Dial of Destiny is a Mid-Tier, Yet Still Entertaining Indiana Jones Movie

a man and a woman stand by a tuk tuk
[L-R] Phoebe Waller-Bridge as HELENA, Harrison Ford as INDIANA JONES

Harrison Ford returns to the screen for his final ride as cinema's favorite wise-cracking archaeologist in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, directed by James Mangold (Ford v. Ferrari), written by Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, and David Koepp, and starring Harrison Ford, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Antonio Banderas, Karen Allen, John Rhys-Davies, and Mads Mikkelsen.

The year is 1969, and Indiana Jones feels dried up. Estranged from his wife, Marion (Karen Allen), he's ready to retire and settle into his new role as the resident grumpy old man of his New York apartment building. But when his goddaughter Helena Shaw (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) steals the Archimedes Dial, an object of power that Indy's been keeping safe, he once again sets off on a cross-country journey in hopes of tracking down Helena and returning the dial to a safe place. The Dial of Destiny is a breathless globe-trotting adventure that brings this franchise to a fitting close.

a man in a Nazi uniform tied to a chair
Harrison Ford as INDIANA JONES
Director James Mangold wisely begins the story in the 1940s, transitioning Indy from his glory days into the golden years. At the beginning, it's 1944, and Indiana and his colleague Basil Shaw (Toby Jones) get captured while intercepting a Nazi plunder train. Mangold purposefully films this opening in with cinematic language that mimics Spielberg's style. The train sequence feels like an episodic serial, with an action-packed chase across a moving train. It's here that Basil Shaw and Indy take possession of the dial – an object that can supposedly locate fissures in time. Opening the story this way captures viewer attention and helps anchor this film to the rest of the franchise.

But we don't stay there. From here, Mangold abruptly transitions to 1969 and shows an aging Indy. No longer the heartthrob who inspires co-eds to paint "I love you" on their eyelashes, Indiana Jones is a man out of step with the times. Mangold and director of photography Phedon Papamichael reflect this dissonance in the filmmaking style, using a grittier wash and lighting in the latter scenes, a la Francis Ford Copolla. Production designer Adam Stockhausen likewise follows this transition by creating era-appropriate set pieces, particularly the 1940s train sequence and the 1960s street parade.

A woman in a red jacket talks holds a gold dial
Phoebe Waller-Bridge as HELENA 
Instead of a love interest, Mangold pairs Indy with his goddaughter Helena Shaw (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), the daughter of the now deceased Basil. Waller-Bridge injects new energy into the plot and proves a fitting partner to Indy. Her salty and banter-filled interactions with Harrison Ford echoes the chemistry that Ford had with Sean Connery in The Last Crusade. Like Indy, Helena followed in her father's footsteps but has also formed a unique and divergent personae all her own. The way her "I'm in it for me" clashes with Indy's "this belongs in a museum" credo sets up a delightful frenemy dynamic.

Other notable performances include Mads Mikkelsen as Jurgen Voller, the primary villain, who wants to claim the dial for his own diabolical purposes, and Teddy (Ethan Isidore), a Short Round-esque companion of Helena's. Antonio Banderas, John Rhys-Davies, and Shaunette Renee Wilson all pop in to give Indy a hand.

a man rides a motorcycle during a parade
Boyd Holbrook as KLABER 
All good Indiana Jones movies by necessity contain requisite chase scenes at breakneck speeds and crossing multiple modes of transportation. Of those in In Dial of Destiny, the strongest of these occur in the aforementioned train sequence, and then by horse, plane, and most notably, by tuk tuk through the labyrinthine streets of Tangier. The Tangier set operates much like the Cairo scenes of Raiders, including a chase for a kidnapped companion and Waller-Bridge sporting a culturally appropriate white outfit, a color we associate with Indy's life partner, Marion (Karen Allen).

While unlikely to reach the same popularity of the original trilogy, The Dial of Destiny manages to hold attention and offers a worthy ending to this much beloved series. The best Indiana Jones films serve up fast-paced adventure involving artifacts from ancient civilizations, delivered with sharp-tongued wit and subtle themes of love for America and history. Mangold succeeds overall but perhaps stumbles in his decision to choose an artifact that introduces the possibility of time travel. Time is the new frontier after space, so Mangold can't be faulted for trying this option. However, without giving away spoilers, it does lead to places that feel more fitting for a Bill & Ted adventure than an Indiana Jones movie.

a tuk tuk on the streets of Tangier
Still, for those looking for one last Indiana Jones adventure, Mangold serves up all the familiar beats we expect: tight squeezes, nick-of-time rescues, revulsion-inducing insects, and, most of all, the rough-edged Indy with a soft spot for those few he loves.

Release info: In theaters June 30, 2023

Final score: 3.5 out of 5