- Movie Rating -

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023)

| July 1, 2023

You walk into Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny with two realities in mind: 1.) It will never match the thrill of RaidersTemple of Doom or Last Crusade, and 2.) It just has to be better than Crystal Skull.  Both assumptions are correct.  This is about as middle-of-the-road as an Indiana Jones movie can be while still being entertaining.  With a new director, a Marvel-like sense of forward momentum and much more focused goals, this movie is much easier to follow than the film that preceded it, but you’re always aware that it can never match its earlier glory.  It is a film that redefines the term “mixed-feelings.”

Dial of Destiny opens with a spectacular sequence in 1944, the end of WWII, when Berlin is crumbling and Der Führer has retreated to his underground bunker.  Indiana Jones (a de-aged Harrison Ford) and his companion Basil Shaw (Toby Jones) are walloping Nazis who have just loaded a train full of Europe’s plundered treasures in search of the Lance of Longinus, the spear that pierced Jesus’ side at the crucifixion.  In the midst of the search comes information about the Antikythera, the dial that supposedly belonged to Archimedes.  It is sought by a genius Nazi scientist Jurgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen) but he is only able to locate half of it.  Put together, it isn’t the vessel of God that the Ark of the Covenant or the Holy Grail were – this one gives you god-like power.  I won’t reveal why.

Cut forward to 1969 at the moment when the United States is celebrating the moon landing.  Indy has relocated from Chicago and is now teaching bored students at New York’s Hunter College.  He is about to retire and faces the reality that his world is changing.  The music is louder, youngsters have forgotten their manners and he is living in a social reality that is antithetical to his chosen profession – as he wraps up his lifetime teaching about the past, America’s eyes are focused squarely on the future.

These are, for me, the best parts of Dial of Destiny, the human moments.  Ford dearly loves this character and could have just lazily sleepwalked through an easy paycheck, but he wants to give Indy some humanity, some sense of purpose.  He’s acting here and he gives a good performance.  He wants us to see the cracks in his armor.  After a lifetime chasing fortune and glory that always seems to have eluded him, Indy has earned a status as a world-famous archaeologist but now arrives in his senior years without much to show for it besides a battered body and a marriage that is crumbling fast.  The ray of hope is one last big adventure, one more thrill.

I wish I was as excited about the adventure as I was in Indy’s character details.  It is never boring but it is never all that thrilling.  Almost before Indy’s retirement party has wrapped up, he is dragged along on an adventure involving Helena Shaw (Phoebe-Waller Bridge), Basil’s daughter, who has come seeking the half of Archimedes dial that is in Indy’s possession.  It seems that her father was obsessed with the dial and gave it to our hero with the caveat that he would destroy it.  Of course, he didn’t and that’s why Voller and his goons are hot on her trail also looking for the surviving half of the dial.

What follows makes a lot more logical sense than what transpired in Crystal Skull; there are a lot of action scenes and probably way too many scenes of the actors stopping to explain the plot to each other interrupted by action that moves in fits and starts.  The biggest problem with Dial of Destiny is that it doesn’t bounce like the best films in this series which tended to start with a corker of an opening and then kept the energy rolling even when padding out plot-propelling dialogue.  It seems to have the narrative drive of one of the lesser Bond films – you know, when Roger Moore was getting way too old for the role and the plots and the action were more perfunctory than compelling.

I don’t know,  I have mixed emotions.  I was more entertained by Dial of Destiny than I thought but I’m having trouble getting excited about any of it in hind-sight.  I loved the opening, I thought the middle was standard and the movie arrived at a far-out ending that I had to talk myself into accepting.  It’s a good movie, but not a great one.  I enjoyed it, but I’m not itching to see it again.  

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2023) View IMDB Filed in: Action