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‘Indiana Jones and the Dial of the Destiny’ review: A-grade B-movie

By June 22, 2023No Comments4 min read
Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) and Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) in Lucasfilm's Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.

Harrison Ford returns for one last crusade as Indiana Jones in The Dial of Destiny, directed this time around by James Mangold.

The Indiana Jones franchise has always been about discovering the rich excitement behind history and twisting it into a rollicking, grand adventure. Well, that spirit is alive and well in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, which celebrates Harrison Ford’s iconic role as its changed over the years between multiple directors and writers. Steven Spielberg and George Lucas brought the character to life in the original 80s trilogy and snuffed it to abject failure in 2008 with Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. But James Mangold has amazingly escaped the series’ rolling boulder of doom and achieved something truly triumphant.

The setup for Dial of Destiny is about what we should expect. It’s another “passing the baton” entry, only this time featuring Phoebe Waller-Bridge as not just a new mentee but the film’s femme fatale (with a twist). It’s the late 1960s and Indiana Jones (Ford) has officially retired from his life as a professor who moonlights as pulp action archaeologist and hero to museums everywhere. Only to be ambushed by his goddaughter Helen (Waller-Bridge) about a mysterious dial he recovered from the Nazis decades ago with the help of her father Basil (Toby Jones).

The two go on a perilous quest to recover the dial before a group of Nazi sympathizers led by a former Nazi researcher (Mads Mikkelsen) use it to do something that helps Nazis. The film tours the globe from a New York ticker tape parade to bustling Moroccan streets and mediterranean temples of subterranean proportions. If there’s one thing Dial of Destiny absolutely nails, it’s the positioning of its MacGuffin-based adventure as a destination movie more similar to a James Bond flick than not. There’s a reason it’s the most expensive Indiana Jones movie of them all.

Colonel Weber (Thomas Kretschmann) and Doctor Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen) in Lucasfilm's Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

“A dial that could change the course of history.”

Mangold co-wrote the script with Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, and David Koepp, and it’s terrific to see the film return to form under their pens while still offering something new. It’s not a film wholly slavish to the original trilogy, opting instead to modernize its approach to action storytelling and subversive commentary about letting go of the past. For example, Indy’s age is certainly a factor in the film’s text, how could it not be? But never does the film dwell on his physical limitations. The key to the character has always been his persistence and quick thinking, traits that carry over to his allegedly final hurrah.

If this is the final Indiana Jones movie starring Harrison Ford, we should be thankful we didn’t get Harrison Bored. His love for the character is transparent in how he simultaneously treats the performance with dramatic depth but also never takes himself too seriously. The corny dialogue is intact, but so too are the scattered moments of a pained man reflecting on his worst mistakes, wishing to do something about them in the present despite continually failing.

Despite its massive budget, Dial of Destiny isn’t always the most convincing movie in terms of special effects. Most of the time, that’s perfectly fine, as its escapist vignettes helmed by Mangold’s cinematographer mainstay Phedon Papamichael can usually get away with an almost dream-like green screen composite filling the frame. Other times, like in the cold open featuring a digitally de-aged Ford, the rubbery uncanny valley is a bit too high a hill to climb, though audiences game enough to revisit Indy in his glory days have good enough reason to endure and adjust.

The bottom line.

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is clearly a film designed to be cherished by longtime fans of the franchise, but the double-edged scimitar is that those same fans have high expectations. How could they not? The original trilogy cemented the trajectory of post-Jaws blockbusters when they were still in their infancy, transforming the B-movie into a summer event machine, replacing the bewildering sci-fi curios before them. With that in mind, Dial of Destiny is brilliant in how it blends the old with the new, rather than dismissing either. Helmed by a master genre director whose signature style is being anonymous without being anonymous.

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny opens in theaters on June 30. Watch the trailer here.

Images courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures and Lucasfilm Ltd. Read more articles by Jon Negroni here.

Jon Negroni

Jon is one of the co-founders of InBetweenDrafts and our resident film editor. He also hosts the podcasts Cinemaholics, Mad Men Men, and Rookie Pirate Radio. He doesn't sleep, essentially.

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