Dial of Destiny Fails to Turn Back the Clock

The latest and presumably last installment of the Indiana Jones franchise came out this summer. Based on previews and the early press, Dial of Destiny did not seem worthy of $15 and an afternoon at the theater during an otherwise busy summer. Now that I’ve watched the movie via Disney+, that assessment has proven accurate.

The unfortunate reality is that 80-year-old Harrison Ford is a shell of the Indiana Jones we all remember. While Dial of Destiny contains a fun mystery and some entertaining action scenes, it is largely forgettable. Phoebe Waller-Bridge is excellent as Jones’ god-daughter, Helena, but ironically, the energy and vitality she brings to her part only highlights Ford’s own slow and grump-filled performance.

Some of this, of course, is on purpose. Ford wanted to bring closure to his character and this is where he and the screenwriters envisioned Jones by the 1960s: tired, retired, washed up and washing down his contempt for the era with booze. This nicely sets-up the “one last ride” undercurrent of the film, along with a subtle redemption arc and well-earned finale with the love of his life, Marion. Still, I’m confident most Indiana Jones fans were happy remembering the beloved character as he was in the first three films: strong, resourceful, quick-witted and full of hope.

This classic version of Indiana Jones is who we see in the first twenty minutes of the film, as modern CGI is able to de-age Ford during an action-packed flashback. Parts of this sequence are excellent and beautifully executed, tricking viewers’ brains into believing we’re watching new footage of 80s and 90s-era Jones. But then the character speaks in Ford’s gravelly, modern-day voice and the illusion is lost. While many aging actors still possess their iconic voices, Ford does not. Continuing the uneasy effect, many scenes look like a video game cut scenes rather than film. Director James Mangold shrouds the sequences in a vignette, denoting a dream-like quality, but it’s not enough. We know we’re watching a fake, and by the end you wonder how some of the scenes made it into a $300 million movie.

So this is a swan song for Indiana Jones. This installments’ McGuffin, a thousand-year-old dial which tracks rifts in time, coupled with de-aging CGI, would seemingly give the filmmakers license to revisit the previous four films, to fill some gaps in Jones’ checkered past, or to relive old glories. Alas, all of that was too ambitious for this film.

There is no clever time paradox, either. If time-travel is possible, you’d think, so are many ingenious twists and turns. The main villain, Nazi scientist Jürgen Voller, is killed in an overly graphic manner during the film’s opening scenes. His return in the 1960s raises many questions. It turns out, he simply survived. Ho hum. The film’s closing act, when the Dial is finally activated, does contain a modest twist, but for the most part the Dial was truly a McGuffin all along. Its time-tracking abilities and their effects on the plot are minimal.

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is an uneven film filled with many dubious choices by the filmmakers. Perhaps this is to be expected from a movie first hatched by George Lucas in 2008 before being passed along to a litany of writers and directors until its production could wait on Ford no longer. The film had to be made and it was. In this finale, Indiana Jones has his last adventure before settling down in Harlem with Marion and their friends. I suppose it is the ending he deserves, if there had to be one at all.

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