REVIEW: Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023)

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is what we all assumed it would be. It’s the next Star Wars: The Last Jedi or Terminator: Dark Fate, a movie that brings back a beloved character to humiliate him while his modern-day-acceptable contemporary steal the show. It’s also the latest in a long line of recent films that feels like almost nobody involved cared about the end product, with a shoddy story that feels stapled together from post-it notes, pervasive CGI that looks worse than a middle school diorama with Saran wrap hastily taped over it, and characters whose sole characteristic is being so annoying you’d rather listen to pieces of metal scraping against each other than hear them talk. But it does have John Williams; I’ll give it that.

On his last day as a professor of archeology at Hunter College in New York City, Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford, and don’t forget it, Disney) gets a visit from his goddaughter Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), who’s looking for the Antikythera Dial, which Indy and her father encountered in World War II. Soon, they’re being chased by the agents of Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen), a Nazi physicist employed by the US government, and Indiana Jones is off on his final adventure.

I don’t think people have been expecting much from Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, but if anything about it was intriguing, it was the promise of seeing Indy in his heyday via the magic of digital de-aging technology. And the sequence is… fine, I guess. The de-aging used on Harrison Ford and Mads Mikkelsen looks very good, but the rest doesn’t; it’s an action sequence laden with CGI, and consequently, nothing looks real. The train, the motorcycles, the planes and missiles flying around, and even the forest look like they came from a junky cartoon. And even beyond the visuals, everything feels just a bit off; Indy’s dialogue sounds too forced, like he’s desperately searching for something clever to say but can’t think of anything. Nothing that’s going on has any weight to it because it’s so overstuffed with imagery that you’re never sure of who anyone is to Indy; we’re told Toby Jones’ Basil Shaw is his close friend, but there’s no time to establish that. It’s not involving, as an Indiana Jones action scene should be; it’s just noise and sloppy images.

Not much improves when Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny moves to 1969. The special effects remain poor, the action is uneventful and surprisingly listless, and the dialogue never draws you in or makes you smile. (That horse-in-the-subway sequence is a dud, slow and of little consequence, with horrible CGI that jarringly cuts to the real Harrison Ford.) But worst of all is Indy himself; he’s a cranky old man, yelling at his twenty-something neighbors for playing their music too loud, crabbing at disinterested students, and grumbling his way through a surprise retirement party. He’s alone, miserable, and has none of the Indiana Jones spark left. This would be fine if the movie eventually did something about it, but it doesn’t; Indy never comes to life the way he always has, even in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. This is probably intended to be a commentary on aging – or a tactic to get people to fall in love with Helena – but it’s dull and not what you want in the hero of an adventure movie, especially the greatest adventure hero of them all.

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

It never gets better. Indy, Elena, and Elena’s friend Teddy (a ten-year-old boy who’s totally not a rip-off of Short Round, you guys, come on now) go on the requisite globe-trotting adventure, but it never comes to life, and everything they do feels perfunctory. They go from New York to Tangier to Greece to Sicily, but outside of the actual visuals – which are all in the background – no place feels distinct from the others, except maybe New York. There are no scenes where Indy befriends the locals and partakes in their customs like in the other films; he’s just there, with nothing to signify what each location is supposed to mean to the story outside of allowing for those travel lines on the map. The characters Indy meets aren’t so much characters as props, none of them anywhere near as colorful as Indy’s beloved friends like Sallah or Short Round. Antonio Banderas plays a buddy of Indy’s in Greece, and I have no idea why they bothered with an actor like him because he has nothing to do.

There’s also a shocking lack of suspense or excitement throughout Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. Part of that is because the action and thrilling scenes are so boring. A chase through Tangier on motorized rickshaws is ungainly because… it’s a chase on motorized rickshaws; we’re far from the mine cart chase in The Temple of Doom. A deep dive into the Aegean Sea is entirely uneventful, nothing more than a slowly-paced retrieval of an object with no danger. It’s hard to believe James Mangold, who’s made some fantastic movies, directed something this lifeless. But it’s also because of the plot, which doesn’t explain the stakes till the last half hour or so. We know the Nazis are after the Dial (and we never forget it because a good 40% of Indy’s dialogue is shouting, “They’re Nazis!”), but we don’t know why, or even what the Dial can do. And making the bad guys Nazis is not as meaningful in 1969 as it was in the 30s when they controlled a country and had an army that was conquering Europe and moving into Africa; here, it’s just Mads Mikkelsen and a handful of henchmen. The only excitement or joy comes from John Williams’ score, which is full of callbacks to old pieces of Indy music. Nothing feels urgent, and Indy never feels like he’s in danger, nor does the world.

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

That’s surprising because Indy’s characterization in this movie is as a frail, ineffectual old man; you’d think they’d at least manage to wring some suspense out of that. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny fails its legendary hero in that respect, never earning the right to bring Indiana Jones back to the screen, despite Harrison Ford trying to give him life again. Phoebe Waller-Bridge has no charisma or chemistry with Ford, and Helena is the latest obnoxious girlboss who talks over and dresses down the hero while gleefully announcing how incredible she is. Even moments that are supposed to be honest and dramatic fall apart because she delivers every line with a condescending smirk. Teddy is obnoxious too, and he lifts right out of the film, as does Antonio Banderas’ Renaldo, though Banderas tries to give him some personality. Mads Mikkelsen looks bored to tears, like he signed on for an Indiana Jones film and got stuck in a direct-to-video knockoff, and I don’t blame him for checking out of the role and the film. The only other character to make an impression is Sallah, who is on-screen for maybe two minutes; like the trailer, this is the best scene in the movie, the only moment when the magic of Indiana Jones sparkles in someone’s eyes. John Rhys-Davies embodies that character again, if only briefly, and brings out the best in Harrison Ford at the same time because Ford finally has someone worthwhile to play off of for a moment.

And that’s what’s worthwhile about Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny: one moment between two old friends, plus John Williams doing his thing. The rest is a tiresome trip around the world with uninvolving action, characters that range from flat to insufferable, terrible special effects, and a legendary hero who’s been reduced to a rambling angry grandpa. Disney and Lucasfilm destroyed another one; they must be so proud.

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023)

Plot - 4
Acting - 6
Directing/Editing - 4
Music/Sound - 9
Action - 4



Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is a disappointing farewell to one of the cinema’s greatest heroes, with a shoddy story, lifeless action, terrible special effects, boring or obnoxious characters, and Indiana Jones as a weak, ineffectual old man. Only John Williams’ score and a brief appearance from Sallah give it any fun.

Comments (2)

June 30, 2023 at 1:11 pm

Unpopular opinion, but my fave Indiana JOnes is Temple of Doom! I LOVE Raiders and Crusade as well! Three MASTERPIECES.

This movie, I have another problem. I agree with everthing you said, but i also HATE the plot point of his son dying. It could be an interesting story! It could explain why Indy is so bitter and how he grew distant from Marion. Instead, it’s only mentioned few times as nothing more than to LAZILY write him out of the story. His son’s death should be portrayed as TRAGEDY! Not as some throway line!

My idea for a good story would be Indy growing distant and depressed after his son’s death… and adult Short Round calling him for final adventure! A final adventure that helps Indy rediscover himself! And Marion actually loving Indy and not giving up on him!

    June 30, 2023 at 7:44 pm

    Yeah, Mutt’s death is just another plot point, mentioned in passing one time as if it’s barely relevant. The whole thing is like a repeat of Han Solo and Princess Leia; something bad happened with their son and they broke up because of it. And the way Marion’s return was tacked on at the end, I’m positive they were going to leave it on a downer ending before test audiences said they hated it. All they do anymore is break up marriages and tarnish ideas like everlasting love and devotion, like in Quantumania with that stupid Bill Murray stuff.

    The Indiana Jones trilogy is like the Star Wars trilogy for me; I could rank them, but it’s really just splitting hairs because I love them all about the same.

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