In 1981, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas introduced the world to Indiana Jones in ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark‘. This new hero was an archaeologist with a love of history, a cynical view of the occult and a knack for punching Nazis. The magic of that original movie and the 3 adventures that followed was how Spielberg and Ford brought these stories to life with spectacle, chills, laughter and a core emotional throughline which helped the titular character evolve.
When Lucasfilm announced that they were making one final adventure for Indiana Jones, I was equally excited and sceptical. Regardless of your views of the last movie ‘Kingdom of the Crystal Skull‘, that film had a fitting and happy ending for the character. However, once I heard that Harrison Ford was excited about reprising the role, that John Williams would return to score the film and that James Mangold would be directing this instalment, I started to feel my interest being piqued.
Thankfully, that faith was rewarded with a delightful return to the world of Indiana Jones. Set in 1969, as the world is embraced by the technological marvels of the moon landing, we find Dr Jones lost in this ‘modern’ world. Naturally, much like the titular star Harrison Ford, Indy is older, and the film embraces that fact without trivialising the character or audience. Instead, it’s core to the emotional story of this movie, with Indy dealing with both the physical and emotional effects of growing older.
If the first three films are pastiches of 1930s cinema, and the fourth of 1950s sci-fi B movie, then Dial of Destiny explores the political complexities and grey area of the 1960s/70s. Rather than the simple black/white viewpoint of good guys v bad guys, Indy finds himself facing a more complicated world. While the villains are once again the Nazis, with Mads Mikkelsen deliciously playing the smarmy villain, we find them in a different place, firmly within the safety net of the US Government. It’s based on real-life instances of Nazi scientists being brought on board to help the US with their space programme and other scientific advancements.
Another morally grey character is newcomer Helena Shaw, Indiana’s Goddaughter, desperately searching for Archimedes’ Antikythera – a mathematical miracle device with supernatural powers. Played by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Helena is a fantastic addition to the franchise providing plenty of humour and youthful energy. Helena’s arc also parallels Indiana’s from the first movie, as she becomes less cynical and more open.
As seen in trailers, there are moments in the film that depicts a younger Indiana Jones using Harrison Ford and de-ageing technology. I was concerned that such a lengthy sequence would be offputting and firmly within the uncanny valley, but bar a few moments, I was pleasantly surprised by how great it looked. That being said, the best acting from Harrison comes from his naturally older self, with a scene towards the end of the movie being an all-time favourite – with Harrison acting his heart out with just his eyes alone. Tear inducing!
The movie isn’t perfect by any means, with it suffering from a slightly too-long run-time, and it continues to include some orientalist tropes from the original movies (which feels more glaring in 2023). But it’s fairly close to perfect, containing everything you want from an Indiana Jones movie: a sprinkle of history/myth, action, laughs, scares, a MacGuffin to chase and a lot of Nazis being punched and killed. Somehow even more satisfying today!
Overall, The Dial of Destiny is a beautiful film that is all about letting go of the past. It’s a worthy successor to the other films and an absolute joy to watch.
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny will be available to watch in cinemas on June 28th in the UK and June 30th in the US