Indiana Jones is one of cinema’s most beloved franchises. Those films resonate with audiences on a massive scale. After three successful classics, Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull (2008) divided the fans. 15 years have passed and a fifth film, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, hopes to end the franchise on a high note. The story follows Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) as he becomes entangled in a race to find a mysterious artifact with his goddaughter Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge). They are up against the villainous Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen) and his henchmen. What follows is a muddled and very entertaining action-adventure story.
Dial of Destiny works best in its sweeping and exciting action set-pieces. Director James Mangold (Ford v. Ferrari) and Harrison Ford (Shrinking) understand what audiences want to see. They want to see Ford in his classic outfit, cracking jokes, and traversing the world to find treasure. Ford’s performance has the wry energy audiences are looking for. At age 80, he is still up for some surprising moments of physicality. What he is unable to complete leaves room for great banter with Waller-Bridge. Both characters’ rapport makes the running time fly by with ease. That dynamic also benefits from the era that the film takes place.
The film is set in the year 1969, which provides the story with some ample subtext. Dial of Destiny is more than an ending of the character, but of an era. In the film, Dr. Jones is facing retirement just as the United States has landed on the moon. That contrast of ideas gives Ford a chance to bring untapped depth to this character. Harrison Ford delivers a performance that reminds audiences why they fell in love with this character to begin with. Add in his age and fish-out-of-water mentality, and it gives the film a sense of urgency throughout. This paired with Waller-Bridge’s dry wit results in the film having moments that are infectiously joyous. My issues with Dial of Destiny come from the villains and questionable visual effects.
Mikkelsen (Another Round) as Voller and his henchman (Boyd Holbrook) make for an imposing force. As Indy is in a race to find the “dial”, the action remains exciting. Mikkelsen is a force on screen with a villainous plan that is just silly. Holbrook (Logan) offers a tough-guy persona that works best against Ford’s more grizzled portrayal. The script by Jez and John-Henry Butterworth (Ford v. Ferrari), David Koepp (Jurassic Park), and James Mangold, turns these menacing villains into cartoons. Their plan becomes something out of a bad ‘80s action movie. Once parts of that plan are enacted (particularly in the third act), some will be entirely turned off by the film.
No spoilers here, but Dial of Destiny takes some very broad swings with its conclusion. Those moments won’t give many fans the closure that they are looking for. Some will leave the theater feeling underwhelmed. How the Indiana Jones saga concludes wants audiences to have a conversation once the credits roll. That makes the ending feel completely foreign in a film called Indiana Jones. Some will want this ending to have more closure than what actually occurs. Some will find this ending to be a silly end to a classic series. Others (like myself) will find the ending to be ample closure on this historic legacy.
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is not the film some will expect. The story offers closure, but not in ways that audiences are anticipating. What it does offer is a rousing and exciting big-screen adventure. The thrilling action and John Williams (Raiders of the Lost Ark) score will give viewers moments of nostalgic bliss. Others who are expecting something in the vein of the Spielberg (Raiders of the Lost Ark) originals will be left befuddled by the results. Dial of Destiny is not the best Indy film, but delivers what some audiences are looking for. Others will feel cheated by an ending that is certain to stir up some conversations.
In theaters June 30th, 2023.
Final Score: 3.5 out of 5.