By Josh Reilly B. & George Bate
When Disney bought Lucasfilm in 2012, plans were announced soon after that the company was developing new Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies. Since then, there has been five Star Wars movies and six seasons of live action television on Disney+, but no Indiana Jones sequel. Steven Spielberg was originally set to helm a fifth film in the action adventure franchise, but eventually dropped out of the project, citing his belief that the Indy franchise would do better with a fresh creator at the helm. That led to director James Mangold coming in, who went on to develop his own sequel and thus giving fans one last look at one of the most iconic heroes in cinematic history.
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, out June 30 in theaters, once again stars Harrison Ford as the legendary archeologist. Fifteen years on from the events of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Dial of Destiny follows Indy as he embarks on an adventure with his goddaughter, Helena Shaw (played by Phoebe Waller Bridge). Shaw is seeking the dial that her late father believed held clues to time itself, and Indy, somewhat forced by the events in the first act, follows along. In classic Indy fashion, they are not the only ones seeking this dial. Mads Mikkelsen plays a scientist by the name of Dr. Schmidt, who is actually a Nazi general by the name of Jürgen Voller. He too wants the dial for his own reasons, having not forgotten his side’s defeat in World War II.
The biggest strength of Dial of Destiny is the creativity of its premise, which carefully balances a classic Indiana Jones adventure story while also pushing things forward in a way that creates something fresh and new. Mikkelsen’s scientist is working for the US government as part of their moon landing project, the culmination of which is seen in the film as the streets are filled with celebrations following the astronauts arriving in space. This not only follows history (former Nazis were recruited by the US government as they competed against the Soviet Union in the space race), but it provides Indy with a classic yet reinvented threat.
Much of the setup for the story takes place in the opening sequence of the film. A young Indiana Jones, de-aged to make the character look as he would in the year 1939, and his friend Bas (played by Toby Jones) sneak into a Nazi-occupied castle to get their hands on key artifacts before they’re taken away. Mangold masterfully crafts this extended opening and makes it one of the best sequences in Indiana Jones history, as Harrison Ford fighting Nazis in a rainy castle proving to be exactly what audiences want from the franchise. It’s atmospheric, adventure-esque, and a brilliant opening return for the character after fifteen years away.
What’s unusual about Dial of Destiny, however, is the way in which it exists purely as yet another Indiana Jones adventure rather than one that provides justification for its existence. With an aging Harrison Ford taking on the role for the final time and the film being about the pursuit of an artifact that holds the secrets to time, there was ample opportunity for the film to explore nuanced themes of aging, legacy, and longevity, none of which are capitalized on. The lack of substantive character arc and self-reflection on Indy’s character is bizarre and, in this regard, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull did a far better job.
Although Dial of Destiny is about as Indiana Jones as an Indiana Jones movie can get, its bloated two and a half hour runtime is felt, particularly in a tiresome second half. The film is roughly twenty minutes too long as the story drags at parts in the middle. While some of the action is spectacular, including a fantastic chase sequence through the streets of Tangier, others feel like a chore more than entertainment.
Along similar lines, there’s a few supporting characters that miss the mark. Antonio Banderas makes his Indy debut in this film as a Spanish sailor, but his character feels incomplete and lacking a true purpose other than to move the plot along a bit. The same can be said for Teddy, a young Moroccan who accompanies Indy and Helena on their journey, who doesn’t bring much to the story.
Speaking of Helena, Phoebe Waller Bridge’s character is one of the highlights of this film. Helena exists in a grey area Indiana Jones characters typically occupy; she’s not a bad guy, but is very capable of acting within her own self interests, which provides an interesting dynamic between her and Indy. It certainly helps that the duo have excellent chemistry with one another, and it’s those interactions that help push the film forward despite of a slow and choppy middle act.
Without getting too much into spoilers, Dial of Destiny leans heavily into the supernatural in the third act in particular. It’s a bold choice and also a brilliant one, a decision that is very much line in with the strands of the supernatural in each installment to date. The fantastical elements and the concept of time also feel neatly in line with Indy as a character, who has been a history-studying archeologist all his life. However, as stated previously, there’s a real missed opportunity to explore these themes more profoundly.
The latest Indiana Jones film sees the return of the classic Harrison Ford hero for one final adventure, pitting him once again against a group of Nazis intent on restoring their world order. Despite a lack of characterization for Indy and a bloated middle act, the story is good enough to be a worthy entry in this franchise. As a light and hyper-entertaining journey, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is the must-see film of the summer.