Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023)

Indiana Jones is done. Sure, the franchise should have wrapped after Last Crusade (1989) with Indy and his dad riding off into the literal sunset, but whores will have their trinkets and the studios can’t let anything die without wringing every last bit of blood from the corpse. Thus, we got Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) with an “old” Indy on one last adventure. Steven Spielberg came back to direct that one after nearly twenty years of resistance to taking the series in a more fantastical, sci-fi direction. Georg Lucas has had a few good ideas in his career, no doubt, but going full-on alien encounter wasn’t a good look, and despite a promising opening half, Crystal Skull turned into a CG trainwreck that is, for me, difficult to watch to this day.

Having Shia LaBeouf show up as Indy’s greaser son in full Marlon Brando Wild One cosplay was maybe the worst thing that could have ever happened to the franchise.

It was cripplingly depressing to see a character that I have loved since his debut (I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark nearly ten times in the cinema during its original run; back when you literally had to stand in line around to block to get in) go out with the whimper that was Crystal Skull. But what are you gonna do? Harrison Ford wasn’t getting any younger and the film was kinda built around the idea that he was getting too old for this shit, being 66 at the time of release.

Well, now he’s really too old for this shit at 80, but damn if he doesn’t give it everything.

Spielberg is not back this time for whatever reason, but he’s no spring chicken anymore either (it’s been over a decade since he’s directed something that required most of the hassles that a tentpole globe-trotting action-adventure film demands). Instead, we are graced with the man who can now safely say he knows what its like for a hero to get old and go out in style. James Mangold – the man who gave us one of the greatest superhero movies ever made, Logan – takes the reins and brings us a film that walks a fine line between referencing the past, playing with the established patterns of the franchise, and experimenting with more realistic violence and fantastical concepts.

Is it too long? Yes. It is too damn long. But there’s only one sequence that I would cut and that’s the first big motor chase set piece in Tangier. A few other little clips here and there could have brought the film in at just around two hours, instead of the whopping 154 minutes that it sits at now. I’m convinced that these runtimes are part of the problems with the failing blockbusters this summer. Spreading out showings over multiple screens, fewer times a day per screen isn’t a recipe for success. Not to mention the costs associated with going to the cinema when films are being shunted over to streaming in a couple of months anyway. For a family with kids, going to the movies can be around a hundred bucks a pop and nobody’s got time for that shit.

But back to the movie.

Dial of Destiny opens with a flashback to the end of World War II and Indy (Harrison Ford, duh) has been captured by Nazis at Nuremberg Castle where everybody’s looking for the Lance of Longinus, or The Spear of Destiny. It’s a clever way to set up one goal but then shift up our focus once the lance turns out to be a fake. German astrophysicist Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen) has instead discovered half of Archimedes’ Dial, the Antikythera – a device which, according to legend, can calculate fissures in time and space.

This leads to an extended opening sequence that breaks with the traditional openers only in that it goes on a little longer and features some much more graphic Nazi murder than we usually see in an Indiana Jones adventure. The digital de-aging of Harrison Ford is totally fine and anyone who tells you different is being obtuse. The only bad CG in this sequence is when Indy hops the train and we get an animated Indy running across the back of an animated train. The rest of the action sequence, including those on top of the train, are fine.

They’re not innovative or stunt-driven, but they’re plot-driven and serve up enough twists and turns to make it entertaining. And there’s always the gruesome enjoyment of dead Nazis to take into account.

Don’t get me wrong, Indy has always been about killing as many Nazis as possible. But it’s not usually this bloody or visceral, with scorched bodies lying around as our heroes make their way through them.

That’s not a negative, by the way. One of my biggest criticisms of the Indiana Jones franchise is that it murders Nazis in too cartoonish ways. I want to see them bleed, as should any right-thinking American.

Anyway, after murdering a train full of Nazis, Indy and his archeologist friend Basil Shaw (Toby Jones) survive with the half-Antikythera and we cut to present day (1969) New York, where we find an old Indiana Jones on the verge of retirement – and utter collapse. Providing a sobering take on the upbeat finale of Crystal Skull, it turns out his son, Mutt (Shia LaBeouf) has died in Vietnam and his wife Marion (Karen Allen) has filed for divorce. Teaching is even shown to be a completely unsatisfying way to make a living with uninterested students and barely appreciative employers.

Crystal Skull is why we have to get to this point. If we had only left it at riding off into the sunset, we wouldn’t have to deal with this idea that our action heroes actually get old and fail to be heroes forever. The hero has to be down so the film can bring them back up. If Indy wasn’t at rock bottom, we wouldn’t root for him to get his groove back.

Enter Helena Shaw (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), Basil’s daughter and Indy’s goddaughter. She’s got a line on the location of the half-Antikythera, along with a way to find the other half, and wants Indy to ride off into the sunset with her. Or does she??

While we ponder that question, cut to Mads Mikkelsen, now going under a new name and working to make American rocket science the world leader (a la real life Wernher von Braun). He’s the reason we put men on the moon and coincidentally, he’s in New York to celebrate “Moon Day” with the Apollo 11 astronauts who have just returned from space and are appearing in a parade through New York City. His henchmen, including Klaber (Boyd Holbrook, who played a similar role in Mangold’s Logan) are also on the trail of the half-Antikythera and after a few murders, betrayals, and a horse/car/motorcycle chase through the parade, an anti-war protest, and the New York Subway system, the modern-day adventure is off and running, with the CIA pinning the Nazi murders on Indy.

After a visit with Sallah (John Rhys-Davies), who is alive and well, working as a taxi driver in New York, the first stage of the journey takes place in Tangier, where Helena is attempting to auction off the half-Antikythera. You see, she’s not to be trusted.


Anyway, she and her ward Teddy (Ethann Isidore) have to team-up with Indy after the Nazis abscond with the half-Antikythera. This is after the over-long chase sequence that seems to go on for over twenty minutes. If there was anywhere to cut in this film, this was the time for it.

So as to avoid spoilers, I’m gonna stop there. The rest of the film is a race to find the other half of the Antikythera, so that Voller can go back in time to change the outcome of World War II, by any means necessary. There are a few nice plot twists that took me by surprise and a couple of action set pieces that hearkened back to the original trilogy, balanced with some nice exploration and both characters and settings that made me feel like Crystal Skull never happened.

And boy is there a twist in the final act that, in retrospect, is signaled many times earlier, but still was maybe worth the price of admission. Or you may think it’s so stupid that you’re sorry you paid for a ticket.

It’s that weird.

And I’m not ashamed to admit that there are some emotional beats during that climax that hit hard but were then paid off in the final moments of the film so well that I had tears in my eyes. While this may not be your traditional Indiana Jones film, this is a film about getting old, dealing with regrets, and finding a way to keep carrying on even when you want to give up and die.

If the studios and the money vampires couldn’t let us have our happy ending with Last Crusade, I’m glad we got to get this one, that doesn’t rest on the easy wedding happily-ever-after and instead gives us a more emotional and mature final curtain call for one of cinema’s greatest action heroes.

I give it 4 whips out of 5.

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