When Indiana Jones returned to the big screen in 2008, it was to largely mixed reviews. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull had its high points, but was mired by too many over-the-top moments and new characters that felt forced. For those worried about the fifth entry to the storied franchise, I bring good news. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is a fun, action-packed farewell adventure about mortality, trauma, and finding purpose.
Warning: Full spoilers ahead for Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.
Indiana Jones has always held a special place with me. I’m a massive Star Wars nerd, but the Indiana Jones films have always been my favorite series. Some critics have been rather harsh with the fifth film. I’m not going to be one of them. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny has flaws, but ultimately, it’s a fulfilling way to say goodbye to a character that has meant so much to so many.
An Explosive Beginning
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny definitely starts off on the right foot. In fact, the first 20 minutes of the film alone are worth the price of admission. Set in 1945 and using de-aging techniques for Harrison Ford and Mads Mikkelsen, the opening sequence contains some of the best action we’ve seen from Indiana Jones since 1989.
In this opening, we learn of the McGuffin in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. The Antikythera, a device designed by Archimedes to help predict astronomical phenomenon — think the position of the moon or an eclipse — is given more magical powers in Dial of Destiny. In the film, the Antikythera also has the power to manipulate fissures in time and allow the person controlling it to travel through time.
An Aging Hero
The Antikythera fits quite well with the theme of the film. When we meet Indiana Jones in 1969, he is a man who feels that time has passed him by. Indy is at the end of his teaching career, and we see a shift in his ability to connect with students. In Raiders of the Lost Ark, they are largely engaged — and even flirty. In Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, students are barely awake, having not done the reading and causing Jones a significant amount of frustration.
At the end of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Indy is married to Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) and has learned that Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf) is his son. By 1969, his life has collapsed. We learn the fate of Mutt in the first act of Dial of Destiny, and Marion has filed for divorce. With his glory days behind him and his career as a professor nearing an end, Indy has begun to feel like he has no place in the world anymore.
Enter Helena Shaw (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), Indy’s goddaughter. Her father — Indy’s friend and colleague — had become so obsessed with the Antikythera that his life unraveled and it consumed him. Helena has now picked up the mantle, seeking to find both pieces of the Antikythera and honor her father’s legacy — and make some cash along the way. In the process, she draws the famed Indiana Jones back into action for one final adventure.
A New Kind of Indiana Jones Villain
Mads Mikkelsen’s Jürgen Voller struck me as more of a Bond villain than a classic Indiana Jones baddie. Funny, since Mikkelsen played a Bond villain in 2006’s Casino Royale.
That observation isn’t to say that it’s a bad thing, though. Voller has plenty of recognizable Indy villain traits. He’s a Nazi that is obsessed with the supernatural. In this case, however, Indiana Jones and Jürgen Voller have a really significant thing in common: they both hate Adolf Hitler.
Voller isn’t anti-Nazi, though. He’s just anti-Hitler. He is a proud German who, even in 1969, resents that the Germans lost the war and blames Hitler for the failure. He seeks to find both pieces of the Antikythera to travel back in time to 1939 and assassinate Hitler — not so that the Nazis will be stopped, but so they can win World War II. More than 20 years on from World War II, Voller is more a brilliant diabolical scientist than he is a typical Nazi stooge from an Indiana Jones film.
He’s still perfectly punchable though, and serves as a better foil for Indy than Cate Blanchett’s Irina Spalko did in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. While Mads Mikkelsen never steals the show in Dial of Destiny — this is Harrison Ford at his finest throughout — he really does give a great performance and is one of the better Indy villains.
Why You Should See Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny
If you’re an Indiana Jones fan, there’s so much to like about Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. First, just seeing the fedora, bullwhip, and one of cinema’s greatest heroes on the screen one more time was a true joy. More importantly, Dial of Destiny isn’t just empty fan service. There is a powerful, meaningful story to be told, and it is told well.
Harrison Ford has revisited three of his most iconic characters in recent years, and his performances have been nothing short of superb. That said, as great as Han Solo and Rick Deckard are, Indiana Jones is the one that Ford truly adores, and it shows throughout this film. His performance is a dedication to a character that has clearly meant so much to him. In turn, it is a performance that will make you feel excited, happy, and heartbroken all in the span of two-and-a-half hours.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge as Helena Shaw
There has been a lot of online uproar about Phoebe Waller Bridge’s character since the initial Cannes reviews surfaced. After seeing Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, I’m convinced that that narrative is coming from people who either haven’t seen the movie, want to scream to the clouds about some “woke” boogeyman, or both.
Waller-Bridge’s Helena Shaw is a good character. She’s Indy’s intellectual equal but has entirely different motives and goals. It makes for a compelling partnership. But here’s the biggest reason I don’t think these people have seen Dial of Destiny: it is made incredibly clear throughout the film that no one is replacing Indiana Jones. The utmost respect is given to the legendary character throughout the entire movie. It’s a real bummer for those who want to be outraged.
The rest of the supporting cast is great, too. Antonio Banderas, Toby Jones, and Ethann Isidore are all great. And seeing John Rhys-Davies on screen as Sallah again was a treat for an Indiana Jones fan like me.
John Williams Triumphs in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny
I’m honestly thankful whenever we get one more John Williams score. The man has provided the soundtrack to some of the most iconic films in the past 50 years. To get him back for Dial of Destiny was great fortune, as I don’t think the film would have been the same without him.
From the opening of Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, the score harkens back to each of the four films before it while also blazing new trails for a new adventure. You will instantly recognize the sound from each movie in the series very early — indicating that what we are watching here is a culmination of everything that came before it. The first time the classic Indiana Jones theme hits was a moment to cheer in the theater.
Surprisingly, the de-aging effects are pulled off pretty well in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. The 1945 scenes look very similar to the Indy we saw in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Later in the film, there is another flashback from years later, and in those scenes Indy appears to be about halfway between Last Crusade and Crystal Skull. It works. There will be some people that hate it, but it was an effective technique that helped advance the story.
Finally, the action scenes in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny are great, especially considering Harrison Ford is 80 years old. The opening 20 minutes are phenomenal, the horseback riding in the subway is nostalgic, and the car chase in Tangiers is fantastic.
What You Might Not Like
The movie is pretty long, clocking in at over two and a half hours. It could probably stand to be 15 minutes shorter, but knowing this was our final adventure with this character, I didn’t mind. Some might find that it drags a bit, especially during the second act.
The third act is going to be divisive for some, and it will be the reason some fans have an issue with Helena Shaw as a character. If you hate the idea that an iconic hero would consider giving up and accepting that he’s past his time, you will hate part of the final act. If the thought of Helena Shaw maybe saving Indiana Jones bothers you, you’ll hate it even more.
If you can get past the visceral reaction, though, these elements are completely in line with what the core story of Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is. They’re needed to give the story a fulfilling end. Emotional journeys and themes like facing mortality and finding our place in a world that has passed us by are meaningless unless the character actually struggles with them in the story. The fact that Indiana Jones needs help to be reminded of his value tells us that everyone needs that help sometimes — and that it’s okay to get it.
Delivering a satisfying finale to a series is hard. Add in the fact that this is a character that has been part of people’s lives for 42 years, and it’s nearly impossible. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny isn’t a perfect movie, but it seeks to treat its aging hero with respect and give him the sendoff he deserves. In a touching and surprisingly deep action movie, the end of Dial of Destiny should leave you feeling happy that Indiana Jones was part of your life. It did for me.
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is now in theatres. You can watch the rest of the Indiana Jones series on Disney Plus.
- THE GOOD
- A touching and heartbreaking story about mortality and finding our place in the world
- Phoebe Waller Bridge is great as Helena Shaw
- Fantastic supporting performances
- Just enough fan service inside an original adventure with a fun McGuffin
- The de-aging technology adds to the film and the story
- THE BAD
- Some viewers might find it a little too long
- The third act is probably going to be divisive for fans
The fan in me never wants to see this series end, but Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is the ending our favorite archaeologist deserves.