‘Indiana Jones And The Dial Of Destiny’ Is An Audacious Blast

“Give ’em hell, Indiana Jones!,” yells Indy’s longtime compatriot, Sallah – right before our hero, Indiana Jones, steps into traffic and almost gets run over by a car outside the airport. These are just kind of the way things are now for Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford, who is legitimately great in this), who, when we first meet him in 1969, is a shell of who he once was. A man who has faced loss and hasn’t quite given up – he still teaches archeology; now at Hunter College on Manhattan’s Upper East Side – but now needs a lot of whisky to get through his days and nights. As we see, often waking up in the morning, passed out on his reclining chair with the television still on, woken up by the hippies next door blasting The Beatles’ “Magical Mystery Tour.”

Actually, let’s back up, because, when we actually first meet Indy in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, it’s 1944 in the thick of the second world war. This is the 20 plus minute opening sequence that has gotten a lot of attention for bringing the Indy we knew from the first three movies back to the big screen with the latest in de-aging technology. I have to admit, it looks pretty good. I feel comfortable saying it looks as good as this sequence could possibly look with today’s technology. The main issue is when Indy talks, Ford does his best to put a youthful spin on his voice, but it’s not always there and often sounds like the more gruff current day Ford. But regardless, it’s still pretty remarkable and is about the correct length where James Mangold and the filmmakers involved can show off what they accomplished, but also doesn’t wear out its welcome. (I suspect in five years this won’t look near as good as it does now, but, again, for now, this is the best I’ve seen.)

This whole sequence is to establish the Antikythera, the dial from the title of this movie. (There is no actual mention of a “dial of destiny” in this movie just like there is no actual mention of a “temple of doom.”) Indy and his partner, Basil Shaw (Toby Jones), infiltrate a Nazi stronghold to rescue an ancient artifact from the hands of Hitler – only to realize the piece they are after is a fake anyway. But, while there, they come across half of the Antikythera, a pet project of a Nazi engineer named Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen, chewing scenery) who believes the dial has incredible powers. As you may know, Indiana Jones does not like Nazis and fights Voller to keep that half of the dial out of his hands. Indy and Basil succeed and are rescued by the Allies.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Helena Shaw winds up being a much more interesting character than advertised. The daughter of Basil, she comes snooping around Indy’s school asking about Antikythera, which became her father’s obsession. Helena tricks Indy into showing it to her, then promptly steals it from him and heads off to Tangier to sell it to the highest bidder in a black market auction. Helena represents a version of the Indiana Jones we meet in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom if Indy hadn’t learned any life lessons and was still in it for the “fortune and glory.” I’ve always maintained that’s why I find Temple of Doom being a prequel to Raiders of the Lost Ark so interesting. Indiana Jones is an asshole. His motivation, again, is fortune and glory. Helena represents this side of Indiana Jones, with some obvious parallels: a degree in archeology, a father obsessed with one specific artifact, and she even has a young kid as a partner (Ethann Isidore) who she caught trying to steal from her. Helena saw what archeology did to her father and decided to skip all the soul searching and move onto the fortune and glory part.

Helena is a scoundrel and Indy doesn’t like her very much, but the two do realize they need each other’s expertise to find the other half of the dial: Helena knows everything about the dial from memorizing her father’s journals. Indy can read languages and codes she can’t, and more importantly has connections at every stop along the way who can get them to where they need to go – like Antonio Banderas’s Renaldo, who owns a diving boat that Indy needs. (It’s funny, Banderas seems to be having a great time, but also seems to only be in this movie because he just really wanted to be in an Indiana Jones movie. I can’t blame him.) Why does Indy want the dial? Because his old enemy Jürgen Voller (now living under a different name in Alabama, helping the United States build rockets that won the space race) wants the Dial. And Voller and his Nazi lackeys, as you might not be surprised to learn, are still sore about the whole “losing WWII” thing – Voller refuses to concede the Allies won WWII, his contention is Hitler was stupid and lost the war – and think the dial can help change all that. (Mixed in with Voller’s crew is a subplot about the CIA helping them that goes absolutely nowhere and, at least at the beginning, adds confusion and is eventually dropped and probably should have just been dropped completely.)

So here’s the thing, the third act of this movie is both audacious and outlandish. But the crazier it got, the more I liked it. I’ve re-watched the other four movies very recently. I think there’s a misconception from people who haven’t seen them in awhile that they are based on some sort of gritty reality. I re-watched Raiders of the Lost Ark with someone who hadn’t seen it before and she found the ending over the top. Basically, here’s this movie set in reality, then all of a sudden ghosts are flying out of the Ark killing people while Indy does a whole bunch of nothing. Personally, I’m just so used to Raiders I’ve never really thought of it that way before. I love the movie, but she’s not wrong. All the movies are like that. And the thing about Dial of Destiny is it doubles down, or even triples down, on that idea. Dial of Destiny is much less about nostalgia than Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull even was (a movie I also just rewatched and has some good moments, but makes little sense and not much of anything happens), instead coming at us with the attitude of just going, “all in,” and you are either in for this ride or you are not. (I very much was.)

One last thing, without getting into spoilers, this is a very fun movie (as I tried to convey in the headline), but Indy’s arc is poignant and also sad. It’s kept in the background, but it’s there. In that I found the ending of Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny much more satisfying than Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, to the point I teared up a bit and that’s not something I’ve ever done during an Indiana Jones movie before. I mentioned earlier that Indiana Jones is in a bad place when we first meet him in this one. He’s the only one who doesn’t seem to realize that, often mentioning that Marion was the one who he couldn’t help. It becomes increasingly obvious as the movie goes on it’s the opposite. Indiana Jones comes pretty close to making a decision at the end that I would have hated. Luckily, his support system won’t allow it. But he’s at a point he feels he’s got nothing left. But that’s not true. In the final scene of any Indiana Jones movie starring Harrison Ford we will ever get, he’s asked, “are you back?” Not from his adventure, but from his anguish; cutting off the people in his life who love him. Yes, Indiana Jones is back.

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