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Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.jpeg

Review: 'Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny' Rewinds the Clock For One More Grand Adventure

By Jason Adams | Film | June 29, 2023 |

By Jason Adams | Film | June 29, 2023 |

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.jpeg

In what’s being billed as our last ride with Henry “Indiana” Jones Jr. as portrayed by real life human actor Harrison Ford (who knows what the A.I. will get up to five years from now), into theaters this weekend doth dutifully march Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, the fifth film starring our sly-eyed archeologist cum adventurer with a penchant for whips and quips. Destiny has got everything that you’ve come to expect from the franchise—an ancient MacGuffin, a plucky female side-kick, extended chase scenes, skeletons and insects popping out of walls, and a third-act twist so out there it makes crystal-domed Mayan alien-gods seem like small potatoes.

Everything except for Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, the creators and driving forces behind the previous four installments, that is. Dial of Destiny was instead directed and co-scripted by James Mangold, the man who bid Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine his morose adieu with Logan (until Deadpool 3 anyway), and who’s now taken the call to try and do the same thing with our Indy. (“Our” Indy. Do note the possessive.) So has Mangold, who also directed the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line, delivered the “Hurt” video version of a goodbye to our favorite eighty-year-old action icon?

Yeah kinda. And also not really. Dial of Destiny is trying to be a lot of things. And it succeeds at several! First and best, it is indeed a step up from Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the 2008 film where we last left Dr. Jones. I will actually defend a lot of Crystal Skull—you won’t get a bad word from me on Cate Blanchett’s turn as the diabolical Limecat villainess Irina Spalko. And I like the “nuke the fridge” scene. I said it! But the CG is flat and terrible, and every time a cute animal gets a reaction shot something deep inside of me dies.

The CG is better in Dial of Destiny, starting with the twenty-minute opening sequence set during WWII that opens the film and sees a de-aged Indiana looking like he stepped right out of Raiders of the Lost Ark and having a train-bound adventure trying to recover another Christian artifact from some Nazis. That would be the so-called “Spear of Longinus,” the spear that supposedly pierced the side of Jesus Christ as he chillaxed on the Cross—that turns out to be a MacGuffin of a MacGuffin though, as the one true and titular prize reveals itself mid-scuffle.

Called the “Antikythera,” this object du jour is a real thing that in our real world now sits in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens—considered the oldest existing computing device, it was discovered in an ancient shipwreck circa 1900 but wasn’t properly understood until the 2000s when scientists realized it’s an extremely complex clock of sorts that predicts eclipses and other astronomical events. What fictional extravagances this Dial gets up to in Indy’s hands is a whole other level—what’s most important to note here though is that Ancient Greece is our archaeological playground for this Indy adventure, and thank goodness. We’ve had more than enough of Mr. Christ and his well-aged accoutrement from this franchise by now.

Quick cut to “Moon Day.” It’s 1969 in New York City and Indiana Jones, all eighty battered years of him, is drunk in his boxer shorts as some goddamn hippies blast The Beatles downstairs. Stumbling around half-naked, a totem of weary and mottled flesh, Indy does the NYC equivalent of telling those kids to get off his lawn, but they’re celebrating—the astronauts are about to make their way down Madison Avenue, a ticker-tape parade celebrating the clean-cut heroes of this modern space age. Indiana, a dusty relic, has passed his sell-by date.

The Antikythera isn’t the only story-beat swiped from real life by Dial of Destiny—a fascinating strand (one that admittedly doesn’t go much of anywhere) comes via the man who made that space travel possible. Here he’s called Dr. Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen) and he’s a bigwig at NASA, having invented the rocket technology that made our Moon landing possible. Indiana (as well as everyone in the audience) will however immediately recognize Dr. Voller as one of the Nazis he fought for the dial in that flashback that we just got out of. A Nazi? In NASA? Never! Well, actually I recommend you google “Wernher von Braun.” History is hella crazy y’all.

Anyway while his real-life counterpart didn’t (as far as we know) attempt to use ancient technology to change the outcome of World War II, we’re not so fortunate here with the Mikkelsen-played film version, who thinks he could do a much better job than that bungling Hitler chap did. And so Indiana is forced out of his unhappy retirement to go punch him some Nazis again. To punch, to chase, to whip and snark at, Nazis a’plenty, all until you’ll find yourself worrying endlessly about those weary bones of his. But it seems he’s been mixing in anti-aging magic potions with his morning cocktail of bourbon and Metamucil, because once Indy gets going on this quest age proves not much more than a number that can be wound back on a dial.

Which is to say that Dial of Destiny deals thematically more thoroughly with the emotional passing of time—with nostalgia itself, actually—while not wallowing too hard on the physical wear and tear of it. The Indiana Jones we watch in Dial of Destiny does a heap of adventuring without needing one-tenth of the naps that I would here at half his age—it’s clear the screenwriters and Mangold were determined to give us a proper Indiana Jones adventure, all forward thrust, and so not once do Indy’s knees go out. No ice packs are fashioned from glacier-crust. Once the Dial of Destiny gets moving it keeps moving, right up and through that way-far-out third-act.

Along the way, as is Indy’s eternal wont, he picks up a coterie of side-kickery, starting first and foremost with Helena Shaw (Phoebe Waller-Bridge). She’s Indiana’s goddaughter by way of his old pal Basil (Toby Jones), who was there for the ride on that train adventure flashback that opened the film. After that Basil became obsessed with the dial, and he passed his obsession down to his daughter. Named no doubt after that most famous of Greek ladies who cause tremendous strife, Helena has become an archeologist herself, but she’s currently in her “Temple of Doom” phase of personhood, which is to say that she’s only currently in it for the “fame and fortune” when she steps into Indy’s life in 1969.

She’s a pain in Indy’s ass basically, stealing the dial from him and absconding with it to sell off to the black-market highest bidders. She’s even got herself her own Short Round, a wispy-stached thief and shit-kicker named Teddy (Ethann Isidore) who will inevitably get them into more dire situations than need be by virtue of being a clumsy kid tagging along for adventures too big for his wee britches. Anyway Helena and Waller-Bridge’s performance of her are highlights—the film lights up every time our Fleabag smirks her devilish imp grin, and she proves a fabulous action-heroine to boot.

And so cue our old friend the red line, winding across tattered maps of the world as we jaunt off to flashy locations with our intrepid heroes—an extended chase sequence by rickshaw in Tangier is a hoot (it reminded me of the legendary also-Moroccan single-shot chase sequence in Speilberg’s Tintin movie) and that’s just the tip of the Jesus-spear. Mangold might not be Steven Spielberg, meaning none of the action might rearrange your brain the way Steven can, but he’s no slouch either. I let out several unwitting whoops, and that’s not even getting to the bizarre Querelle-esque beefcake sailor sequence starring no less than Antonio Banderas.

But the thing that definitively elevates this Indy adventure over the last one—which also it must be said had a game Harrison Ford, as he always gives his all to Indy—is that the MacGuffin, the Dial of all that so-called Destiny, actually gives this one some thematic heft that the inexplicable alien noggins didn’t last go round. As we zoom off into the film’s breathlessly ridiculous (mayhaps audacious) final act, it’s clear that history itself is under the script’s microscope—the ways our perception of it can shift but the reality of it can never. Circular as the dial itself, Mangold & Co close the loop of our favorite archaeologist’s story in a pretty satisfying manner, all while casting a side-eye at those who would have us spin endlessly into the future. It’s a film that knows that sometimes it’s only right to let go. Without letting go there would be no past at all.