Movie Review: Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

Harrison Ford whip-cracks back into theaters for his final turn as Indiana Jones, with the weight of legacy on his shoulders.


Legacy hangs over “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny,” both onscreen and off.

Within the narrative, the titular archeologist is in his ’70s and grappling with his waning relevance. His students are no longer interested in archeology; his noble-scoundrel routine seems like a relic; the world is looking to the stars, not the secrets of the past. When adventure comes calling, it’s an opportunity not merely to find a lost treasure but also to give his final years a sense of purpose.

Off the screen, “Dial of Destiny” has an even tougher challenge: To restore faith and fun to a franchise decades removed from its heyday. The 1980s films stand as perhaps the most satisfying blockbuster trilogy in history; “Raiders of the Lost Ark” is a perfect film, “Temple of Doom” is camp chaos and “The Last Crusade” is a wistful and memorable conclusion.

Then, of course, came “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.”

The 2008 revival was such a disappointing whiff that it tainted not just the franchise but the concept. Perhaps Indiana Jones really was a relic of a different cinematic age, a concept that didn’t work in a world where “Iron Man” was playing down the hall of the multiplex.

A full 15 years later, “Dial of Destiny” is not merely tasked with wiping away the memory of that blot but giving the character a proper sendoff. Harrison Ford will turn 81 next month; even with the aid of stunt doubles and the digital de-aging process (which cannot hide an old man’s voice), he’s past the point where feats of derring-do are practical or plausible.

Does it succeed? Well, it’s a lot better than “Crystal Skull,” at least.

On the eve of his retirement, Jones is visited by his goddaughter, Helena Shaw (Phoebe Waller-Bridge). Her father (Toby Jones) used to raid tombs with Indy, and she thinks she knows where to find the pieces of a fabled artifact: Archimedes Dial, a millennia-old device that gives the user mysterious power over the flow of time.

Shaw wants to track it down; Jones insists, none too convincingly, that he’s retired. Fortunately for the viewing audience, the old whip-cracker has a foil: Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen), an ex-Nazi who jockeyed with Indy for control of the device decades ago.

Yes, both of Indiana Jones’ foils — Nazis and snakes — are well represented. (Technically, eels play the snake role.)

The time-bending premise is a bit tired, given its ubiquity at the multiplex; if one were to plan a long day at the cinema this weekend, they could watch Spider-Man, The Flash and Indiana Jones all hop through space-time. Thematically, though, it’s a sturdy and resonant subject for an old adventurer; we all want a little more time, after all.

“Dial of Destiny” drags in stretches, and it lacks the memorable moments that made the ’80s films great fun. Fortunately, its cast — particularly Waller-Bridge, Mikkelsen and a returning John Rhys-Davies — soak the whole affair in so much charisma that its narrative struggles are forgivable.

If we take the lesson of the film and look to the future rather than the past, Waller-Bridge is a source of hope. It doesn’t seem an accident that her character’s name is a mirror of our hero’s: Indiana Jones, Helena Shaw. Place, monosyllabic surname. Will she return to pick up the mantle — and, hopefully, the fedora — from her godfather?

I hope so.

My Rating: 7/10

“Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” is now playing in theaters.

Categories: Sean Collier’s Popcorn for Dinner