In Review: Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

Review by Tim Robins

Archaeologist Indiana Jones races against time to retrieve a legendary artifact that can change the course of history

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny - Poster


I’ve never held a place in my heart for the Indiana Jones movies, but I have been taken aback by the negative reviews and low ratings for Indiana Jones and The Dial of Destiny. It’s an altogether enjoyable romp through time and space, that provides the opportunity to revisit Harrison Ford in his iconic role as Indiana Jones, the pugilistic yet hapless professor of archeology with a propensity to punch Nazis, and fall unintentionally into adventures involving elements of science-fiction or the supernatural.

The Dial of Destiny opens in 1945 with Jones and colleague Basil Shaw (Toby Jones) competing against German astrophysicist Jürgen Volle (Mads Nikkelsen) for possession of the Lance of Longinus, aka The Lance of Destiny, a holy relic believed to have gained supernatural powers because it was used to pierce the side of Christ on the cross.

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

Instead, the combatants discover an even more powerful relic – half of the so-called Antikythera mechanism, a real life artefact, found in 1902, from the second century BC, and described as an early analogue computer, able to predict the movement of the Moon and the Sun. Or, as The Dial of Destiny would have it, an invention of Archimedes, who used it to predict ruptures in the space-time continuum.

Cut to 1969,and Indiana Jones is hating every minute of it – including a ticker-tape parade, an anti Vietnam-war demonstration and a noisy party being held by his counter-cultural neighbours to celebrate the astronauts returning from the moon. In short, youth sucks – and old-age is even worse.

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

Cue the arrival of Indy’s estranged goddaughter Helena “Wombat” Shaw (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), who has been flogging ancient artefacts off to the highest bidder in clandestine auctions and is in search of pieces of the dial. The quest for the missing half of the dial is the McGuffin that reunites Indy with old friends and introduces new supporting cast, notably young Ethann Isidor as the personable and naughty Teddy Kumar, Helena’s sidekick, blessed with the remarkable ability to do whatever is required to keep the plot on the move – including flying a plane!

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

I won’t spoil the final act. Suffice to say it has been described as “nuts” and “preposterous”. But I have to wonder what people expected from a movie about time-travel, let alone a series that has seen villains bested by the powers of God, Christ and extra-dimensional aliens. The film could have seen Indy reunited with Hitler, more Nazi punching and faced with the dilemma of taking or saving the dictator’s life. But we’ve seen all that, and the plot amusingly flies in the face of expectations. Hooray for that.

The character of Indiana Jones was developed by George Lucas and Stephen Speiberg as a surrogate James Bond/Tintin. Director James Mangold dials up these sources – there are enough kooky chases to make a Roger Moore Bond, and the locations are delineated in a clear-line style that makes them fun to run through. And what better to accompany the chase than a score by John Williams, who judiciously springs the Indy theme throughout.

The film looks great. The de-ageing of Ford in the prologue was, for me, totally convincing. It was certainly far-better than similar attempts in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016),which made Peter Cushing look weirdly jaundiced, and the entrance of Mark Hamill in The Mandalorian, which was more superficial faux than deep fake.

There is a fun nod to Indy’s fear of snakes – “Eels!” – and the film’s tendency to place the cast among loathesome bugs. Some scenes are underwhelming – particularly a hazardous crossing of a very small rickety bridge and a rather short water slide feature. But Mangold is clearly wary of repeating the past – even within the time of this movie. A Bondish flight through a crowd of protestors is almost repeated twice: once with worshipers at a Greek Orthodox Church, and again with a gaggle of tourists – but these are thankfully undeveloped.

The climax probably needed more time (and money). The script ditches establishing meaningful characters which lends the scenes an unwanted distance from the action. And it all looks a bit over-lit-table-top. But it is nowhere near as poor as the CGI ants, monkeys and aliens in The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Besides, The Dial of Destiny is a film about characters, rather than effects. (I’ve seen critics dismiss “Wombat” as an unlikeable character, for example, which is actually a testament to Waller-Bridge’s acting).

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

The script imaginatively weaves together history real and fake and is a useful reminder that real American heroes attack Nazis, not vote their supporters into office. We get a nod to the moral compromise of enlisting former Nazis to help America in the Space Race, but their hateful ideology is best dramatised in an excruciatingly tense scene between Volle and an African-American employee in the villain’s hotel room. This is a great piece of direction. The atmosphere is thick with menace.

There’s no question that Harrison Ford has made the character of Indiana Jones his own. Just seeing the star’s iconic face makes me smile, regardless of the actual film. Mangold has crafted a nostalgic and exciting end to the series.

Well… I say end, but deep faking actually does allow us to turn back time. I just hope Hollywood will dial back their ambitions to resurrect the past.

Tim Robins

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is in cinemas across the UK now

Relive the adventures with Indiana Jones! (AmazonUK Affiliate Link)

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