Movie Review: Lucasfilm’s “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” Works Best When It’s Trying Something New

When they get to the fifth entry in a beloved film series, as a viewer I tend to start looking for what the filmmakers have come up with that’s fresh and new for the characters, and not just a warmed-over recycling of what’s come previously. Lucasfilm’s Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny does both of those things, and the movie is definitely most interesting and exciting when it leans toward the former rather than the latter.

The first entry in the 42-year-old franchise since 2008, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny opens with a rousing extended flashback to the waning days of World War II and an adventure that the title character (played affably by the now-80-years-old Harrison Ford, in what he claims to be his final turn as the fedora-sporting archaeologist) shares with another of his stuffily professorial sidekicks (accomplished character actor Toby Jones from Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy). Though fans have been rightfully wary of the de-aging process that brings Ford back to his younger self for this sequence, it works more often than it doesn’t, and the result is probably my favorite part of the movie– I loved getting to see what Indy was up to in the 1940s– he briefly talked about it in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but it took new director James Mangold (of Logan and Ford v. Ferrari fame, stepping in for Steven Spielberg) to make it happen on-screen. Then the film moves into the “present” of 1969, where Indy has become a man forgotten by time, his adventuring days long behind him, befuddled by psychedelic Beatles music and overshadowed by Cold-War-era events like the moon landing.

Dr. Henry Jones, Jr. has reached retirement age at the New York City university where he’s now teaching, and he’s about ready to fold it all in, considering his life is also in shambles in a number of other ways I won’t spoil here. But when a spunky young woman from his past named Helena Shaw, played by Phoebe Waller-Bridge from Fleabag and Solo: A Star Wars Story, shows up looking for the artifact Indy and her father claimed during that earlier outing in Nazi-occupied territory, our hero starts to get wrapped up in the type of situation he was more used to in his younger days. This kicks off a globe-trotting quest for the requisite artifact (or MacGuffin, if you want to go by what George Lucas used to call them) of this entry in the series: the titular Dial of Destiny. Again, I won’t spoil what the Dial actually is or what it ostensibly does, but suffice it to say that both Team Indy and Team Nazi are still seeking it out after all these years. The main villain here is played by Mads Mikkelsen (another Star Wars veteran, having played Galen Erso in Rogue One, but he might be best known as the TV version of Hannibel Lecter), but Indy has to spend the first half of the movie worried that Helena might be going down the path to become more of a Belloq than following in his or her father’s noble footsteps.

There’s also a sidekick-to-a-sidekick Teddy (played by relative newcomer Ethann Bergua-Isidore) who wins us over by the movie’s end, and a gang of wannabe-Nazi henchmen that provide some muscle and some comic relief here and there. But after the mandatory chase sequences and the punch-em-up fistfights, all of which are delivered competently by Mangold, the real question is, “What are they giving us that’s new?” And the answer comes in the form of a final half-hour that’s brilliant in its conceit and certainly unlike anything we’ve seen Indiana Jones do before. So I would say I really loved the first 30 minutes of this movie and then absolutely admired its inventive final act (I actually kind of wish the big twist happened much earlier in the movie, perhaps around the halfway point, to allow us and the characters to spend more time with it) and thought the middle dragged a bit. The Indiana Jones franchise has always been known for its wild goose chases, but I do think this one could have been cut down a tad from the center to get where it was going just a little bit faster.

There’s a scene around this middle point when Indiana Jones and Helena Shaw are walking through an underground cave together and they both get covered with a bunch of gross bugs and centipedes. This scene bothered me for a couple reasons: the first was Indy’s reaction to the bugs, which seemed out of character for a guy who is famously only afraid of snakes, but the second was probably worse: that it felt like something I had already seen before in these movies. Based on that sequence alone I would have called Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny a failure, but thankfully it’s surrounded by much more innovative stuff, especially at the tail ends of the film. There’s one concept here that’s so forehead-smackingly clever that I was actually angry I hadn’t thought of it myself, but to reveal it here would be a major spoiler, so I’ll just suggest you listen to my podcast in a couple weeks after the movie has come out and you’ve had a chance to see it for yourself.

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny opens in theaters nationwide on Friday, June 30th.

My grade: 3½ out of 5 Roman spears

Mike Celestino
Mike serves as Laughing Place's lead Southern California reporter, Editorial Director for Star Wars content, and host of the weekly "Who's the Bossk?" Star Wars podcast. He's been fascinated by Disney theme parks and storytelling in general all his life and resides in Burbank, California with his beloved wife and cats.