It’s been 15 years since one of cinema’s greatest action heroes graced the silver screen and with Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, franchise star Harrison Ford is finally returning for what has been decreed as a conclusive closing chapter from the beginning of its production.
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is the first installment of the franchise to not have co-creator Steven Spielberg in the director’s chair, which to any avid fan will be obvious from the general fashioning of the film, and also the first to not have second co-creator George Lucas not involved in the writing of the story. Instead, Logan and Ford v Ferrari director James Mangold steps up to the plate as Spielberg’s successor while also serving as a screenwriter alongside Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, and David Koepp. Given his sturdy and impressive track record, Mangold does a serviceable job as expected. However, it’s undeniable that he often struggles to capture the iconic charm of the original films.
From the very start, James Mangold’s film hoists the audience into one of its many meticulously choreographed action sequences with a flashback to the 1940s when Indy first encounters the primary villain of this tale, Dr. Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen), who is, you guessed it, another Nazi! We find them on a moving train packed full of stolen artifacts including the Antikythera mechanism, more affectionately known as “The Dial of Destiny,” a mysterious tool that, if used correctly, can unlock the power of time travel. The only person known to have made any progress on cracking the code is archeologist Basil Shaw (Toby Jones), who is being held captive by the Nazis on a train as Indy attempts to rescue him.
This prologue reminds audiences just how meticulous the action has always been in Indiana Jones movies – the kind that keeps you on the edge of your seat and feels like you’re on the ride of a lifetime. Flash forward to 1969 and we reunite with an older and more rugged Indy still teaching archeology, but now in New York City. As he prepares to mark the bittersweet milestone of retirement, he is reunited with his goddaughter Helena Shaw (Phoebe Waller-Bridge). Even after 18 years apart, Indy lovingly refers to her as “wombat”. Unlike her father’s old obsession with the Antikythera, her fascination with the fabled macguffin is based purely on monetary value. Helena’s hunger for her father’s great treasure leads to both Indy and Dr. Voller – now a former Nazi working for NASA – chasing her halfway across the world to Morocco.
Along this adventure, we’re treated to a number of grand segments filled with tons of new friends and foes, including those played by Antonio Banderas and Shaunette Renée Wilson. This is all set to what is said to be John Williams’ final score before retirement, which frankly stands as one of the most elating scores of his late career. To even more relief, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny doesn’t depend on de-aging technology to propel the narrative forward. It seems as though Lucasfilm has learned from their poorly received de-aging of Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker in The Mandalorian and instead have put more resources into improving this very hit-or-miss type of visual effect. De-aged Harrison Ford is perfectly fine and not at all distracting, but on Mads Mikkelsen, you’re able to see just how far this technology has come in a few years.
It’s easy to see just how much enjoyment Harrison Ford still gets out of playing Indy after all these years. Although both Harrison and Indy have aged, they are still as charismatic as they are enigmatic and have no problem packing what appears to be a hefty punch. Phoebe Waller-Bridge shares fantastic chemistry and playful tension with Ford, holding her own but never trying tealing too much of the spotlight away from Indy. Unfortunately, Helena’s younger child sidekick Teddy (Ethann Isidore), comes off as two-dimensional since he isn’t written to have any significance or even provide comic relief, in the way Ke Huy Quan‘s Short Round was so iconic for in Temple of Doom. Toby Jones is a seamless yet brief addition to this world, his character serving as exposition for his daughter and the dial itself. Nonetheless, he manages to make a lasting impression with his brief screen time.
One of the most notable aspects of a classic Indiana Jones film is the main villain. While Mads Mikkelsen does know how to play evil as we all know well by now with his profound career, he is not given anything unique to work with in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny and falls in line with every other Nazi foe in the series. Boyd Holbrook as Klaber, Dr. Voller’s right-hand goon in 1969, is one of the surprising standouts of this epic journey who on further elaboration would be a pool of potential to dive into.
Though many fans are going to celebrate the return of Sallah (John Rhys-Davies), a classic Indiana Jones character, this reprisal sacrifices the importance placed on diversity in the modern day. The concept of casting a white man as an Egyptian back when the franchise first came to fruition with Raiders of the Lost Ark in the 1980s, while not excusable, is unsurprising for the time. Now, studios and directors have the opportunity to rectify these decisions, yet knowingly choose to uphold brownface. This continues to contribute to the fact that racial misrepresentations seem to not cause any uproar specifically when it affects the Middle Eastern population. This is most disheartening because Sallah contributes little to nothing to the plot and might as well be considered an unnecessary or glorified cameo.
For what was promised to be one last adventure, the stakes never reach full potential in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny and emotions don’t run as high as needed to elevate the sentiment that this film is eagerly attempting to tap into. The final shot of the movie – what should clearly be a bookend to an entire franchise – is left open to interpretation as to whether this is truly the end of the line. On the other hand, Indy’s adventures will always be part of the fabric of his very being or perhaps there are other adventures still to be had… just not on screen. Everything considered and despite being somewhat formulaic, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny delivers at all times on one of its predominant expectations, to be entertaining, and for that reason is certain to be one of this summer’s big blockbusters.