James Mangold cranks up the nostalgia in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, and the journey is worth taking despite its narrative flaws.
One of the most anticipated films of the year has just had its World Premiere at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival, and it’s already shaping up to be a divisive film. Directed by James Mangold (Ford v Ferrari, Logan), Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is the final installment of the franchise that made us rethink archaeology and gave us some of the most iconic characters, epic action, and quotable lines in cinematic history. Our expectations were high with this one, as the trailer promised us all the nostalgia we didn’t find in The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, with the added benefit of Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag) and Mads Mikkelsen (Another Round) in the cast.
But now that the Nazis and, ahem, the aliens have been defeated, and the two objects that Indy Senior and Junior spent their entire lives searching for (the Ark of the Covenant and the Holy Grail) have been found, what’s left to be nostalgic about in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny?
The answer to that question sums up the film’s weakest aspect: the premise itself. Since something needed to be found that would make the newly retired, soon to be divorced “old man from upstairs” want to embark on a new mission, Dial of Destiny takes us back to Indy’s past. And so, we learn that, back in 1944, the archaeologist and his friend Basil Shaw (Toby Jones, of Tetris) were “trying to save history” by fighting (guess who?) the Nazis, but found a completely different artifact instead. That device is the Antikythera, a dial made by Greek mathematician Archimedes in ancient history that is said to have immense power — so much power, in fact, that Archimedes himself split it into two halves, to prevent people from ever using it.
Needless to say, Indy and Basil only manage to get their hands on one half of the dial, in the best Last Crusade tradition. Here, what stands in their way is a new adversary: Nazi official Jürgen Voller (Mikkelsen). Twenty-five years later, Indy’s goddaughter Helena Shaw (Waller-Bridge) randomly shows up at her godfather’s university, where Indy is teaching his students about (what are the chances?) Archimedes. And so, we learn that her father Basil is dead, but that he spent his entire life obsessing over the dial like Gollum with the One Ring, and Helena wants Indy to help her find it.
But Helena is not the only one looking for the Antikythera, and the first hour of the film pretty much consists of a series of setpieces in which Helena, Indiana Jones, his old friend Jürgen Voller (who now goes by a different name and works for the NASA), and a CIA agent (Shaunette Renée Wilson) chase each other around for an object that they’ve suddenly remembered they care about, since it’s been undisturbed for twenty-five years. And though the action scenes are gripping, exciting, and technically impressive, we are given very little time to get to know the new characters and care about Indy’s mission.
Story-wise, the rest of the film is not without issues either, even more so since the character of Jürgen Voller is painfully underdeveloped. But the second half of the movie is also when the nostalgia starts working its magic. Yes, Indy leads the Nazis straight to the Antikythera, and yes, there are artifacts that “belong in a museum” as well as snake jokes, handy character returns, convenient coincidences, and old friends that have exactly the skill required for the job at hand, but that’s exactly what we love about the Indiana Jones franchise. It was no easy task to bid farewell to the character, and James Mangold and co-writers Jez & John-Henry Butterworth and David Koepp manage to imbue Dial of Destiny with the same heart, action, and emotion of the first three films.
Harrison Ford is at his best here, clearly enjoying returning to a character he knows so well and loves just as much as we do. Unlike Crystal Skull, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny acknowledges Indy’s age, and uses it to its advantage to give the character more depth, showing us glimpses of what happened to him in the past that inform his choices in the present and make us feel more invested in his mission.
Ford’s chemistry with the ever-excellent Waller-Bridge places us right there with them as they travel the world to do the impossible, and Ethann Isidore is a welcome addition to the cast as Helena’s young sidekick Teddy, who brings a great deal of personality to the movie. Most of the action and stunts will have you either holding your breath or cheering along (or, in the case of the horse ride in the subway, raise an eyebrow or two, but that’s another story), and there’s plenty of humour that will make you fall even more in love with its titular hero.
Not only that, but Dial of Destiny also gives us the Indy we know from our favourite films in the franchise, by using de-aging techniques that effectively show us two versions of the same character, making the nostalgia hit even harder. And, on top of that, we can always count on John Williams’ score to make us emotional: I dare you not to smile when you’ll hear the notes of the iconic theme for the first time.
But what really surprised me about Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is the ending, which is absolutely perfect. Of course, I won’t spoil it for you, but all you need to know is that it gives Indy the farewell he absolutely deserves and completely takes us by surprise with a wave of emotion that hits us in all the right ways. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is not without flaws, but it’s also a journey worth taking: if you’re a fan of the franchise, you won’t be disappointed.
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on May 18, 2023, and will be released globally in theaters on June 30. Read our list of all Indiana Jones movies, ranked from worst to best!