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Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny Review: Raiders of the Lost Spark

There’s an onslaught of blockbuster movies hitting theatres this summer, but none of them bear the weight of their legacy like Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.

A hundred years from now, film scholars will look back at the Indiana Jones series as one of the defining works of our era. Current summer movie headliners like Miles Morales and Optimus Prime may be iconic, but Indiana Jones is an undeniable cinematic legend.  

So, when a new entry in the series arrives in 2023, it’s burdened with sky-high expectations. After all, would studio execs dare to ask Harrison Ford to dust off the old fedora and whip to star in a middling summer popcorn flick?  

Having watched The Dial of Destiny, the answer becomes clearer than a crystal skull: they most certainly would. 

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It’s 1969, America is in the heat of the space race, and Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) looks as ancient and weathered as the artifacts he’s plundered from mystical tombs. His wife left him, and he’s about to retire, and now he has become the cranky old guy yelling at his young neighbours for blaring their music. 

Jones believes his days of adventure are behind him, but life has other plans. His goddaughter, Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), shows up with a scheme to track down the missing piece of Archimedes’ Dial, an ancient scientific tool believed to have the power to open rifts in time.  

The problem, however, is that the ruthless Nazi Dr. Voller (Mads Mikkelsen) wants to obtain the dial to alter the outcome of World War II. And faster than you can crack Indy’s whip, Voller and his henchmen descend upon them. Suddenly, Jones is thrust into one last globe-trotting adventure as he follows clues and evades Nazi thugs in pursuit of Archimedes’ Dial. 

Let’s face it: old man Jones is the role Ford was born to play. The actor has always given off a crotchety old-guy vibe, even when he was young and dashing. Watching an aged, gravel-voiced Ford exude get off my lawn energy at his hippie neighbours is an absolute delight. 

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Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s portrayal of Helena is both charming and mischievous. She shares her godfather’s rebellious spirit and thirst for adventure. Intelligent, quippy, and capable of holding her own when things go awry, Helena is a modern version of Jones and feels like the kind of character primed to take the lead in spinoff films. She isn’t the most captivating character to come out of this series, but I’d gladly watch a hundred Helena spinoffs before enduring another lacklustre Tomb Raider reboot. 

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Mads Mikkelsen’s Dr. Voller may be the most forgettable Indiana Jones villain, but he still brings his trademark gravitas to the role. His cold and smarmy self-righteousness infuses each scene with a subtle menace. However, I don’t want subtle from a series where a guy rips a beating heart out of another man’s chest. This film deserves devilishly fun bad guys who chew the scenery. 

The rest of the supporting cast is overqualified for their bit roles. Make no mistake, it’s a pleasure to see Antonio Banderas, John Rhys-Davies, Shaunette Renée Wilson, and Toby Jones show up. It’s obvious they’re having the time of their lives, but I wish these talented folks had more to do. 

While I had a good time watching The Dial of Destiny, as a longtime series fan, I couldn’t shake the feeling something was missing. At no point did it feel like the film was firing on all cylinders.  

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Director James Mangold has plenty of intriguing themes to explore in such an iconic character’s swan song. Jones is a man out of time, coming to grips with how the world has finally passed him by. That makes a fascinating premise on multiple levels. You have Ford, the aging star, stepping back into the iconic role one last time. And you have Jones, the archaeologist and adventurer, grappling with his mortality and legacy as he becomes a relic of the past.

The movie even offers a poignant commentary on pop culture’s obsession with the past, despite this sequel being a prime example of an intellectual property unnecessarily dragged out of retirement for the sake of profitability.

Despite its 150-minute runtime, the story and its underlying themes barely have room to breathe. It’s a shame, considering how deftly Mangold handled Wolverine’s wistful end-of-the-road tale in Logan. 

The Dial of Destiny’s heavy reliance on computer effects also detracts from the overall experience. Technically, the  action scenes are epic, featuring a horseback chase through subway tunnels and fistfights atop speeding trains. But at the same time, the series over-the-top setpieces have never felt less impressive. The life-and-death fights and high-speed chases place Jones in perilous situations with escalating physical stakes, but there’s never a genuine sense of danger that keeps you on the edge of your seat. 

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Just imagine how dull Top Gun: Maverick or Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning would be if all those jaw-dropping real-life Tom Cruise stunts were filmed in front of a green screen. 

The Dial of Destiny fails to deliver anything that wasn’t more enjoyable in previous Indiana Jones films. To be clear, it still offers a fun time at the movies. When the chase is on, and John Williams’ classic score swells, this film is all kinds of fun. But you would hope that a legendary character’s swan song would find some way to blow our minds.  

While most movies don’t rise to mind-blowing levels, The Dial of Destiny has the talent and budget to blow the competition out of the water. Instead, it settles for a gentlemanly shot across the bow. 

The Dial of Destiny checks all the right boxes for an Indiana Jones film, yet it somehow feels incomplete. It’s like watching a cover band perform and realizing they’re lip-synching, too. Technically, you’re still seeing a show and hearing songs you enjoy, but it’s also a hollowed-out version of the thing you love. The Dial of Destiny hits all the right beats but lacks the effervescent spark that made the series so special. 

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