July 1, 2023

Risk-Averse “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” is Still a Home Run (Review)

The most recent three films in the Indiana Jones franchise have had perfect endings that could (and should) act as the closing moment of the series. But when there’s money to be made, there is sequel potential, no matter how many years pass in between.

I think, even though the film itself has been divisive, they could have done a lot worse than Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, the franchise’s fifth entry, which has finally been released after years spent languishing in development hell (fifteen years after the last Indy adventure, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull). Dial of Destiny largely plays it safe, without explicit willingness to take risks, which does remove some of its efficacy — you might expect a legacy sequel in one of the more consistent long-running franchises to diversify itself in some unique ways, but Dial of Destiny sticks relatively closely to the script that has made the series successful for decades. I can’t fault it; after all, why mess with a winning formula?

It’s 1969, and humanity has just landed on the moon. College professor Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) is retiring, and it seems like he’s finally out of the adventuring lifestyle for good. But then his goddaughter Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge, best known as the creator and star of Fleabag) shows up at his doorstep with a proposition that might be just enough to pull him back in.

In actuality, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny begins with a half-hour-long flashback to one of Indy’s adventures during the Second World War, which sets up this film’s MacGuffin (or the device on which the plot is dependent): the titular dial of destiny, originally created by ancient Greek mathematician Archimedes as a method of peering through (and even changing) time itself. The Indiana Jones series is no stranger to magical items — in fact, that’s what nearly every one of the films revolves around — so it’s perfectly in-line with the fantastical reality that the franchise has established.

It’s a delight to see Harrison Ford back in the saddle (along with his stunt double, who I’m convinced is on-screen as much as Ford is), and Waller-Bridge is a wonderful addition to the cast as the witty and wisecracking sidekick. They’re pit against ex-Nazi scientist Jürgen Voller, played by Mads Mikkelsen (most recently the star of Doctor Strange and Rogue One), who is another fantastic addition to the franchise. Mikkelsen’s subtlety clashes with Ford’s boisterousness in a way that works very well for the story — plus, you can tell that (unlike Han Solo) this is a character Ford loves dearly and is always happy to reprise.

Indiana Jones wasn’t even a big part of my childhood, and Dial of Destiny conjured nostalgia out of basically nothing, which was unexpectedly impressive. It didn’t necessarily need to exist — either of the other two “franchise enders” would have been great places to stop, but I’m glad that Dial of Destiny exists. It’s great fun to immerse oneself back into the world of Indiana Jones — after all, being caught up in the adventure is what makes it exciting, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a ton of fun. But maybe it’s past time for the series, like its hero, to finally rest.

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is playing now in theaters.

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