Reel Thoughts: ‘Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny’ rebounds to end series on a high note


Illustration by Danny O'Grady

‘Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” caps off an excellent series with more treasure-hunting antics.

Danny O'Grady, Senior Staffer

Ever since “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark” released in 1981, the Indiana Jones franchise has been a juggernaut in the action-adventure genre. The release of “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” marks the bittersweet conclusion to the famed series. Despite numerous development troubles, lead actor Harrison Ford and director James Mangold managed a worthy sendoff for everyone’s favorite bullwhip-wielding archaeologist.

Considering how poorly “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” turned out in 2008, the bar was rather low for this installment. The Dial of Destiny not only meets this bar, but greatly exceeds it. The Dial of Destiny does not try to reinvent the wheel in terms of story-telling, but that simplicity allows it to succeed in its fundamentals. Like all other Indiana Jones movies, it focuses on Dr. Jones searching for a supernatural artifact, and this go around he is searching for the Dial of Archimedes.

The main antagonist on this adventure is Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen), a former Nazi scientist hired by NASA to land the first humans on the moon. Voller fulfills his role as an intimidating villain and Mikkelsen portrays him excellently, but there is one crucial flaw with his character. His motivation for committing evil acts does not make much sense. One would think he would be content with his life after he had an opportunity to be honored by the president. Instead, Voller time travels to help the Nazis win World War II. There is no reason for any of his henchmen to help him on this quest either. While these character flaws are not a deal-breaker, they are certainly a head-scratcher.

On the other hand, Jones’ companions on his quest are well written and performed. Basil (Toby Jones) and Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) Shaw are welcome additions to the series and act as intriguing catalysts for the plot. Sallah Mohammed Faisel el-Kahir (John Rhys-Davies) and Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) return to ground the film in the greater context of the series and provide satisfying nostalgia for the series’ sendoff even if they do not directly impact the plot much. In addition, Helena Shaw gets a young sidekick reminiscent of Short Round (Ke Huy Quan) from “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” in the form of Teddy Kumar (Ethann Isidore) though not nearly as memorable. These additions as well as several other callbacks to previous films respect the legacy of the franchise in its closing hours.

While the overall tone of the movie is more grounded than previous entries, the action sequences that this cast pulls off are nevertheless impressive. Yet, at times audiences must suspend their disbelief as the 70-year-old Jones performs feats of athleticism he realistically should not be able to. The actions performed by Indy are toned down to account for Harrison Ford’s age, but as usual for the franchise, realism is sidelined.

These action sequences are supported by the incredible visuals throughout the film. The prologue of the movie — which takes place in 1944 — is especially impressive in this sense as Harrison Ford is digitally de-aged in a way that looks genuine. And John Williams, like usual, knocks the score out of the park. Both the older and newer tracks match the style of the franchise and capture the nostalgia of the audience.

As usual for the franchise, supernatural events begin to escalate as the movie progresses and these twists are held back until rather late in the “Dial of Destiny.” Instead of aliens or monsters, this time the supernatural events center around time travel. But the movie does not get bogged down in the logistics of time travel, a fate to which movies such as “Avengers: Endgame” fall victim.

“Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” is a worthy sendoff for one of cinema’s most iconic heroes and an excellent rebound from arguably the worst entry in the franchise. Ford and Williams deliver the quality audiences should expect from them, while the plot moves briskly across another globe-trotting adventure. Some of its missteps hold it back from matching  “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” but the visuals and fan service more than compensate for them. Having saved the world one last time, Indy can now lay down his fedora and enjoy retirement.

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Twitter: @DannyMOGrady04

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