Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023) Movie Review: These days, you never know what metric to wire your brain into before watching a sequel or a reboot of a famous IP. Since Disney acquired Lucasfilm in 2012, there have been countless rumors regarding a possible revival of the Indiana Jones franchise, after which the fifth film was delayed several times. Most fans anticipated the on-screen return of the whip-cracking, era-defining hero. Some, including myself, expressed concern seeing how Lucas’ other imaginative storytelling invention was crushed under the boulder of multiple watered-down Star Wars projects. How do you differentiate between empty hijinks of nostalgia and wishful storytelling when the upshot of reverse-engineered storytelling feels so palatable?

“Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” opens in the year 1944 – the backdrop being Poland as Hitler’s army nears its end. What follows is a stunning chase sequence set on a moving train with Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen). The Nazis are once again after an ancient McGuffin artifact – the Dial of Archimedes that the mathematician prudently split into two. Hence, the first act ends with the whole business unresolved. We then fast-forward to the Space Age of the late 60s, where the grumpy old Indiana Jones is retiring, caught in the irrelevance of the rapidly developing modern world.

On the same day he retires from teaching – with a parade celebrating the moon landing rolling through New York – Indy comes across his estranged goddaughter, Helena Shaw (Phoebe Waller-Bridge). She’s the daughter of the man who he saved back on the train and now wants to search for the dial, which supposedly can find fissures in time. However, after retrieving it from storage, he realizes that Helena wants to sell it to the highest bidder. Once a Nazi scientist, Voller is now working on the American space program. But he has ulterior motives and an ideology he still can’t seem to shake off. Thus, the return of this old nemesis throws Indy into one last adventure against time.

Back when “Raiders of the Lost Ark” came out, it marked a turning point in the cinema of escapist entertainment. The Indiana Jones films have always tethered on the brink of turning completely ridiculous – a rousing product of George Lucas’ idea of telling a haunted Nazi monkey castle ghost story combined with the Bond treatment that Steven Spielberg’s explosive filmmaking brought. While Temple of Doom heightened the spookiness angle, Last Crusade notched up the best aspects of the first film into a genre-shaping experience. After that film’s sweeping finale, there was a general sense of how there was no way for Spielberg to top himself – something that became apparent with 2008’s Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

James Mangold is one of the few contemporary American action filmmakers who hasn’t helmed any mediocre project yet. By stepping into a franchise as beloved and celebrated as this, he didn’t only have to live up to the lore of it but also balance the notions that fans have associated with the saga – something that’s ingrained with Spielberg’s own trademark style. The film starts off with one of the best first acts of the year, with the cross-cutting and swashbuckling action feeling in tune with the world of Indiana Jones. However, once that opening scene ends, the style continues to be more in sync with that of the earlier films but without the flair and texture that those films mastered. The same becomes glaringly apparent when the filmmaking inadvertently cowers Mangold’s own style underneath the grandiosity of the myth of the man it follows.

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023) Movie Review - hof
A still from Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023)

That’s not to say that the direction isn’t good; Dial of Destiny is filled with explosive rigor with zipping chases, deft camera pans, and intercutting. Mangold’s artistic economy and spatial coherence never quite get buried under the massive budget of the film. Still, there’s an unusual invincibility that Indy seems to be barbed with despite being in his most physically vulnerable state. The screenplay, written by Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, David Koepp, and Mangold himself, acknowledges Indy’s physical and mentally enervated state – something that Harrison Ford’s dry, stoically masculine yet nonchalantly charismatic persona exemplifies. But there was always a sense of congruity in the action set pieces of the earlier films arising out of a sense of quietude.

For instance, in the Nazi tank chase sequence from the third film, you could practically feel the scurry ruggedness that Indy was thrashed against before being eventually saved out of sheer dumb luck – the very luck that always presented his iconic hat out of thin air back to him. The choice, however, made the action in those films feel grounded and ridiculously fun. Most of the online discourse regarding the Dial of Destiny has been around the de-aging process. But that’s nowhere as distracting as some of the action sequences that totally lack the thrill arising out of in-camera action – the very approach that quintessentially elevated the previous films into swashbuckling adventures.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge, as Helena, comes across as a great supporting character, throwing Indiana into his last big adventure. The film juxtaposes a strikingly contrasting dynamic between her way of living – a person merely interested in fortune and glory rather than the artifacts themselves. It mirrors our hero’s character trajectory from the last Crusade and puts into perspective how he’s the one playing the father figure now. There’s also the duality of the film being set at the peak of the Space race, with Indy himself being stuck in the dial of time, unable to let go of the past. While once his fellow classmates admired him, Indy’s become the crotchety old man he thought his father was – “the professor students hope they don’t get.”

But while Crystal Skull struggled in at finding a balance between the traditional and modern ways of filmmaking, Dial of Destiny finds itself entangled in the very duality that makes the promise of revival of old franchises seem like a red herring. Your takeaway from it would solely depend on the sort of emotional attachment you share with those 80s films – a rare attribute of modern-day Hollywood blockbusters that’s become a feature rather than a bug.

But as a story idea that was right from the beginning itself rooted in the nostalgia of 40s American television, “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” comes across as a hearty adventure epic. It neither has the flamboyance nor the oozing ruggedness of the first three films. Moreover, it lacks the earnestness that Mangold had brought to another enfeeble (super) hero contemplating his mortality in 2017’s extraordinary “Logan.” Much like noticing the de-aged Ford on screen, you can’t help but feel that there’s something off about the version of Indiana Jones you’re watching. But you gulp it down with a massive gasp – one that mostly stems from satisfaction.

Read More: Harrison Ford Reveals His Reasons to Return for Indiana Jones 5

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023) Links: IMDb, Wikipedia, Rotten Tomatoes
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023) Cast: Harrison Ford, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Antonio Banderas
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023) Other Details: Genre – Adventure/Action, Runtime – 2h 24m
Where to watch Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

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