Indiana Jones. There are very few franchises where just the name of the main character evokes a visceral response like this one. The Dial of Destiny is a decided punctuation mark to Harrison Ford’s time playing the iconic character. So how does it hold up to previous outings?
The film opens with a flashback to Indiana Jones during his time coming up against the Nazis. He’s on a train with a friend, an artifact, and of course, it is crawling with Nazis. How else would you find Indy? Shootouts, action, adventure…they packed it all into these opening sequences nicely enough to give us a good feel for the origins of this story.
As we push forward through time to where Indy is now, there have been a lot of changes for our main character. Though he’s still teaching in higher education, technology has overtaken our hero and the generation he’s instructing cares less about history in books because they are able to watch it unfold real time on television.
Even though he’s facing retirement and ready to be left alone, much like his previous adventures Indy soon finds himself squarely in the center of events that will not only affect the rest of his life but could also change the course of the world’s destiny. This time, things feel different. In previous films where a trail of bodies was left behind every step he took, Indy sees friends and colleagues lose their lives and it rocks him to his core. Due to life circumstances and his age, death is no longer something to be casually accepted. It hurts. The loss and the grief remain a centrally agonizing milestone for Indy and it’s not something he is able to move past easily as he searches for treasure.
This adventure, like his others, is epic and huge. It definitely needs a big screen because, as we all know, Indiana Jones is much larger than a phone, tablet, or computer screen. However, this final outing for Indiana also feels like they wanted to put as much on the screen as possible. And so they did. Sometimes to the story’s detriment.
As seems to happen all too often in franchises that begin to take on a life of their own, new outings carry a much heavier weight than the originals that made us fall in love. The stakes in the original Indiana Jones film weren’t nearly as heavy or large as they are for this one. After all, it’s the fifth movie in a much loved series. It’s also the last outing for Harrison Ford as Jones and I’m hearing, John Williams as composer. It’s also part of the all important summer box office after Covid. There are fan expectations. So. Much. Weight. With all of these things in play, is it any surprise that the creators chose to include what feels like every single frame of film that was shot? I am positive that under the weight of these expectations, the filmmakers chose to put every single thing on the screen rather than leave something behind on the (now proverbial) cutting room floor.
As such, it was fantastic to see Indy again and I did love this adventure, but I also found it long, drawn out, and in need of some good, tight edits. I don’t need to watch a chase scene through the streets of a city. Then the water. Onto on a boat. And next a plane. Or…I think you get the gist.
I feel like this story and the MacGuffin used was better done than Crystal Skull. Though as a creative, I wish there had been some other references or mentions seeded through previous films. I know it’s impossible to go back and recut those, but with our current technology, it is possible to throw something onto a shelf or in a book in a flashback.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge did a wonderful job portraying Helena, Indy’s god daughter. She owned her time on the screen and definitely fulfilled the role. Unfortunately for her, much like Shia LeBeouf, it’s nearly impossible to have a good, solid, character development when sharing the screen with Indy. No matter how much the creators try to make someone who can hold up next to our beloved hero, they all seem to fall short. With Helena, it felt like they spent so much time showing us how rebellious and uninterested she was in anything to do with Indy’s opinions that little to no time was left for the audience to feel that her changes were real or genuine.
All in all, I did enjoy this film. It was good. I can’t say it was spectacular, amazing, or even great. I did enjoy seeing what happened with Indy and his life, but I just wasn’t dazzled by the long drawn out scenes and the attempts to make this film as hefty in the canon as the originals. All too often that just doesn’t work.
Also, with the way technology is moving, there’s no telling if this really is his last adventure or not. The opening of the film made us keenly aware that Harrison’s likeness and voice can easily be manipulated to tell more stories. So is this really the last of Indiana Jones? There’s just no telling.
Sidenote: The Dial of Destiny, according to the film, is an invention of Archimedes that has to do with time travel. It’s called the Antikythera and for anyone who might be as geeky as myself, there is an actual discovery that it was based on. You can learn more about it in this article from the Nerdist.