Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (United States, 2023)

June 27, 2023
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny Poster

Raiders of the Lost Ark was a nearly perfect action movie – upon its release in the early 1980s, it redefined the genre for decades to come. It also provided a trap for co-creators Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, forcing them to repeatedly try (and fail) to recapture what they harnessed in the first installment. The character of Indiana Jones, as played by Harrison Ford, has proven to be durable but a case could be made that the filmmakers should have stopped after that first, great outing. The Dial of Destiny, the fifth and final Indiana Jones film, illustrates the impossibility of reformulating the alchemy that the Lucas/Spielberg 1981 pairing unearthed. Although neither Lucas nor Spielberg is materially involved (both are given honorary Executive Producer credits), the rhythms are much the same under the auspices of director James Mangold as they were in The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The Dial of Destiny is too long (with a running time of about 150 minutes) and unevenly paced. It’s a better written movie than its immediate predecessor but suffers from the difficulty of presenting a septuagenarian man as a viable action hero. In this case, it’s both the years and the mileage.

The best part of The Dial of Destiny is the opening prologue. Set in the waning days of World War II (1945), it features a de-aged Harrison Ford alongside Toby Jones as Professor Basil Shaw – two adventuring archeologists trying to liberate priceless artifacts from the Nazis. One of those items, Archimedes’ dial, comes into their possession after a struggle with Jurgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen), who is obsessed with its potential power. This sequence, which lasts about 20 minutes and transpires mostly inside and on top of a moving train, highlights the advancements made in digitally altering the facial appearance of an actor. By using Ford in close-ups and a stunt double for action sequences, Mangold is able to turn back the clock. This looks like something Spielberg might have filmed in 1990 and hidden away in a vault. Alas, for the rest of the movie, Indy is a lot older (and looks it).

Not to be ageist, but I’m not overly fond of action heroes who are old enough to collect Social Security. The plot is “classic” Indy but the character’s age makes it almost sad to watch Ford go through the motions. The majority of the film transpires in 1969 (the Manhattan ticker tape parade honoring the Apollo 11 astronauts is featured). Indy is retiring as a professor and, on one of the last days of classes, he is reunited with his goddaughter, Helena “Wombat” Shaw (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), Basil’s daughter. Their interactions result in one last adventure for Indy, who again dons the fedora and cracks the whip as he travels in search of the other half of Archimedes’ dial with Voller one step behind the entire way. The myth is that anyone who possesses both halves of the dial and uses it correctly can slip into the past through a fissure in time.

With the Indiana Jones movies, you simply have to accept the supernatural/fantasy/science fiction elements. Those are baked into the premise, so time travel is no great leap. The problem is that, of the five films, this one is the lightest when it comes to action scenes and most of those that occupy the screen aren’t all that exciting, with the exception of the 1945 train ride. There’s too much “dead time.” The earlier films had a pattern of “action-catch breath-action.” For The Dial of Destiny, it’s more like “action-take nap-action.”

There’s something almost depressing about watching Old Indy. It’s not just that he’s physically impaired but that a background story point strips him of his unflappability. He’s a drunk who no longer cares about much of anything, least of all himself. The self-deprecating one-liners seem obligatory rather than heartfelt. While it’s great to see Marion (Karen Allen) and Sallah (John Rhys-Davies) again, the actors playing them are too old to be given more than token screen time. On this adventure, Indy’s companions are Helena and a young pickpocket named Teddy (Ethann Bergua-Isidore).

There’s a passage from my review of the fourth Indiana Jones installment that’s as valid for The Dial of Destiny as it was for The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: “But [it] doesn't work on the most basic level [of] getting viewers on the edges of their seats. That's not to say the film is without action; it features a number of such sequences. But a key element is missing: excitement. There's no suspense and not a lot of energy. We never believe that Indy or a member of his entourage is in danger. There's never any sense of ‘How's he going to get out of this?’ The cliffhangers are easily shrugged off. The reason to see [the movie] is not to rediscover the joy and thrills of the Indiana Jones of old but to connect with familiar friends.”

From the beginning, I was dubious about the value of a fifth Indiana Jones movie. The result has borne out my skepticism. As an action-adventure film, this one is adequate but there’s a sense that with something as venerable as Indiana Jones, the production should be more special than “adequate.” Although there’s nothing in The Dial of Destiny that damages the character’s legacy, this is as unnecessary as any franchise entry in recent years. Indy’s time has passed. It’s time to let him go gently into that good night.

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (United States, 2023)

Run Time: 2:35
U.S. Release Date: 2023-06-30
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence)
Genre: Action/Adventure
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1