Watching Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny was a bit like walking into an abandoned cabin in a slasher movie. After the horrors of Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull, we were expecting the worst. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this”, etc. We gripped the baseball bat tightly, expecting to be jump-scared by misuse of the character, frigging aliens, terrible CGI, “I’m getting too old for this” jokes and a general disrespect for the original movies. We wouldn’t say that we felt at ease watching Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.
But there were some indications that maybe things would be better this time. James Mangold (Logan, Ford vs Ferrari) was at the reins, which likely meant quality and fresh eyes on the old archaeologist. Spielberg was still there in an exec producer capacity, to keep the minecart on the rails, and real talent was involved. Out goes Shia LaBeouf, and in comes Mads Mikkelsen and Phoebe ‘Fleabag’ Waller-Bridge. And hey – everyone’s had a chance to learn from Crystal Skull.
We came in tense, but ultimately you don’t have to. There’s nothing threatening in the cabin. We can reassure you that the triple-threat of Crystal Skull’s campy acting, terrible CGI and outlandish, unbelievable moments have all been tempered. They are all still here – partly because they’re part of the Indiana Jones fabric – but they don’t whip you in the face with their badness. It’s not brilliant either, but watching it isn’t going to melt your face like you’re staring into the Ark.
The artifact at the centre of this adventure is Archimedes’ dial (or Antikythera, if you want to get specific). It’s a treasure that has vaguely hinted at powers: it can identify fissures in time, it seems, with the implication that maybe it can see through them too. It first crops up in a flashback to 1945, with the Nazis – led by Colonel Weber (Thomas Kretschmann) and assisted by Dr. Voller (Mads Mikkelsen) – stuffing it on a train alongside other gubbins. But Indiana and sidekick Basil Shaw (Toby Jones, doing his best Marcus Brody impression) know its importance and aim to steal it away. So ensues a mix of derring-do, pratfalls, one liners and very on-brand Indiana Jones action.
It feels like a deleted scene from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and we mean that in the best possible way. Dial of Destiny immediately puts its cards on the table and states proudly that it knows what it’s doing. It knows that the movies are at their best when Indy resourcefully bounces from one situation to the next, wincing as the situation escalates in ways he didn’t expect. Yet, he wins the day regardless.
A flashback to 1945 does mean some of that de-aging stuff that every Disney-affiliated movie seems to include nowadays. It makes Indy look like he’s emerged from an Invasion of the Body Snatchers pod. He’s human but not quite, glistening slightly too plastically. We know there’s no real alternative, but it’s noticeable.
Then we’re scooting forwards to 1969 and the Moon landing, in a manner that made us question the timeline (Harrison’s only aged 31 years since Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? It doesn’t quite add up). Indy is retiring as a professor, but he’s approached by Basil Shaw’s daughter Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) about recovering the Antikythera. It’s in two parts and Indy might, just might, have one half. But the other is on a multinational journey around the globe, and she wants Indy to go on one last adventure to regain it.
We need a villain, so Mads Mikkelsen returns, fully incorporated into American society and aided by goons. This is personal and he is frothy-mouthed about getting the Antikythera for both personal and Nazi-aligned reasons. We’ve got our quest and chasing Nazi pack, which makes for a very Indiana Jones premise.
After the strong start, things do take a dip. Phoebe Waller-Bridge is dealt a terrible character, one that she desperately tries to instill with some empathy and pathos, but ultimately fails. Her character is similar to Alison Doody’s Elsa in Last Crusade, but with an extra layer of arrogance and back-stabbery, which makes her incredibly hard to like or respect. She has her moments, but the movie would have benefited from some extra heart to go with the gruff, grizzled Indy, and there’s a bit of a vacuum without.
There’s a familiarity about the middle-third, too. Most of these moments invoke Last Crusade and Raiders of the Lost Ark, while a car chase feels like the usual fare from a Bourne, Bond or Has Fallen. As you’d expect from a loved property, characters come back and cameo from the series, which is fine, while other characters feel like cheap knock-offs. Ethann Isidore’s Teddy Kumar is just Short Round #2. In totality, though, it can feel a tad familiar.
But it’s still capable of pulling off something new. A sequence with snakes, but not quite snakes, felt genuinely uncomfortable, and was the right amount of nostalgia mixed with freshness. A chase on horseback through a parade is also memorable, particularly with the real-world backdrop of the Moon landings.
Importantly, nothing is as wonky as Crystal Skull. We disliked how the quest felt too much like a video game (or Rise of Skywalker, if we’re being unkind) as a map leads to a key which leads to the treasure. Why would Archimedes set up this long chain of hints? It’s explained but not quite, and just feels like a lengthening of an objective within an RPG. But it’s far from monkey chases and nuclear fridges.
That said, the finale will divide. You have to remember that every Indiana Jones film has a paranormal, high-fantasy element to it, and this is very on-brand with that. But this doesn’t hold back, leapfrogging Raiders, Temple and Crusade and arriving just short of the ending of Crystal Skull. Does it go too far? It’s up to you to decide. But, at least in this instance, the moment is important to the plot. It’s not a weird happening for the sake of it: it wraps the rest of the story in a bow.
The question of whether Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny justifies its own existence is a tough one. A saggy middle, an unlikable sidekick and an ending that pushes the believability of the saga is the case against. A still-charismatic Harrison Ford, plus moments of true adventure are the case for. What we can say, with hands on our hearts, is that we’re done now. The bad taste from Crystal Skull has gone. You can rest now, Indy.