Archaeologist Indiana Jones races against time to retrieve a legendary artifact that can change the course of history. (from IMDB.com)
When Indiana Jones and his compadres rode off into the sunset in the summer of 1989 at the end of The Last Crusade, fans were pretty convinced this was the last time we’d see the famed archaeologist. However, much to everyone’s surprise, a 65-year-old Harrison Ford reprised his role in 2008’s The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, shifting the series from the 1930’s to the 1950’s, giving it more of a 50’s sci-fi B-movie vibe than a swashbuckling adventure flick. The unnecessary fourth entry left many fans wanting, despite there being some excitement at seeing Indy on the go again. Around the time of that film’s release, I believe Ford told plenty of news outlets that he was officially done with the character. However, it seems as though the sour taste the movie left the franchise with must have encouraged the box office star to rally for a fifth outing. So, after countless delays, and with the actor just barely still in his 70’s, he has delivered one truly final Indy outing: Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.
While the movie was still in its idea phase, “Indy 5” is what it was often referred to. And for a long time, the director of the first four films, Steven Spielberg, was largely in talks of reprising his creative role for Ford’s official swan song. But eventually, Spielberg decided to recede into an executive producer role and another popular director – the man behind Ford v Ferrari and Logan, James Mangold – stepped in to helm Indy 5. As a fan of Ford v Ferrari, and a couple other Mangold films — Knight and Day and Kate and Leopold — I had full faith in Mangold being able to deliver a worthwhile entry to the saga. In fact, with how disappointing The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was, I was actually glad that Indy 5 was moving on to a different creative team.
History lessons aside, I was delighted to find that Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is just what we’ve needed to rinse out the bad taste that Crystal Skull left behind. As a diehard fan of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and a nostalgic fan of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Crystal Skull is one of those movies that actually gets worse with each viewing. From irritating side characters (especially Ray Winstone’s backstabbing and whiney “Mack” and John Hurt’s crackpot professor “Ox”), the movie felt like a cartoony, post Star Wars prequel, digital-heavy take on the more practically-conceived hero. Seriously, Crystal Skull has moments so bad that it even coined a new phrase in the movie industry. In the same vein as Happy Days featuring a moment where the Fonz jumps over a shark on water skis, inevitably coining the phrase “jump the shark,” “nuke the fridge” was born from the moment that Indy seeks refuge in a lead-lined refrigerator to survive a nuclear blast — both phrases symbolizing a franchise’s abandonment of reason for something unforgivably absurd. (And we’re not even bringing up the scene where Indy’s illegitimate son Mutt comes to the rescue by swinging on vines with jungle monkeys. When exactly did you officially stop caring, Spielberg?)
Dial of Destiny certainly isn’t a perfect movie by any means, but when it ended, I felt such a satisfying feeling that had me wanting to say it was “perfect.” It was what I, a franchise fan, needed Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny to be. If we can’t have Last Crusade be the ride off into the sunset for Indy, Dial of Destiny is an impactful send-off that rights the proverbial ship after Crystal Skull flattened the franchise like a gigantic boulder. While Spielberg doesn’t return in the director’s chair, we do have composer John Williams returning to score one last ride, and even his score is more memorable than his Crystal Skull effort (although, let’s not totally dismiss his theme for the skull itself – it’s the chef’s kiss for sure).
Dial of Destiny finds a weary and relatively broken Indiana Jones retiring from his days of teaching while living in an apartment in 1969 New York. But before we meet the aging Indy, the film opens with a flashback to 1944, with the archaeologist facing death once again at the hands of the Nazis. Despite the dodgy de-aging technology (and some questionably unaltered and gravelly 78-year-old Harrison Ford voice coming out of a 25-years-younger Indy), the action-packed prologue feels like classic Indiana Jones at its best. In the sequence, we meet Indy with his pal Basil (played by Toby Jones), as they try to recover the spear that pierced Christ’s side from the Nazi’s stolen treasures. In the process, Basil finds that a young Nazi scientist, named Dr. Voller (Mads Mikkelsen), is in possession of part of a mythical device created by the great Archimedes. And here begins our hero’s journey with “the dial of destiny.” For this flashback sequence, ILM and Lucasfilm utilized de-aging technology to make Indiana Jones and Harrison Ford about 25 years younger, looking more on par with his appearance in The Last Crusade than anything else. Unfortunately, while some shots looked extremely impressive, others were painfully obvious. Even footage of Indy running across the top of a train from a distance looked like something out of a video game. Some other moments even resembled the synthetic nature of The Polar Express, but in the long run, I realize I rather have some spotty de-aging technology than a full-on recasting. We all know what Harrison Ford looked like 30 years ago, so it helps to see him that way again. Some viewers, though, will find the unconvincing technology to be a hindrance, while others – like myself – will just struggle to accept it. However, I must say, seeing it in the larger IMAX format isn’t doing this technology any favors.
Many fans – myself included – were also concerned about the casting of Phoebe Waller-Bridge as the female lead. Here she plays Helena Shaw, the daughter of Basil, and ultimately Indy’s goddaughter. While some obnoxious present day “strong female” (like the kind that attempt to belittle men) traits do unabashedly force their way into some sequences, Waller-Bridge doesn’t just upstage Indy in scene after scene. A lot of doom-and-gloom forewarning from media and fans on social media painted the film as just another opportunity for Hollywood to emasculate a legendary pop culture male hero, but I have to say I did not find the movie to be that way at all. Helena doesn’t exactly treat Indy with the kind of reverence his biggest fans do, which can rub us the wrong way early on in the movie, but she clearly comes around as the story progresses. The story also serves as a means for Indy to kind of find himself again at this late stage in his life, and that alone is enjoyable to watch. Again, I won’t pretend that Disney and Lucasfilm aren’t setting up a possible spin-off for their Helena character with this movie, but Dial of Destiny handles Indy well, keeps him the focal point, and gives his character a wonderful resolution.
The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was undeniably the most mild, content-wise, of the franchise, and thankfully The Dial of Destiny follows similarly. However, there is plenty of violence, and Mangold handles it with a bit of grit that is likely to upset younger viewers. I wouldn’t say there are many classic franchise gross-out moments (no melting faces!), but there is definitely plenty of bloodshed throughout the movie. There’s also a thug who likes to shoot first and ignore any consequences later, and his readiness to shoot-to-kill at any moment may be jarring for some. There appears to be one “S” word (spoken by the kid Teddy when describing the condition of a means of transportation), and well over 20 uses of “h*ll” when you take into consideration a sequence where Indy tries to escape some goons by rallying a street protest with a chant of “H*ll no, we won’t go!” Other than that, there’s one prominent use of “J-sus” from a side character, a few uses of “d*mn,” and 2 easy-to-miss uses of “g*dd*mn.” There’s also absolutely no sexual content, which is a nice change of pace. The violence, as mentioned, is sometimes bloody, but it’s mostly blood on a person’s clothing after they’re shot, or blood on someone’s hand from another victim. The most gruesome moment is near the end of the movie, however, when we see two bloody corpses, with one having extremely burned and raw looking skin that is slightly gory. It’s brief and not shown up close, but it may shock some viewers. Some of the deaths and violence is definitely shocking though, so please keep that in mind ahead of time.
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is a sweet surprise and an early summer treat. While it certainly would have been nice to see Indiana back in his prime for all of these films, Dial of Destiny is a unique and unusual way to see one of our favorite cinematic action heroes back in action at a time in their life when it may be rather unexpected. If you’re an Indy fan and have been on the fence about this one, go see it. It’s infinitely better than Crystal Skull and a worthy send-off for Indiana Jones. I’d probably rank it just above Temple of Doom (since the whole Kali and Voo Doo content is pretty unsettling), but after The Last Crusade and Raiders of the Lost Ark.
– John DiBiase (reviewed: 7/1/23)
iTunes / Digital Copy Bonus Features Review
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is now available via digital retailers. I actually ended up seeing the movie a couple more times in the theater and, despite the flack it’s received, I can’t help but like it! It’s certainly not perfect, but it’s still a great way to wrap up the character following the terribly disappointing Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
The digital copy is Movies Anywhere friendly and the iTunes Extras include a near-hour-long making-of feature that is broken up into several chapters and is surprisingly comprehensive. There’s definitely a reverence that’s expressed in this feature and everyone who talks about Indy, his legacy, Harrison, the previous films, and this one, seem to have a great love and respect for the franchise. Director James Mangold appears especially passionate about the movie and franchise and never sounds pretentious in how he views or approached this movie. If anything, this feature feels tailor-made to help viewers appreciate what was accomplished with Dial of Destiny — and the enthusiasm is infectious.
The Making of Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (56:48)
- Chapter 1 – Prologue (11:22) opens with talking about the legacy of Indy through the years. The filmmakers hoped to open the movie with a classic Indiana Jones action scene that was reminiscent of what fans had come to expect from an Indy movie. Believe it or not, Harrison actually did act out all of his scenes for the Prologue, with a few stunts filled in by stunt doubles. To achieve the de-aging effect, they scanned all possible available footage of younger Indiana Jones into the computer so AI could replace 78-year-old Harrison Ford with a distinctly younger Indy. It’s pretty neat how they were able to accomplish this! (Even if it wasn’t quite seamless).
- Chapter 2 – New York (10:34) takes a look at recreating 1969 New York. The parade shown in the movie is based on a real parade that took place at that time. We’re then treated to some details inside Indy’s house, revealing easy-to-overlook details like how his walls include 2 pieces from his father’s house, as seen in The Last Crusade. They filmed much of 1969 New York in Glasgow, actually. And Harrison’s double ended up filling in for Harrison for a lot of minor shots while he was recovering from a shoulder injury. (Which explains some odd shots I noticed that didn’t seem like natural movements in one of those scenes, because they actually substituted Harrison’s face over his double!) We also learn that they had cast Phoebe Waller-Bridge as Helena even before the script was finished, so her character was written with her in mind the whole time! (We briefly see the scene where a crowd shouts “H*ll no, we won’t go!”)
- Chapter 3 – Morocco (10:12) reintroduces us to old Indy in his classic Indy outfit. They also talk about bringing Ethann Isidore in as Teddy for his first acting job, and then show us how they put together that fun Tuk Tuk chase.
- Chapter 4 – Sicily (11:22) – Here, they talk about bringing Antonio Banderas into the movie and how excited Antonio was to be in an Indiana Jones movie (and how excited Phoebe was to have Antonio there). The production team discusses the design of the eels, and Mangold talks about how the underwater scene had been birthed out of the idea of trying to find something we’ve never seen in an Indy movie before — treasure hunting underwater! We also learn that they built the caves of Greece on the 007 stage at Pinewood studios. And for the bug scene, they used animatronic centipedes instead of real ones because they’re too dangerous. Finally, they talk about Archimedes’ dial, and how it’s actually based on a real artifact that is on display in a museum. (1 “bad-a**,” 1 “Oh my G-d,” 1 “d*mn”)
- Chapter 5 – Finale (13:18) – They talk here about how the finale isn’t just the finale of the movie, but the finale of all of the Indiana Jones movies. This segment covers the plane action sequence, Syracuse, and their intentions for wrapping up the character (as well as returning cameos!) (1 “bad-a**”; 1 “g*dd*mn” from Raiders of the Lost Ark)
Overall, this is a great bonus feature and one well worth checking out!- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 8/30/23)
Parental Guide: Content Summary
Vulgarity/Language: About 1 “S” word, roughly 25 “h*ll” (one sequence has Indy and a crowd shouting “H*ll no! We won’t go!” repeatedly); 1 “J-sus,” 2 “g*dd*mn,” 1 “p*ss me off;” 5 “d*mn,” 1 “My G-d,” 3 “cr*p,” 1 “bugger,” 1 racial term “cracker,” 2 “Oh my G-d,” 1 “Oh G-d,” 1 “For G-d’s Sake” in subtitles.
Alcohol/Drugs: While posing as a German officer, Indy grabs another German soldier’s mug and sniffs its contents and then dumps it out; Indy pours some alcohol into his coffee; Indy is seen drinking alone at a bar; Helena finds a flask in a cabinet on a boat and remarks “this is promising;” Indy pours alcohol on something to light it on fire.
Blood/Gore: Basil is hit in the face and has some blood running down his chin. He’s then interrogated and we see blood around his mouth; A woman is shot and we very briefly see the bullet hole in her shirt on the back. A man is then shot and killed (but I don’t think we see blood); Indy finds a dead person on the floor, with a little blood. He touches their body and gets blood on his hand. In the next scene, we see blood on his hands and on the receiver of a phone he uses; A person is shot in the chest and we see some blood on their shirt. We then see them die with their eyes wide open; An eel snatches a fish up and we see a puff of blood in the water; We see a dead man lying on the deck of a boat with some blood on his torso; A man is shot in the leg and then again in the chest and we very briefly see some blood; It’s very dimly lit, but it looks like a man is slumped over in a booth with blood on their head; A man is shot in the shoulder and we see blood on their shirt in several scenes afterwards; It’s sort of off-screen, but a large spear goes through a plane cockpit floor and impales one of the drivers. We see blood on the victim and on the spear in the corner of the screen; A man is shot and has blood on his hands; We see two victims of a plane crash. One lies dead covered in blood. The other’s head is charred and kind of bloody, with skin missing. We then see a close-up of their burned and bloodied hand.
Violence: A man is tied up to be hanged. A bomb drops through the room’s ceiling and explodes several floors down, tossing the hanging man around and killing soldiers. The victim struggles to get out of the noose as the wooden beam above him starts to break; A man is punched in the face and has a bloody mouth; Indy punches a man in the face; An anti-air gun on a train is firing at aircraft when it is hit and explodes. We see several burned victims slung over the side of the gun’s chair; Two men struggle and fight on top of a train. One man pushes another man up into the tunnel ceiling of the train. A man wraps a whip around another man’s throat and chokes him. A third man tries to shoot the villain and accidentally hits the victim in the arm. He then tries harder to aim and hits the attacker. The man being strangled then kicks them off the top of the train; A man on a train is hit in the face by a metal pole and falls from the train; Indy angrily taps a baseball bat on an apartment door; A man shoots a woman in the back and then a man who walks by; Indy pushes over a shelf of items into another shelf that causes a domino effect, collapsing on some people; A man punches a police officer on a horse; A man fires a gun in the air while in a parade, causing almost everyone to drop to the ground; Indy rides a horse through New York and into a subway, dodging a train from hitting him; A large man throws several people around inside a plane, knocking them out or killing them. A man shoots a woman, killing her; A man kicks a man out of a helicopter while in the air; At an auction, Indy uses his whip to hold back some men. They pull their guns out and fire as he drops to the floor. People take turns fighting over an object and punching each other; A chase scene takes place through city streets on tuk tuk’s and in cars, with lots of action and destruction. One man points a machine gun at our heroes and Indy uses his foot to press it against the side of the vehicle. It misses them but it hits a car on the other side of them; On a dive, a group of eels swarm some divers as they try to hit them with ship wreckage debris; A diver’s line is cut and we see them sink deep into the water; We briefly see a dead body on the deck of the ship; Indy is punched in the face; A man is shot in the leg and then in the chest. We then hear a third shot off camera. Some people carry the dead body away; A bomb goes off in the boat, causing people on board and debris to go flying; Some men shoot at a boat as it sails away; A kid is grabbed by a large man and carried away; The floor in a cave gives way and two people slide down it (but are fine); A lot of large bugs are seen crawling on cave walls and two people panic to get them off of them; A bridge collapses, throwing two people into the water who are hand-cuffed together. One unlocks the handcuff and closes it around an underwater grate and they swim away, leaving the other person to drown; A person drops down from a ledge and tackles a man. A shootout ensues and some people are shot; A person is forced into a van; A man is shot and killed at an airport; A man is punched in the face; We see a large battle with ships on fire and soldiers fighting. Large blades impale an aircraft; A large blade impales a pilot, killing him; A person pulls on a lever that opens a plane’s bomb bay doors, dropping them to their deaths; Two people hang out of a plane. A third person shoots one of them off the other; A person is shot and wounded; We see soldiers fighting a violent battle; A soldier is hit in the back with arrows and collapses; A person is punched in the face and knocked out; and other action violence.