by Ray Keating
Review (No Spoilers)
June 30, 2023
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny
3.5 to 4 stars (out of 5)
Okay, before I get to the actual review, a brief personal confession is in order. The period running up to and the actual arrival of Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny gave me the most fan angst I’ve ever experienced for a movie. As far as characters and series in pop culture go, Indiana Jones tops the list, along with Captain Kirk and Captain America, in providing me with entertainment and enjoyment since my teens. Make no mistake, this discomfort, which lasted through the movie, surprised me. After all, it’s not like this was the release of one of my own books. But nonetheless, that was the case, and I’ll come back to this later. But on to the actual review…
“Playing it safe” can carry multiple meanings when it comes to making or reviewing movies. For the most part, the phrase tends to bug me. And given how often I’ve seen this used in reference to Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (was there a memo I missed?), I now find this group of words extremely annoying. That’s especially the case given that they’re being tossed around to criticize this enjoyable and entertaining final entry in the Indiana Jones film series.
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is a darn good Indy movie. Is it as good as the previous four? (See my new reviews of those Indy movies at “My Indy Adventure, Part IV: New Reviews of Raiders, Temple of Doom, Last Crusade, and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”) No. And there are various reasons for this. First and foremost, director James Mangold, who did a fine job with Dial of Destiny, does not measure up to Steven Spielberg as a director. But who does, given that Spielberg ranks as one of the all-time greats? Second, while there are welcome bits of humor throughout this latest film, they don’t seem to be as frequent and memorable as was the case with the previous movies. (Again, there’s a reason why I use the word “seem” here.)
As for what you might have heard, the opening of the movie taking place in World War II with a de-aged Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones overall works well. In story terms, it’s a wonderful start to the movie (we get a flavor of what Indy was up to during the war), and the de-aged Harrison Ford ranges from looking absolutely amazing for much of the time to being a bit odd here and there.
Also, many reviewers have claimed that the third act of the film just goes too far and is goofy. Understanding what occurred in the previous Indy films in terms of the final conflicts, Dial of Destiny definitely is the greatest stretch, but it still basically works. After all, Indiana Jones isn’t just action/adventure, but also sci-fi/fantasy.
As for the ending, which also has been alluded to by reviewers, I’m not going to spoil anything, but for this story and for Indiana Jones being at this point in his life, Mangold deserves credit for sticking with an ideal ending. I don’t hesitate giving the film’s conclusion a big thumbs up.
Along the way, we get treated to some great Indy action and globetrotting. And Ford deserves enormous credit for stepping up once more as Indiana Jones at his, let us say, advanced age, and doing it with heart and skill. The story has a certain tone that’s different from the previous films, and Ford takes that a bit deeper.
Regarding other assorted characters, I’ll just touch on three. First, John Rhys-Davies is back as Sallah, and that’s a treat. We get a couple of solid Sallah moments. Second, Mads Mikkelsen excels as the evil Dr. Voller. That’s not surprising, and the writers and director clearly let him have fun with the role. Third, and most significant outside of Indy himself, is Helena, played by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who is Indiana Jones’ goddaughter and starts the movie as a gray character. Her links to Indiana Jones are strong and long, but the depth of her love of cash, and not much else, run deep as well.
Dial of Destiny takes both Indiana Jones and Helena on interesting character arcs.
There’s more to say about characters and story, but not without giving away too much.
Whether out of ignorance or arrogance, or both, not “playing it safe” with beloved characters and/or franchises often has come to mean not being true to the character. It tends to indicate that audience expectations must be flouted in the worst possible ways in order to be creative. Think Rian Johnson and what he did to Luke Skywalker in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. In the end, though, such notions amount to a different type of uncreative formula (again, see The Last Jedi).
Thankfully, Mangold didn’t succumb to the wrongheaded impulse or urgings to undermine Indiana Jones. Instead, he stayed true to the essence of the character and the films that came before. Mangold, Ford and others involved in creating Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny deserve credit for resisting the siren call of many of today’s moviemakers and critics to undermine the audience.
Instead, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny turned out to be an engaging, interesting, occasionally over-the-top (as is the case with all Indy movies), fun adventure romp, with some real heart, that wound up not just meeting but exceeding this angst-ridden Indy fan’s expectations. No, it’s not Raiders of the Lost Ark or Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, but again, it’s a darn good Indiana Jones movie.
So, why am I giving this movie the odd rating of 3.5 to 4 stars out of a possible 5? Well, coming out of the theater, I was at 3.5 stars. But I know that when I re-watch Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny free from worry and angst, I’ll enjoy it more in various ways (such as catching and appreciating more of the humor). And yes, my opinion of the movie will improve – most likely, pushing it up to a solid 4 stars.
“My Indy Adventure, Part I: Visiting the Indiana Jones Den of Destiny” by Ray Keating
“My Indy Adventure, Part II: Indiana Jones and the Hawaiian Shirt” by Ray Keating
Ray Keating is the editor, publisher and economist for DisneyBizJournal.com; and author of the Pastor Stephen Grant thrillers and mysteries, and the Alliance of Saint Michael novels; and assorted nonfiction books. Have Ray Keating speak your group, business, school, church, or organization. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views expressed here are his own – after all, no one else should be held responsible for this stuff, right?
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