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Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

The latest Indiana Jones film is a surprising good imitation

Endless sequels can feel daunting, especially after the original filmmakers and storytellers have let go of the material. It is hard for a new set of hands to craft something that fits neatly into the original mold while also giving viewers a something new. James Mangold has decided to take on that daunting task by being the first director since Steven Spielberg to direct an Indiana Jones movie.

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023) opens with a flash-back scene in 1944 Germany, where we have our eponymous hero (Harrison Ford) fighting Nazis again. This opening is fun, if incredibly distracting due to the unconvincing use of CGI de-aging technology on Ford. Jump to 1969 New York City, and Indy is retiring from his professorship job at his university. However, when his god daughter Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) shows up, he’s pulled into the treasure hunt for the dial of Archimedes, all whilst evading the evil scientist Dr. Voller (Mads Mikkelsen).

Spielberg’s last attempt at an Indiana Jones film, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) fell flat with its cheesy humor, over-the-top use of aliens, and poor casting choices. Mangold, however, goes back to the practicality and grit of the first three films. You once again are thrown into action scenes where our heroes truly feel like they’re evading death by the skin of their teeth. The punches that Indy receives leave their mark and practical effects make their way back over the CGI slog that most action films are now adays. The one-liners mostly land, and the wonder of archeology and history is thrust back into the forefront. Mangold’s greatest feat, however, is making Dial of Destiny feel like a movie out of this time; you feel as if this film was locked in some vault for decades and only unearthed now. A mixture of keen observation of camera movement and musical techniques make this latest entry feel like a true return to this hero’s story.

Mangold use of nostalgic filmmaking is made more effective by two particular veterans joining him: Ford and John Williams. Ford truly enlivens this character once again; you don’t feel the actor is simply putting on his hat and collecting a paycheck, the American performer truly transforms into his most iconic role. Williams had previously been mostly coasting on his previous work, rejiggering the latest Star Wars films with his known themes and giving Spielberg films generic instrumentation. With Dial of Destinty, Williams could easily have pulled an autopilot, but he truly dives into the work. The soundtrack is a big part of why Dial of Destiny transports you back to the adventure films of yore. Williams delivers new and enticing material, restraining himself from overusing his world-renown Indiana Jones theme. If this truly is his final score, as he’s claimed, it is a great one to be sent off with for one of, if not the greatest, film composer of all time.

Waller-Bridge is a welcome addition to the cast, and fits in with much greater chemistry amongst Ford than Shia LaBeouf did in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Her perfect comedic timing and surprising action chops make for a compelling young foil to the aged Indiana Jones. Whilst I know that the far-right groups of the internet would through up their hands at this suggestion; I wouldn’t mind having her pick up the fedora and carrying the story forward, leaning more into her dry wit and deadpan take of genre tropes.

Mangold’s script, which had six credited writers (and many more rumored and uncredited), is a successful take on the Indiana Jones tropes; however, it doesn’t reach the heights and wondering magic of the first three films. Dial of Destiny has an enticing finale and some strong character moments, but nothing makes it stand out from the best moments in the series. As such, Dial of Destiny ends up feeling like an entertaining and faithful tie-in novel, providing an interesting new take and story, but not capable of bringing about distinction from the iconoclastic aspects of the originals.

Just reaching a satisfactory and entertaining level is an incredibly high bar to reach for Mangold, and for that alone he should be extremely proud. The difficult recapturing of old-school adventure, along with a faithful, if derivative script, and crackling use of old and new faces makes for a compelling new (and last?) entry in this ageing, but still kicking archeologist’s story.



About Young Critic

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I've been writing on different version of this website since February of 2013. I originally founded the website in a film-buff phase in high school, but it has since continued through college and into my adult life. Young Critic may be getting older, but the love and passion for film is forever young. 

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