Harrison Ford Makes Dial of Destiny More Entertaining Than It Has Any Right To Be

Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) in Lucasfilm's Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. ©2022 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, more than any other film I think I’ve ever seen, is one that leaves me torn between my head and my heart. It’s a film that has what should be several near-fatal flaws: it’s yet another unnecessary add-on to what was a near-perfect trilogy in the three original films, it’s an action-adventure film led by—with all due respect—an eighty-year-old actor who’s days of outrunning boulders are long behind him, and the title sounds dumb (that one is a bit more of a personal preference, but it was the first thing I thought when the title was revealed still think its a clunker so I had to vent about it somewhere. I mean, Dial of Destiny? Come on.)

And yet, in spite of all of the above, dammit if I didn’t walk out of Dial of Destiny feeling far more entertained than I probably had any right to be.

Perhaps more than anything else, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is a testament to Harrison Ford as an actor, the enduring appeal of the titular character, and how deeply intertwined the two of them are. Ford’s career has had no shortage of iconic roles—most prominently Blade Runner’s Rick Deckard and Star Wars’ Han Solo—but he is Indiana Jones and Indiana Jones is him, more than any other actor/character pairing that comes to mind.

Jurgen Voller, Helena Shaw, and Indiana Jones
(L-R): Doctor Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen, standing), Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) and Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) in Lucasfilm’s INDIANA JONES AND THE DIAL OF DESTINY. ©2023 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

There’s not really a weak link in Dial of Destiny’s casting—Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Helena Shaw brings a dose of fast-talking His Girl Friday energy, Boyd Holbrook once again nails the evil henchman role, and Mads Mikkelsen practically oozes with classic Indy villain sliminess—but this is Ford’s film through and through. He dutifully carries it through the necessary moments of explaining the pseudo-scientific mechanics of the film’s MacGuffin that threaten to bog things down, and when given more substantial material to work with, Dial of Destiny shows, dare I say, touches of greatness. When asked by Helena Shaw what he would do if he could travel through time, his response is enough to make one well up inside. Somewhat of an elephant in the room is the much-maligned fourth entry Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but what seems at first to be a Rise of Skywalkerstyle attempt to effectively undo the previous polarizing entry instead proves to play an essential part in where we find Indy and his newfound perspective on what’s important in life.

To James Mangold’s credit, apart from two prominent flashback sequences, Dial of Destiny makes no effort to hide Ford’s age—one of my favorite cuts in the film is when it goes straight from its twenty-five-minute, digitally de-aged opening to a shot of Ford in all his shirtless, eighty-year-old glory—but the results of this are mixed at best.

On the one hand, Ford is clearly having a wonderful time bringing cranky old Indiana Jones to life (and still has more charisma than most people half his age). True to character, Indy finds himself in this final adventure due to his goddaughter’s shenanigans rather than a wistful desire to relive the glory days and makes no effort to hide his irritation with the whole affair. But as fun of a dynamic it might be, it means that Dial of Destiny’s stakes ultimately feel lacking compared to, say, the kidnapped children of Temple of Doom or Indy’s dying father in The Last Crusade. There is, however, a fair amount of irony to be found in the fact that the film’s villain is trying to fix the mistakes of the past and recapture what he sees as lost glory, given that this is the first Indy film being made under Disney’s ownership.

Doctor Jurgen Voller in Indiana Jeons and the Dial of Destiny
Doctor Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen) in Lucasfilm’s INDIANA JONES AND THE DIAL OF DESTINY. ©2023 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

What also feels lacking at times are, unfortunately, the film’s action sequences. Ford might still pack a mean right hook, but his days of outrunning boulders and having fistfights inches away from an airplane’s propellor are long behind him, forcing an adjustment in how Mangold approaches the film’s setpieces. This means more CGI, more action ceded to the younger cast, and an even greater focus on vehicle-based chases. At best, these setpieces are intricate, entertaining Rube Goldberg machines of one near-fatal miss to another; at worst they’re an incomprehensible blur of smoke and particles that overwhelms the frame entirely.

The setpieces certainly have their moments of spectacle, but nothing comes close to the awe-inspiring setpieces of Raiders, Temple of Doom, or Last Crusade, which is about the best way I can think of to sum up my thoughts on Dial of Destiny. Does it come anywhere close to the near-perfection of those first three films? Not by a long shot. Does it change the argument that the franchise should have rightfully ended in ‘89? Not a chance. To paraphrase that guy in the Panama hat from The Last Crusade, both Indiana Jones and his franchise belong in a museum.

But then you see Harrison Ford in that iconic fedora, John Williams’ excellent score kicks in, and you find yourself once again feeling just a little bit swept away. In spite of everything going against it, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny proves to be a thoroughly entertaining film and a chance to spend one last adventure with an honest-to-god, larger-than-life cinematic icon—and sometimes that’s more than worth the cost of admission.

Written by Timothy Glaraton

Writer. Editor. U of M Graduate.

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