‘Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny’ movie review: daring adventure turns back the clock

Indiana Jones must prevent a Nazi scientist from acquiring an ancient Greek artifact and altering the course of history in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, which opens in Prague cinemas and worldwide this weekend after premiering at the Cannes Film Festival last month.

This fifth and potentially final entry in the series gets off to a shaky start but ultimately finds its way through some genuinely exciting scenes of action and adventure, and at least rates alongside the unjustly maligned Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is the first film in the series not to be directed by Steven Spielberg, with James Mangold (LoganFord v Ferrari) capably filling in for the legendary filmmaker, if lacking his eye for shot composition. But Dial of Destiny does return an 80-year-old Harrison Ford to his iconic titular role, and the star’s nuanced performance the reason the film works to the extent it does.

A sketchy opening sequence, however, may leave you wondering just how much of Ford is really back. It takes place in France towards the end of WWII, with Indiana Jones and colleague Basil (Toby Jones) attempting to save a rare artifact from falling into the hands of a Nazi colonel (Thomas Kretschmann) and scientist Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen).

But, wait… is that Indiana Jones? Not really: it’s a digital facsimile, a de-aged Ford with soulless eyes and a glossy sheen. While the effect may be technically proficient (think Keanu Reeves in Cyberpunk 2077), Ford’s performance is lost, and shots of the animated character hopping on the back of a train are no more convincing than a Spider-Man movie. Mikkelsen, too, has been digitally de-aged for these scenes, to somewhat better effect.

Now, the primary events of Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny take place about 25 years later, during the July 20, 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing, with Indiana approached by Basil’s adult daughter Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge). We see flashback scenes featuring a 12-year-old Helena and Indiana, with an actual Harrison Ford playing the role using traditional makeup effects.

Given that Waller-Bridge is 37, we can infer that these scenes take place roughly 25 years in the past, meaning the movie inexplicably utilizes a digital Harrison Ford as well as an actual Harrison Ford for scenes that take place around roughly the same time.

To add insult to injury, Ford lookalike and act-alike Anthony Ingruber, who previously played a young version of the actor in The Age of Adeline was used as a double for the character in the opening scenes. Ingruber is more-than capable of delivering a convincing younger Ford, but his performance, too, is lost to the uncanny valley character that Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny ultimately give us.

The effect is jarring, and because the filmmakers know this, the entire opening sequence takes place during the dark of night and shrouded in smoke and fog and computer-generated explosions. The whole 20-minute scene is a wash, and conveys limited necessary plot information, and really should have been excised from the final film.

It’s a shame, because the remaining two hours Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is largely terrific. It’s more streamlined than previous entries: Mikkelsen’s villainous Nazi, accompanied by a psychotic henchman (Boyd Holbrook) and a hulking brute (Olivier Richters), wants to obtain a artifact created by Archimedes that can turn back time and alter the outcome of WWII.

Indiana Jones has half of the artifact, and Helena’s father had tracked down the other half, meaning the pair have to join forces to stop the Nazis. There’s a little problem with character motivation here – Helena only wants to sell the artifact, and Indy doesn’t believe it can really work (despite seeing the effects of the Ark of the Covenant, the Holy Grail, and the Crystal Skull in previous films) – but their both in for the adventure regardless.

Where Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny really excels is its breathless scenes of action and adventure. An early sequence during the Moon Day parade in New York City has Indiana racing a horse into the subway, and the recreation of 1969 Manhattan as well as the slam-bang action is breathtaking stuff. A subsequent tuk-tuk chase scene in Tangiers rates alongside Last Crusade as some of the best extended action in the franchise.

Later scenes feature Indy and Helena diving to the bottom of the ocean off the coast of Greece alongside an old friend played by Antonio Banderas and traversing a trap-laden tomb in Sicily, and recreate the exciting sense of perilous adventure from Temple of Doom.

Some familiar faces show up along the way, including those played by John Rhys-Davies and Karen Allen. Marion and Indy’s son Mutt, a largely-disliked character from Crystal Skull, has been killed off before the events of Dial of Destiny. But rather than gloss over the character, his absence is a major plot point that weighs heavily on Indiana.

Ford is excellent here, and the script is careful never to turn overwrought or lose it’s sense of humanity; there’s a moment when Indy chastises Helena for a flippant remark following a serious event, and it really resonates. Waller-Bridge, too, plays a fully-fleshed out character with faults and weaknesses who nicely complements Indiana during the adventure, rather than coming off as a proposed replacement.

For Crystal Skull detractors that objected to that film’s outrageous climax, well, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny doubles down: it’s the wildest finale in the entire franchise, and it gets downright surreal. The message gets a little muddled, as do the logistics of the central plot device, but it’s really daring stuff and a real blast to see in a 2023 blockbuster.

A wobbly opening sequence gets Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny off to a rough start, but stick with it: things only get better from there. During a summer where a lot of the big franchise films are registering as disappointments, this one stands out as a quality addition.

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