Looking back on history, it’s easy to backseat quarterback the successes and failures. To identify the intersections that seemed destined for greatness or for failure. In regard to cinema, we hear about a cast and crew that all felt something special about a project they were working on *while* working on it about as often as we do those who had no idea. With the past in our rearview, it’s easy for anyone to proclaim the 1981 release of Raiders of the Lost Ark a bona fide instant classic with Steven Spielberg (Schindler’s List) at the helm, Lawrence Kasdan (Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back) writing from a story by George Lucas (Star Wars) and Phillip Kaufman (The Wanderers), a score by John Williams (Superman: The Movie), and Harrison Ford (The Frisco Kid) in the lead role. But the past is always easy to examine as the investigator has the benefit of knowing what follows as well as its influence on cinema and culture at large. Now, with director James Mangold (Logan; Ford v. Ferrari) at the helm and Ford returning, audiences say goodbye to cinematic legend Indiana Jones via Dial of Destiny (2023), now available to own with nearly an hour of bonus material via digital ownership. Bringing all of the expected serial adventure beats the Indiana Jones series is known for, Dial of Destiny also takes the time to explore what a life of excitement means to a person going on their final adventure.
July 20th, 1969: Government agent, archeologist, and history professor Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones, Jr. lives a quiet life in a Brooklyn apartment and it’s looking to get even quieter with his retirement from teaching. But fate has different plans when his god-daughter Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) arrives, asking him for help researching for her doctorate the very same object her late father, Basil (Toby Jones), sought to discover. At first he’s hesitant to help, proclaiming his adventuring days behind him, but Indiana has no choice to take actions when a face from the past, Dr. Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen), also comes looking for the object, kicking off a race between the three to track down the fabled antikythera built by Archimedes (Nasser Memarzia) which can give the holder the ability to travel in time.
If you’d like to learn about the film in a spoiler-free capacity, head over to EoM Contributor Gabe Lapalombella’s initial theatrical release review. Moving forward, we’re explore the film through to the end.
Dial of Destiny is not a celebratory film in the way one might hope, but it is a celebration of the character that’s beloved by many, nonetheless. In the extended opening adventure sequence where we meet Indiana, Basil, and Voller for the first time, it’s your typical Indiana action with Indy searching for one object while trying to evade some kind of danger. In this case, it’s once more the Nazis and what begins as a hunt for the fabled Lance of Longinus (the spear used to stab Jesus on the cross), believed to possess supernatural powers, turns into an escape on a train while playing hot potato with Voller’s half of the antikythera. There’re fist fights, bombs dropping, bullets flying in 1945 (some 12 years before Crystal Skull and 24 years before the start proper of Dial), delivering exactly what fans expect after four other films did very much the same for their duration. Except, then Mangold makes the time jump and Indy is in the process of separating from Marion (Karen Allen), doesn’t know what historic day it is (Moon Day, as declared by then-President Nixon), and can barely get the attention of his students. How the mighty has fallen, it may seem. And that’s why the film matters, as the script, for the remaining two-ish hours, explores what it means to be an adventurer and a lover of history whose time to make an impact seems over, unable to be recognized as little more than a monument to a by-gone era.
Several characters, not just the frequently derisive Helena, comment on how out-of-touch Indiana is, how his age determines his knowledge or usefulness. Even Voller comments to Indy how they are the last of a dying generation, the two able to give their word without treachery due to a similar system of honor whereas the younger generation appears more cynical and, therefore, less trusting. This, of course, is emblematic and historically accurate given the shift in public opinion regarding the government and military action in the wake of the vast broadcasting of the Vietnam War which helped to shift the perspective on the value of going to war at all. This film doesn’t address the social derision occurring at the time, even the mixed response of the Space Race due to the perception of wasting money on interstellar exploration when there are people staving, prompting the creation of songs like “Whitey On the Moon” by Gil Scott-Heron, but the script by Mangold, Jez Butterworth (Edge of Tomorrow), John-Henry Butterworth (Ford v. Ferrari), and David Koepp (Mission: Impossible) does utilize the discord of the era in the New York escape sequence, so it’s not as if the writers were unaware of it. While this may seem like opening Indy up to the same criticisms Luke Skywalker faced post-The Last Jedi (2017), seeing Indy out of his element yet still able to not only keep up but be a deciding factor in success enables the audience to be thoughtful for a moment about who our heroes are and why it’s ok for them to grow old, to make mistakes, and to be, frankly, human. Indy wasn’t an action hero like Rambo, the Terminator, Ethan Hunt — he bleeds, he’s selfish, he fails, but he always tries. That Indy’s loneliness, his absence of energy, isn’t just because he screwed up with Marion but that he lost Mutt (Shia LaBeouf) in Vietnam and blames himself, is altogether human. Imagine that you’ve touched religious relics which prove the existence of G-d, that you know there’s life in other dimensions, and, yet, you are unable to ensure the safety of your child. How do you live with that when you have done so many other impossible things? Dial of Destiny is a fitting conclusion for the character, taking Indy on a character journey that reminds him (and the audience) that extended mileage is a benefit, not a hindrance, and that as long as there’s time, you can always get back on track.
This last part is particularly important because the ending is a touch anticlimactic in a way, despite being fitting to the film series as a whole. For one, the entire film includes elements that showcase how Voller was always going to succeed in getting the antikythera, while also telling us he was going to fail. There are numerous hints all the way up to Archimedes’s tomb. The second, is that Indy wants to stay in the past. This seems out of character to some, that the man who protects history would want to stay in a place of which he does not belong; except that he feels he’s nothing to return to. Given the revelations of one, that they were always going to come here, who’s to say that Indy wasn’t meant to remain there and watch history play out for as long as his bleeding wound would allow? The third, Helena sucker punches Indy, having made her full character journey, forcing him to return in the same vein as young Indy to others. I’ve seen this described as a removal of agency of the character, except it could also be argued that he’d reached a point where he’s unable to see the point of existence and *needed* someone to step in the way he has done for so many others. For my money, Helena’s pleading with him to come home is only slightly different than Indy’s interaction with his father in The Last Crusade (1989) regarding the grail and the cost of trying to keep it. Mangold’s direction and this script is far too smart to reduce Indy without the act having some weight and relevance, and, in my view, it’s another acknowledgement of who Indy is, the line of regret from father-to-son continuing on. But where Indy was able to talk Henry Sr. (Sean Connery) down, Helena made the same tough love choice that Temple of Doom (1984) Indy would’ve.
Now, be advised that, at the time of this writing, a physical release is not dated so the only way to own the film is digitally. Given that the film opens with the Paramount Pictures logo before cutting to Lucasfilm, one wonders if, perhaps, Paramount maintained the physical media rights. If not that, then (a) Disney may be waiting until closer to the holidays to release it to try to make an event out of it and (b) we’re destined forever to never have all five films in one collector’s set. Bummer. On the bright side, however, the bonus materials for the final outing of Indiana Jones are somewhat robust. There’s no director’s commentary and no bloopers, but there is a five-part behind-the-scenes featurette that breaks down the five major set pieces of the film. You can either watch all 56 minutes in one go or go chapter-by-chapter with each averaging 11 minutes. While the de-aging has a few iffy moments and Ford’s current voice doesn’t match the on-screen age of Indy in the opening, being able to see the combination of on-location/set footage, as well as listen to the interviews from cast and crew about shooting the opening explosive sequence is, at least, informative. Throughout each of these featurettes, you also get a sense of just how influenced by the past four films Dial of Destiny is in terms of shot blocking, staging, and execution. One thing that bothered me in the New York set piece was noticing a sheen suggestive of extensive CG, yet, in the second chapter, we learn how they used a street in Glasgow, Scotland, for the Moon Day event, with green screen used more at the ends versus the street itself or the people and objects in it. Each of these chapters offers confirmations of presumptions, as well as clarity on the creation and execution of the film. So, if you’re someone who loves the art of moviemaking, at least this 56-minute five-part series doesn’t disappoint.
In the finale chapter, Mangold lays out how the film is about choices made and unmade, how Voller seeks to right the wrongs he feels Hitler made, thereby leading to the fall of the Third Reich. Indy, too, has great regrets for so many choices, most of which is not stopping Mutt from enlisting. He is a gaping wound, trying to deal with it in a similar solitary self-imposed punishment that his own father engaged in by being consumed by the grail. What he, too, would give to be able to unmake his choices, but Indy would never do such a thing. Instead, he’d rather lay down, stop fighting, and enjoy what he thinks are his last moments by dying in the place he adored. (Again, the Jones apple didn’t fall far from the tree.) So where seeing Indy so vulnerable might give audiences pause, maybe even upset them, one should never turn away from aging, from regret, or the things that make us human. Indy’s always been human in his characterization and Dial of Destiny understands this. It may have squiffy CG, a perhaps too extended opening, and repetitious set pieces of evasion and capture, but Mangold sticks the emotional and thematic landing, giving audiences an upbeat ending, providing hope that maybe he and Marion will be ok and that, as long as he breathes, there’s always time for another adventure.
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny Special Features:
The Making of Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (56:48)
- Chapter 1 – Prologue (11:22)
- Chapter 2 – New York (10:34)
- Chapter 3 – Morocco (10:12)
- Chapter 4 – Sicily (11:22)
- Chapter 5 – Finale (13:18)
Available on digital August 29th, 2023.
Available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD December 5th, 2023.
For more information, head to the official Lucasfilm Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny webpage.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.
This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.