“Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” (2023) opens with an extended-action flashback sequence where the audience is given the pleasure of seeing a beautifully done digitally de-aged Harrison Ford and his partner Basil Shaw (played by Toby Jones) fleeing from the Nazis on a moving train in the French Alps.
Jones and Shaw are there because they are trying to retrieve the Lance of Longinus, the blade that allegedly pierced the side of Jesus Christ as he hung on the cross during his crucifixion. The duo soon finds out that the lance is a fake but ends up leaving with another precious artifact: a half piece of Archimedes’ Dial.
Jones and Shaw manage to escape the Nazis and journey back home with the ancient mechanism that reveals time fissures, allowing for the possibility of time travel. After such a fun and exciting opening sequence, you would think that the rest of “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” would complement its opening with an even more entertaining movie. Unfortunately, the rest of the film fails to match the enjoyment of the first fifteen minutes.
“Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” is an inconsistent film. Some parts are good, some aren’t so good. That’s what happens when a sequel has been in development hell for many years. One thing this movie gets right is its leading performance.
Harrison Ford as the iconic Indiana Jones in all of his 81-year-old glory is without question the best part about the film. Ford has stated in numerous interviews that Indy is one of his favorite roles and has been waiting eagerly to return to the big screen. Ford delivers an amazing performance for a character that hasn’t been a part of popular culture for a long time.
Ford’s chemistry with the other actors/actresses in the film is also a highlight. Phoebe Waller-Bridge plays Helena Shaw—the daughter of Basil Shaw and goddaughter to Indiana Jones. The relationship between Waller-Bridge’s Helena and Ford’s Indy is rich.
They are complete opposites to each other. Indy is all about preserving ancient artifacts and not selling them in the black market whereas Helena has zero problem stealing something as valuable as Archimedes’ Dial and using it for financial gain. Throughout the runtime, the audience is given lots of good subtle character moments between the two.
The best scene of the film is just the two of them on a boat at night. Helena asks Indy what he would do if he could travel back in time. He responds that he would prevent his son Mutt Williams (played by Shia LaBeouf) from enlisting in the Vietnam War which resulted in him getting killed in action.
The emotion that Waller-Bridge shows after hearing that tragic piece of information coming from Ford is outstanding acting. The way Ford delivers his lines is heartbreaking and goes to show how committed he is to playing the character. Both Ford and Waller-Bridge give their A-game throughout the movie and it is pleasant to watch.
Where the movie falls apart is the lack of creativity in the script and its main villain. Acclaimed actor Mads Mikkelsen plays Jürgen Voller, an astrophysicist who worked for the Nazi regime and had a fascination for Archimedes' Dial. It is later revealed in the movie that Voller wants the dial to go back in time to 1939, assassinate Adolf Hitler and lead Germany to victory in World War II.
The issue with Voller as a villain isn’t the performance but rather the writing of the character. Voller is an extremely bland and forgettable villain for Indy to fight. He never really feels intimidating and the writers never give him any scenes to shine. It’s a total waste of a performance by such a talented actor as Mads Mikkelson.
What the previous Indiana Jones films had that this film doesn’t have were scenes that stuck with the audience. Yes, even “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” (2008) had many more scenes that resonated with moviegoers. “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” suffers because it isn’t too different from any other generic Disney reboot/sequel.
However, one thing that I will credit the writers for is the climax of the film. Indy, Helena, Teddy (played Ethann Isidore) and Voller and the Nazis end up traveling back in time not to 1939 Nazi Germany but to the Siege of Syracuse in 212 B.C. There, Archimedes is constructing his dial while two armies are fighting against each other outside.
This climax caught me off guard so much that I must give credit where credit is due. The writers did take a chance on something that may or may not work for certain watchers. It’s by far the most ingenious and risky idea in the whole movie.
One other thing that needs to be addressed is how the film handles the relationship between Indiana Jones and Marion Ravenwood (played by Karen Allen). It is explained in the film that Indy and Marion decided to divorce after the death of their son created turmoil in their marriage.
What doesn’t work with this decision is that at the end of the movie, Indy and Marion reunite and romantically reconcile with each other. Why doesn’t this fit well? It's because we've already had Indy and Marion split before and have a happy ending in “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.”
The decision to divorce Indy and Marion after they had gotten married to just reunify them in this movie is sloppy screenwriting and mirrors most of the film.
“Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” is neither a bad film nor a good film either. It has its ups and downs which makes it hard to recommend to both lifelong fans of Indiana Jones and regular film viewers. If you are interested in seeing it, then go watch it. If you are not interested in seeing it, then you don’t have to watch it. Either way isn’t a bad resolution.