit when the script leans too much into the supernatural. Yes, each film has a mystical ending, but it never got too far afield for me… until the aliens in CRYSTAL SKULL. Maybe I am still triggered by that, but the heavy science fiction lean in DIAL OF DESTINY’s third act took me out of the movie a bit. Of course I’m not going to say what happens, but all I will say is I am surprised where Indy and co. end up.
I doubt DIAL OF DESTINY is going to be your favorite film in the Indiana Jones franchise, but it is full of whip-snapping action scenes, punches of nostalgia, and a perfect musical score that make it a worthy send-off to such an iconic character.
My Review: B