An Uneven, Thrilling Last Ride

May 20, 2023

Although studios and Hollywood seem intent on keeping a firm grip on franchises, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny distinctly feels like the end of an era. The once youthful and energetic Indiana Jones has been replaced with a grizzled and grumpy old man who is retiring and ready to move into a new phase of his life. Though, thanks to Harrison Ford, this older archaeologist-adventurer is no less charming or charismatic. With Indy’s previous adventure, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, remembered as the worst entry in Indy’s story, fans might approach Dial of Destiny with some sort of trepidation.

After all, Dial of Destiny, on the surface, has many parallels to its predecessor. Both films involve Indy with a younger character to whom he acts like a father figure to, both movies feature Nazis as the primary villain, both movies have some element of the mystical and magical, and both are happy to mine nostalgia to appease audiences. But, where Crystal Skull fails to stick the landing with all of these aspects of the film, Dial of Destiny is far more successful.

‘Dial of Destiny’ Is Packed to the Brim With Heart-Pounding Action but Weak in Story

Image via Disney

A highlight of any good Indiana Jones movie is the swashbuckling adventure we go on with our heroes. Whether it’s uncovering the Ark of the Covenant, magical Sankara stones, or trying to find the Holy Grail, we can be sure that Indy will be sent to all corners of the globe with his hat on and whip in hand to do whatever it takes to get what he’s after. Dial of Destiny follows this same format. Chasing the titular dial of destiny, we are taken on an adventure with a begrudging Indiana and his plucky and morally-ambiguous goddaughter Helena Shaw (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) jumping from New York to Tangier to Sicily and beyond.

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The most thrilling aspect of Dial of Destiny is its action sequences. The film kicks off at the end of World War II in a de-aged flashback to a younger Indy fighting Nazis on a speeding train, and then shows that even after decades of adventuring, Indy’s still got it when we jump to 1969. Whether it’s on a horse or behind the wheel of a tuk-tuk, Ford shows he’s still a compelling action star. The action set pieces of Dial of Destiny are sprawling, be it on land, sea, or in the air, director James Mangold never holds back on the fun of these scenes.

This means that sometimes the story suffers as a result. A lot of Dial of Destiny’s script is formulaic. There’s nothing new in the first two-thirds of this movie, it feels like we are simply filling the space between action sequences with Indy’s greatest hits. It’s only by the third act that the film totally goes off the rails, taking us somewhere we’ve never been. And while your mileage may vary on whether this polarizing move makes the movie better or worse, it certainly feels like the most original part of Dial of Destiny.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Harrison Ford Have Great Chemistry

Image Via Disney

The story between Helena and Indy is oftentimes rather shallow, but Ford and Waller-Bridge’s acting makes up for a lot of the missing development. Their chemistry is great, with Indy easily slipping into the role of a protective and sometimes-judgmental father figure to Helena. But, Helena seems to only exist to push Indy back into an adventure and often feels like a caricature as a result. She is an audience insert in many ways, the character that we all want to be. She’s the quippy, clever woman with all the answers.

That isn’t to say that Waller-Bridge is bad in the film, on the contrary, her performance is full of swagger and sass, and it manages to hide a lot of the lackluster writing when it comes to her character. Helena’s jaded and crooked persona adds a deeper dimension to her character, but it mainly serves to compliment Indy’s maturation over the years. In fact, Waller-Bridge embodies the spirit of a younger Harrison Ford, making her a perfect foil for his character development. If only there was a bit more time spent on developing Helena on her own, because her interactions with Indy and the young Teddy (Ethann Isidore) are delightful.

‘Dial of Destiny’ Offers a Strong Dose of Nostalgia

Image Via Disney

If you haven’t seen the other Indiana Jones movies, you might not notice how often the film calls back to the first three films, while also directly answering some questions about the fourth, like what happens to Mutt (Shia LaBeouf), Indy and Marion’s son. But for fans of Indy, this plays like a greatest hits album at times. The aforementioned Teddy feels like a duplicate of Ke Huy Quan’s lovable Short Round. Nazis are once again hunting for some kind of magical artifact that can change the course of life and history as we know it.

There are callbacks to the first three movies, and while they are certainly meant as winks to the audience, they do serve the main theme of the film. This is a movie about Indy at the end of his career. It’s obsessed with time and age and specifically the passage of time and regrets. While not exactly groundbreaking, it actually fits the character of Indiana Jones well. He’s a man who has so often thrown caution to the wind, but now face with mortality and legacy, he’s forced to look back at his life.

Perhaps a deeper dive into these themes and better development of Helena’s character could have put this film over the top. As it is, it is a fun romp, one that is sure to entertain audiences. It captures the spirit of the first three films, because, whether you like it or not, those movies were meant to be enjoyable action-adventures. There’s nothing thematically deep or complex about Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones is not Citizen Kane, and it doesn’t want or need to be. You buckle up for a daring story with a rakish hero and that’s what Dial of Destiny is all about — though now Helena might better fit the role of a rakish hero. It’s a vast step up from the muddled mess of Crystal Skull, and while it’s not perfect, with its uneven storytelling, it’s not a bad end for our favorite archaeologist-professor-adventurer.

Rating: B-

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny comes to theaters on June 30.

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