Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is a Bomb and It’s Your Fault

If the coffin containing Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny needed a final nail, this weekend was it. After a disastrous opening weekend and losing the Fourth of July box office to Sound of Freedom, it also dropped from first place in its second weekend of release, losing to Insidious: The Red Door, which brought in $33 million to Dial of Destiny’s $27.4 million. Sound of Freedom was third with $19.7 million, but its per-screen average was higher than Dial of Destiny, $6,900 to $5,961. This is bad; I know the Insidious movies are popular among horror fans, but there’s no way one should make more than an Indiana Jones film in its second weekend during the summer movie season when families are going to the theater (or not, as the case may be). With Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One defying death on screens starting tomorrow, this is it for Dial of Destiny’s prospects.

And it’s your fault.

I’m not saying that; James Mangold is. The director of Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, as well as some movies that were actually good, was speaking with The Hollywood Reporter when he was asked this:


“Life is filled with peaks and valleys, and I appreciate when my fictional heroes, such as Indy, have their own ups and downs. So why does a segment of the audience seem to want these legacy characters to be infallible? I just can’t figure out why anyone would want such little drama.”

Good God, I’ve seen melted ice cream that wasn’t as soft as that question. He essentially provided Mangold with the answer, and, of course, Mangold obligingly accepted it:

“Well, there’s a point where these characters become symbols more than characters, and so there becomes this anxiety that if you examine the humanity of a hero, you somehow weaken them. And honestly, I can’t speak for how fans relate and wrestle with these questions in relation to other movies, but certainly in relation to mine, I think your question almost has my answer built into it. I mean, I think you’re in a sense already addressing it. Good drama gives a hero a problem. If a movie is about a beautiful hero who is capable of anything and is virtually indestructible and is without any personal issues or concerns, then you just have a fashion video with action. I am a fan of starting a character in one place to go to another. Movies are a continuum. By definition, in drama, a character starts in one place and ends up in another. So, if people want to be divisive [in the age of social media], they can focus on where a character starts, as opposed to where they end, or they can focus on where they end, as opposed to where they start. In reality, for Harrison who’s playing this character, he’s tracing an arc and he’s changing through the whole picture. So it all depends on where you’re landing and where you’re pointing your finger on that timeline.”

Got that, you insolent whelp? There’s nothing wrong with Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny; it’s the best Indiana Jones movie ever made, finally portraying Indy as a flawed hero with a character arc. You’re just too slow to understand that; you wanted a perfect savior to arrive and solve every problem with the snap of his fingers like in the Indiana Jones movies people like because that’s all your child-like brain can understand. Now go play with a coloring book and try not to eat the crayons.

It’s the same thing every time. This was one of the arguments the Disney/Lucasfilm set made when people didn’t like seeing Luke Skywalker portrayed as a miserable, defeated old failure who couldn’t beat untrained teenagers and died playing a video game. And, as Star Wars was slowly rejected, Indiana Jones is now being written off by a populace who’ve learned a thing or two in the last eight years or so. We know this song and dance, and it was inevitable that the filmmakers would blame us for not liking their indisputable masterpiece.

What’s amusing is… well, this movie’s box office returns. But in terms of what Mangold said to THR, he’s got it backwards. Indiana Jones had a character arc in each of those Spielberg-directed films, including Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. In Raiders of the Lost Ark, he went from cavalierly pursuing historical artifacts to showing humility and accepting that some things were not for man to meddle with or understand. In Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (a prequel), he evolved from a grave robber desiring “fortune and glory” to a righteous avenger of the downtrodden, rescuing children and restoring a once-barren land. In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, he goes from resenting his father and the quest for the Holy Grail to completing his father’s life work to save the man he once believed had rejected him. And in Crystal Skull, he began by regretting a lonely life filled with nothing but loss to becoming a family man, getting a new beginning when he thought his time was over.

What is Indy’s arc in Dial of Destiny? Damned if I know. After the opening sequence, he begins the movie as a cranky, bitter, weak old man who’s lost everything. And he ends the movie as… pretty much the same guy, only Marion has returned because reasons, so I guess it’s happy. Moreover, Indy didn’t come to this happy ending by his own choosing; he had his choice taken away from him by Helena, who punched him out and dragged him back to his life, which was magically fixed by the power of a reshot ending. That isn’t a character arc; it’s a beloved character drifting through an unnecessary movie while (ostensibly) interesting stuff happens around him until someone else tells him it’s time to go home. To dismissively insist that this is a real character arc while fans of the other films (not so much Crystal Skull, but compared to this, it’s Raiders) want “a fashion video with action” is so smug it suggests Mangold would have gleefully looked inside the Ark of the Covenant with Belloq.

As to Mangold’s other point, the notion that Indiana Jones was ever “a beautiful hero who is capable of anything and is virtually indestructible and is without any personal issues or concerns” is so ridiculous it makes me think he’s never seen these movies. Indy has always been immensely vulnerable, surviving by the skin of his teeth, thanks to a mixture of intelligence, determination, and a whole lot of luck. That was part of his charm, and people wanted to see that in Dial of Destiny. But part of that means letting Indy overcome those shortcomings and triumph. Take the fight with the big Nazi in Raiders; Indy gets beaten to hell in that scene (one of my favorite moments in any of the films is when he sees the guy putting up his fists, lowers his head, and waves his hand like he’s saying, “Yeah, yeah, I’m coming;” he knows this is gonna hurt.) Indy only gets out of that with his cunning, waiting for the propeller of the airplane to get close enough to chop up the bad guy. The Indiana Jones films are full of these situations, like being trapped on the bridge in Temple of Doom, being tied up in a burning Nazi castle in The Last Crusade, or being taken at gunpoint through Area 51 in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Each time, Indy has had to use his wits to get out of it, just barely living to see another day.

There’s nothing like that for Indy in Dial of Destiny because he’s essentially a bystander in the film despite his name being in the title. There are even a couple of good set-ups that never pay off because the movie doesn’t care about Indy. For example, there’s another big Nazi, this one a massive brick wall of a man whose dimensions are so bulging he looks computer-generated, or at least computer-augmented. A few times when the Nazis show up out of the blue (because that’s how they always show up in Dial of Destiny), Indy tries to hit him with something that either breaks or just bounces off him. I figured this was leading to a showdown where Indy would finally find something that knocked the guy down, and then he would get sucked out of a plane or whatever. But nah, the kid kills him by handcuffing him to steel bars underwater, a payoff to absolutely nothing. Speaking of the kid, there’s a scene where he questions why they should listen to Indy and is then kidnapped by the Nazis, which Indy sees happen. I assumed Indy would save the kid, and he would then realize there was something special about Indy. This would have been a great opportunity for character growth, so, of course, it didn’t happen; Indy just says, “Ah, they probably won’t kill him,” and that’s that. Nobody wants Indiana Jones to be a superhero, but doing something occasionally would have been nice.

But the truth is that these two know what they’re doing. The THR piece was published on July 3, but they’re talking about the audience reaction, so it had to have been after the film was released and was either bombing or clearly going to bomb. This is damage control, putting the blame where Hollywood thinks it always belongs: on the paying customer. I don’t believe James Mangold ever cared about Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny; this was a nice, safe, do-what-you’re-told-and-collect-the-biggest-check-of-your-life gig, and I imagine the Star Wars movie he’s got cooking will be much the same. I get it; the guy’s been making great movies for a while, but they’re not really blockbusters, and sometimes it feels good to grab a nice paycheck from a studio. But I hope he doesn’t get stuck in this world for too long, and I also hope he understands what he’s doing to his image by coming after fans like this.

Comments (3)

July 11, 2023 at 8:22 am

Maybe you can write an article that talks how incredible are first 3 Indiana Jones movies?

July 11, 2023 at 8:23 am

Also just to double check, is anyone reviewing Sound of Freedom? I loved the movie and I think it totally deserves to be covered here!

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