Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023) Review

The Indiana Jones movies may have been one of the most popular movie franchises in the history of cinema. But is the franchise finally overstaying its welcome? I mean, I get that the last Indy movie — Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull — was greeted with mixed responses. And another round would give the franchise an opportunity to course-correct the Indiana Jones movie.

The fifth and purportedly final Indiana Jones movie subtitled The Dial of Destiny seems promising enough. James Mangold, who gave us Logan and Ford v Ferrari was calling the shots, marking the first time an Indiana Jones movie not directed by Steven Spielberg. Given Mangold’s past two amazing directorial efforts, I have a lot of faith in him to come up with a better Indiana Jones movie than the last time around. But then came its world premiere at Cannes in May — a strategy that hopefully would build good word of mouth, only to be backfired after Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny ended up with early mixed reviews.

Now that I finally got to watch the movie, I would say it wasn’t as great as I expected it to be. Certainly not at the same level as the first three Indiana Jones movies. The movie gets off to a rocky start with an elaborate 1940s-set opening prologue featuring a de-aged young Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones. He’s been captured by the Nazis for impersonating an officer and trying to steal one of the artefacts found in a church. The artefact in question is the Lance of Longinus, the blade that drew Jesus Christ’s blood. But Nazi scientist Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen) is more interested in the other artefact — the Antikythera dial. It was a device created by the Greek mathematician Archimedes but Voller only has half of it. And he needs the other half to combine the dial together since it has the power of time travel.

Then, it’s the usual Indy moment that has been the franchise’s tradition to start off with an action-packed opening sequence since Raiders of the Lost Ark. In Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, Mangold throws in moments of fisticuffs, close calls, a chase scene, jumping and running atop the speeding train and so on. And yet, for all the frantic motion designed to evoke a palpable sense of thrill and fun that we come to love about the Indiana Jones franchise feels strangely hollow. The CGI is too obvious here, especially the train sequence. The de-ageing effect may look good in the trailer and photo but it doesn’t feel the same when I watched the whole scene in its entirety. I can’t help but notice Ford’s glassy eyes and waxy-looking face that immediately screams the uncanny valley syndrome. The de-ageing effect may have been improved than say, the ones seen in The Irishman but even so, it still gives the vibe of watching a PlayStation cutscene.

While the first act falters, I’m glad Mangold manages to find the right footing once the movie jumps forward to 1969. It was the historic year after the Apollo 11 astronauts succeeded in their moon landing and the citizens are celebrating their return in a homecoming ticker-tape parade. The now-older Indy, however, doesn’t seem to be interested in it. Mangold, who also contributed the screenplay alongside Jez and John-Henry Butterworth and David Koepp, addresses the reality of what Indy is currently facing in his life. His once-exciting past as an archaeologist and adventurer hunting for lost treasures is long gone. Even in university classes where he teaches archaeology, most of the students felt bored with the subject. He’s like a relic trapped in the past with little else to look forward to. His gradual retirement is more muted than something worth celebrating.

Mads Mikkelsen in "Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny" (2023)

Then came a woman that he barely recognises at first while sitting in the bar. The woman turns out to be Helena Shaw (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), Indy’s goddaughter who he last seen many years ago. Helena is also the daughter of Basil Shaw (Toby Jones), Indy’s fellow archaeologist who has gone mad for getting too preoccupied with the titular dial. And now, Helena is hoping Indy can help her to search for the other missing half of the Antikythera.

Soon, it doesn’t take long before the two run into trouble as Voller, now goes by the name of Dr Schmidt and his men (among them played by Boyd Holbrook) are also looking for the same thing. And so, the globe-trotting hunt begins from New York to Tangier and Sicily. The extended tuk-tuk chase scene in the streets of Tangier is the highlight here, proving that Mangold still has what it takes to stage an exhilarating action setpiece after all. At least the choreography and its visual clarity is more dynamic in its staging while Ford, who is already 80 years old at the time of its release, still impresses with his physical agility. Not bad for his age and it’s nice to see he never lost his sense of sardonic wit and stoic personality that made his character such a pop-culture icon in the first place. He also shared good chemistry with Phoebe Waller-Bridge, whose feisty supporting turn as Helena Shaw helps to enliven the movie.

But the introduction of Ethann Isidore’s Teddy Kumar as Helena’s younger sidekick is rather disappointing. His character comes across as a copycat of sorts that reminds me of Ke Huy Quan’s Short Round from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. But unlike the latter, Isidore’s personality-free and overall bland performance does little to make his appearance worthwhile. Mads Mikkelsen, who plays the main villain, is no stranger to antagonist roles seen in the likes of Casino Royale and Doctor Strange. Unfortunately, his character is underutilised, making me feel why wasted such a good acting talent like Mikkelsen.

Like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the movie climaxes with a bonkers third act that you may or may not like the way Mangold and the rest chose to tell the story. Personally, I think it works in its favour and even feels more personal and relatable, which justified Indy’s character arc. It was a daring move that Mangold finally stepped out of Spielberg’s shadow and embraces something different for a change but only to a certain extent.

Despite the CG-heavy moments, questionable de-ageing effect and a weak villain, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny remains watchable for what it is. I was initially worried about its 154-minute length but the pace doesn’t slack much with enough entertaining moments to keep the audience occupied. It’s sad to see the Indiana Jones franchise has finally come to an end with Harrison Ford bidding goodbye to the iconic character that he played since 1981. Of course, I was hoping with the calibre of James Mangold, he can do better than what we got here. I guess the franchise would never upstage, let alone matches the quality of the original Indiana Jones trilogy.