“INDIANA JONES AND THE DIAL OF DESTINY”
Starring Harrison Ford, Mads Mikkelsen, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, John Rhys-Davies, Antonio Banderas, Toby Jones, Boyd Holbrook, Ethann Isidore, Nasser Memarzia
Written by Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, David Koepp and James Mangold
Based on characters created by George Lucas and Philip Kaufman
Directed by James Mangold
Executive producers: Steven Spielberg and George Lucas
Produced by Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall and Simon Emanuel
Cinematography by Phedon Papamichael
Edited by Michael McCusker, Andrew Buckland and Dirk Westervelt
Music by John Williams

By Matt Neufeld
June 29, 2023

“Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny,” the fifth and expected final film in the popular, enduring, forty-two-year-old film franchise starring Harrison Ford as the globetrotting, treasure-hunting archeologist and professor Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones, is quite excellent, on every level, and the movie is the latest in a string of equally excellent big-budget blockbusters filling up movie theaters this summer in a hopeful trend that hopefully continues to get filmgoers back in the theaters, where they belong.

It’s a bit astonishing to think that the first film in the series, the classic “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” from a story by George Lucas and Philip Kaufman and directed by Steven Spielberg, was actually first released in 1981. The incredible success of that rollicking, brilliantly structured and crafted and just wholly, thoroughly entertaining action-adventure film, itself based on and inspired by similar action-adventure films from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, led to 1984’s “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” 1989’s “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” and 2008’s “Indiana Jones and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.”

And now, here we are once again, forty-two years after “Raiders,” fifteen years after “Kingdom,” and Ford and Indy and “Destiny” have happily landed on screens, enjoyably and thankfully with much of the good old fashioned action-adventure thrills and chills that the series has always had, and still wonderfully evoking, celebrating and reveling in the same general spirit that all of the films have had to varying degrees. Also gratifyingly, “Destiny” mostly recalls the best two previous films in the Indiana Jones series, “Raiders” and “Crusade.”

And, yes, to approach the age and ageism issue that’s been lingering quite publicly, but also quite rudely and unfairly, on everyone’s mind, it doesn’t really matter one bit if leading man Harrison Ford, now 80, was in his late seventies when “Destiny” was being filmed in 2021 and early 2022. Throughout “Destiny,” Harrison Ford proudly and strongly maintains his usual leading-man presence, charisma and style, and despite a head of white hair, a few lines on his face, a bit of a weathered build and body and a raspy, gruff, age-hardened voice, it’s still leading-man Harrison Ford and it’s still lead character, star and hero Indiana Jones up on the screen for the duration, with the actor and the character fully alive, active, involved, engaged and always commanding constant attention. It’s another bravura performance from Harrison, in a career full of bravura performances. Ford’s age simply doesn’t matter here. As Dr. Jones once noted, “It’s not the years, honey. It’s the mileage.” For Ford, and for Indy, it’s gratifying to report the mileage and the years have held up pretty damn well.

The mileage and the years have held up pretty damn well for Spielberg, 76, and Lucas, 79, too, who are the executive producers for “Destiny,” and, fortunately, their patented collective spirit and enthusiasm for good, old-fashioned action-adventure pure-entertainment blockbuster popcorn movies hasn’t dimmed, darkened or diminished through the sands of time.

For Ford, Spielberg, Lucas and Jones, time is on their side. Time may not wait for anyone, but it’s been especially kind to these endearing, enduring and talented filmmakers and their attendant characters.

Spielberg, though, handed off the directing duties for “Destiny,” for the first time for an Indiana Jones movie, to the equally-spirited and equally-talented director James Mangold. Mangold, 59, who previously directed 1997’s “Cop Land,” 1999’s “Girl, Interrupted,” 2005’s “Walk the Line,” 2007’s “3:10 to Yuma,” 2013’s “The Wolverine,” 2017’s “Logan,” and 2019’s “Ford v Ferrari,” knows just who and what he’s dealing with, off-screen and on-screen with “Destiny.” Mangold said that he took most of his inspiration for “Destiny” from “Raiders” and he paid close attention to a good piece of advice from Spielberg to keep “Destiny” always moving and always moving forward, according to press reports. Smart man, that James Mangold.

Well, as noted, Mangold has succeeded on both counts. “Destiny,” in a good way, does recall “Raiders”– but without being an easy rip-off, a cliched retread or a thinly-disguised reboot. Thanks to a smart, interesting, fun and adventurous script from Mangold and co-writers Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth and David Koepp, “Destiny” operates originally and briskly as a solid standalone feature with its own involving and evolving story and backstories. And the Jones-style action, adventure, thrills and chills are all present and accounted for in a big way, with several flat-out thrilling, heart-pumping, adrenalized action, stunt, chase and fight scenes that, thanks to pure and simple producing, directing and writing talent, manage to succeed and entertain–even if we’ve seen them all literally hundreds of times before in hundreds of films–including in previous Indiana Jones movies.

For instance, Mangold and his writers dare to include—and this isn’t a spoiler in any way–a fistfight atop a moving train, a train wreck on a blown-up bridge, a motorcycle chasing after a plane on a runway, a rickshaw chase through crowded streets, a chase through a crowded street parade, people dangling out of nosediving planes, people parachuting out of nosediving planes, a chase on horseback, and people chasing other people through darkened, damp caves filled with creepy creepy-crawling critters.

Yes, yes, yes, we all know that all of this is cliched, unoriginal and uninventive. Yet, as noted, Mangold and his team make it work, and they make it work well. The first half-hour of the movie, just as the first half-hour of any Indiana Jones movie has always been, is one long thrilling ride. And, yes, we all know that “Crusade” also opened with a fight stop a moving train, “Doom” included a scary bridge scene, “Doom” included people jumping out of nosediving planes, “Crusade” included a motorcycle chase and “Raiders” and “Doom” featured scenes with nasty, scary, slithering creepy-crawling critters.

And, yes, all of the Indiana Jones movies feature Dr. Jones–“You call him Doctor Jones!” as Short Round would authoritatively say–chasing after some storied, urban legendy supernatural-tinged object or objects that could lead to worldwide, universal, apocalyptic doom and gloom. But, hey, that’s what archeologists do in action-adventure fantasy/science fiction/supernatural movies. If a movie depicted for two hours what archeologists truly do in real life, which is spend months sifting through archeological sites, conducting laboratory curatorial examinations and studies and poring over ancient dusty documents in kabs, libraries and offices, well, how exciting would that be?! It’s exciting, yes, actually, but not in a filmic way.

Yet, again, though, all of these familiar action and stunt and fight scenes in “Dial of “Destiny” are written, choreographed, blocked and executed so well in the movie, they work on a high level of pure entertainment.

Besides the talent of Mangold, his writers, the daredevil stuntmen and stunt doubles, and the fight and action scene coordinators and assistant directors, “Destiny” also benefits from a generous and consistently high-level and high-quality overall production value. The opening scenes take place in 1944 and the rest of the film occurs in 1969, and the exceptionally detailed attention to period detail is impressive. In the early scenes, the viewer believes that it’s all happening in the waning, dying days of World War II, and after those opening scenes, subsequently there’s no doubt the movie is happening in a vibrant, chaotic, world-changing, generation-shifting, progressive 1969. Clothes, props, sets, cars, hair, make-up, storefronts, offices, apartments, city streets and shops are all dressed and designed to make the respective time periods as believable as possible. Additionally, the film shoot also actually moved around the globe to film at real, live and actual exotic locales. Filming took place at some quite beautiful and breathtaking actual locales in Glasgow, which stood in for New York City, and in London, Sicily and Morocco. Some scenes were also shot at Pinewood Studio’s Bond soundstage, which is generally regarded as one of the best soundstages on the planet.

The extensive period detail and the extensive on-site location shooting contribute to consistently high-quality production design, set design and art direction throughout “Dial of Destiny.” Additionally, of course, there’s plenty of special, visual, computer-generated, sound, matte and digital effects, and these, too, remain at a consistently high level of quality throughout the film. Among the many impressive special effects presented by the usual huge army of effects artists is an effective, believable and well-crafted bit of high-tech specialized effects work in the opening scenes in which the faces of Ford and fellow lead actor Mads Mikkelsen are digitally altered into younger versions of themselves. This particular technology, and its on-screen results, work, and they work much better here than they have in several previous films in which similar techniques were used. The presentation of Ford’s and Mikkelsen’s younger versions of their characters is always believable.

If all of this–the action sequences, production design, special effects and on-site, overseas location shooting–sounds expensive, that’s because “Destiny” was expensive. The film has an estimated production budget of $295 million, according to Variety.

The interesting story that Mangold, the Butterworths and Koepp conjured up for “Destiny” is based, loosely and creatively of course, on two real-life aspects. “Destiny” sees Indy and his goddaughter, Helena Shaw, the daughter of one of Indy’s former fellow treasure hunter colleagues, Basil Shaw, race around the globe in a desperate, time-driven, frantic search for the three intentionally-separated pieces of the fabled Antikythera device, or Archimedes dial. Now, in real life, this device, said to have been created by Archimedes, was believed to be an astronomical mechanism designed to mathematically and scientifically predict certain astronomical occurrences. In the movie, it’s an incredibly powerful and powerfully dangerous supernatural device that, when all three pieces are assembled together, can find evil-scary, perilous fissures in time and space.

And in “Destiny,” lead bad guy villain Jurgen Voller, played to Jones- and Bond-style antagonist perfection by Mikkelsen, is a former Nazi murdering monstrous monster monstrosity who, after World War II, is brought to the United States to work on modern-day scientific projects relating to the space program, the space age and the Cold War space race. That character outline is based on the United States’ federal government’s horrific, astonishingly-embarrassing real-life top-secret intelligence program known as Operation Paperclip, in which the federal government actually brought former Nazi war criminal monsters to the U.S. of A. to actually work on scientific projects after World War II. The problem with this horrendous clandestine project is that all of those Nazi murderers should have instead been charged, arrested and locked away.

So those real-life events provide the impetus for “Destiny’s” storyline. Jones and Helena, aided here and there around the globe by various Indy cohorts and comrades in treasures, search quickly for the three pieces of the Antikythera dial of destiny before Voller and his scary psycho thugs can get to them. Voller wants the dial so he can alter history, for the absolute worst reasons, and it’s up to Indy, Helena, their friends and Helena’s Short Round-like friend Teddy Kumar to stop them.

Along the way, the writers and Mangold make sure there’s a few moments in the story and the movie to acknowledge not only the passing of time for Indy and for others, but to also note the concurrent very real dangers of messing with the delicate balances of time and space in the universe. There are plenty of lessons about life and love and family and nature and relationships and the ever-present ticking of the time-life clock for all of us, no matter our chronological age, and these lessons resonate well on an intelligent level without ever dragging down the overall exuberant, action-adventure mood, style and atmosphere of the film.

“Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny,” like all of the Indiana Jones movies, does indeed take the time, even if it’s brief, to present some important messages, morals, themes and lessons. One prominent message is the basic lesson of good triumphing over evil, and if it’s a lesson about good people defeating the evils of Nazis, fascism, hate mongering and racism, as it is here and in previous Indy movies, then it’s always a welcome message.

And, while we’re at it, there needs to be more movies and documentaries that delve into the inherent hypocrisy and stupidity of Operation Paperclip. The United States should never have employed Nazi war criminals for any science projects.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge performs strongly as Helena, providing a bit of gruff, independent, rogue and rebellious individualism that perfectly plays and bounces and ricochets off of Indy. Kumar is funny and strongly supportive as Teddy. Antonio Banderas delivers a strong, but brief, performance as Indy friend and cohort Renaldo. And the rest of the supporting cast delivers strongly, too. Everyone appears to be having the times of their lives, and, well, they assuredly most likely were enjoying themselves. Who wouldn’t enjoy being in an Indiana Jones movie?!

And, wonderfully, the always-excellent and always-welcome John Rhys-Davies, 79, makes an excellent and welcome, but brief, appearance as Indy’s longtime friend Sallah. This lovable character previously appeared to help Indy in “Raiders” and “Crusade.” It’s nice to see Sallah once again join forces with his old friend Indiana Jones.

Ford and Mikkelsen, as previously noted, excel in their respective roles. When the characters meet first in 1944 and the again, years later, in 1969, you can feel the tension and the animosity. Ford plays the classic good guy as well as Mikkelsen plays the classic bad guy.

The movie’s still-brilliant musical score is composed on the usual grand eloquent and powerful scale and scales by the great composer John Williams, 91. Besides the welcome, familiar Indiana Jones theme, Williams yet again supports his general theme with a score that perfectly fits every scene’s respective mood. Williams delivers a great musical score for the film.

It’s interesting to note that Williams has been working with Spielberg on film scores since 1974–for forty-nine years. And Williams has been working with Lucas on film scores since 1977–for forty-six years.

Spielberg, Lucas and Ford have indicated that “Destiny” will likely be the last Indiana Jones movie. And that’s fine–not because we don’t like them and not because they’re bad movies, but it’s fine because sometimes, well, it’s just time. Time and time again, too many folks in all walks of life, but especially in entertainment, can’t seem to recognize when it’s time to quietly, elegantly and stylishly exit stage or screen left or right, and leave the set one last time. For once in show biz, the creative forces behind these great Indiana Jones films have recognized the right time to quietly, elegantly and stylishly say farewell.

As “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” enjoyably and satisfyingly reaches one of the most moving, emotional, uplifting, gratifying and happy third-act conclusions for any action-adventure film, or for most films in general, that feeling of happy closure fills the movie, the movie theater, movie history and moviegoers’ hearts, minds and souls. Here, then, at the end of all things Indiana Jones, it is indeed the years and the mileage that we celebrate, and one can only think, we’re so grateful and happy for all of the fortune and glory that these wonderfully entertaining movies have brought to so many people for so many damn good years.

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Matt Neufeld

Matt Neufeld

Matt Neufeld is a longtime journalist, actor and film critic in the Washington and Baltimore areas. He has participated in many local film events and projects in the region, and he has appeared as an actor, supporting actor and extra in more than 45 films projects, at all levels, during the past 20 years.