Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023) – Film review by Andrea Carnevali

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny    ⭐- Review by Andrea Carnevali

Archaeologist Indiana Jones races against time to retrieve a legendary artefact that can change the course of history. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is out in cinemas now.

Where do I even begin to try to collect all the thoughts I have for this film and write them down in a way that can be objective, honest, truthful and detached?

To put it all into context, I was nine when I was first saw Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981. (You do the maths, yes, I am that old).

It was a film like nothing I had seen before and, arguably, like nothing I will ever see again. It became the action-adventure template, often copied but never really matched.

It pretty much changed my life, installed in me that huge passion I have for movies and film-making in general and set me off a course that would eventually make me become a film-maker myself.

In a way Dial of Destiny, is the end of a saga that began 42 years ago. With all that in mind, take this review with a pinch of salt, because it clearly comes from somebody who has a deep affection for these types of films, for this character and his stories.I would never trash it, but at the same time, because of what it means to me, I can be very demanding too. Indy deserves good films.

Yes, the previous outing, The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, left a little bit of a sour taste in my mouth. I hated the fact that there were aliens involved, that the film had to resort to so much CGI and that it somehow felt slightly cold, almost as if Spielberg didn’t quite love the character as much as I still do.

But there were still things I enjoyed: some good set pieces, the humour and most of all Harrison Ford himself, who by then wasn’t just playing Indiana Jones to perfection, but he WAS Indiana Jones and, whatever the age, he was still able to pull it off.

Fast forward another 15 years, to this latest adventure, and I’m glad to report that despite Ford being 79 years old (!!!), there wasn’t a single moment in which I felt he was too old to play this part and he should just stop.

In fact quite the opposite. By the time the film ended I was ready for another adventure, something he repeatedly said would never do again.

He is clearly the best thing in the film. Whether old, or de-aged as young (an incredible achievement, which to me looked pretty perfect, more on this later), whether wearing his trademark fedora, using his whip, or even shirtless, whether looking indefatigable, or beaten up by the years (and his foes), Harrison Ford is the heart and soul of this film.

He hasn’t lost any of that charm and charisma and twinkle in the eye, which made him the star he is. He IS really the film and the one who makes it all work.

That is not to say that the rest of the cast is not up to the task: Mads Mikkelsen plays the perfect (and terrifying) baddie, with Boyd Holbrook and the huge Olivier Richters as the two ferocious henchmen.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge (from “Fleabag” fame) is a great addition to cast and her chemistry with Harrison Ford is palpable. Whether I would like to see a whole film about her, I’m not so sure, but together with the young Ethann Isidore, they share some of the action and take some of the beatings too, subtly disguising the fact that Harrison is now 79 years old and cannot possibly do it all alone.

Overall, The Dial of Destiny is not only perfectly pitched for him at his age, but is also very cleverly done too, as it integrates action set-pieces around the plot, which don’t actually require him to do difficult and physical stunts.

I won’t go into spoilers at this stage, but we’ve all seen glimpses of him riding a tuk-tuk or a horse in the trailer, so I guess you can figure out what I am talking about.

I’ve only just seen the film and as expected I was so overwhelmed by emotions at every single stage, that I will have to watch it again to truly being able to talk about it with some distance, but the spontaneous applause at the end of my screening  reflected the general mood from the public, as well as mine.

There was almost a sigh of relief from everyone. It felt as if you could hear them saying “Thank God, actually, this is not the car crash those critics in Cannes had led us to believe”…

It isn’t of course on the level of the original three, but to be honest hardly anything is, so that’s hardly surprising. But the good thing is, it isn’t as clunky and mechanical as the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

I guess some people might take issue with where the film goes towards the last act (don’t worry, I won’t spoil it, even though it’s easy to guess), but let’s not forget, this is a sequel of films where ghosts come out a golden box and melt Nazi’s faces, where people have their hearts ripped out of their chests, and where a crusader is still alive after waiting for hundreds of years. So realism is never meant to be part of it.

I was actually OK with the concept of the story and the search for the titular Dial of Destiny feels absolutely right for an Indiana Jones film, much more than those awful translucent skulls ever did a few years ago.

The film does play a little trick in the first part where it seems to take the way of the “Last Crusade” for a moment, during the heavily publicised flashback sequence back in the ’30s where Harrison Ford, aided by some truly incredible de-age technology, plays himself looking like he did at the time of “Raiders”.

WOW! The things they can do today! It makes me want to have a whole film with him looking like that. Seeing him fighting the Nazi once again, looking as young as we remember him is quite something.

I won’t hide the fact that I even got goose bumps when I heard John William’s iconic tune coming up for the first time. And so did the rest of the audience: there were a couple of spontaneous cheers, which stood as testament of the enduring love people have for this franchise.

Of course it’s hard, if not impossible, to follow in Spielberg’s footsteps, especially when it comes to such an iconic franchise. Overall director James Mangold does a good job, updating elements of the series, while retaining the mood and style of the originals in order to stay true to spirit of the series.

There’s a clear sense of affection, not just for the character, but for what came before. You’ll find lots of call-backs to the previous films, in fact all four of them. The explanation about why Shia LaBeouf’s character is missing is the most surprising and possibly the most successful in terms of storytelling.

Mangold has a lot to prove here: he tries his best to keep the pace moving, as these films often require, but I have to say, at times I found myself a bit confused by the action. Some of the set-pieces became a bit too chaotic and more than once I got slightly lost within the actual geography of things (“What’s going on? Who is where?). A scene underwater was particularly murky…

I know Spielberg’s film-making well enough to say without a shadow of a doubt that he would certainly have staged the action differently, making everything a lot clearer and possibly adding more humour into it, something which I felt was mostly missing in this film.

Maybe some of this goes to explain why, only 12 hours after watching the film, I’m already struggling to remember the details of most of the set-pieces. Maybe because most of them, however entertaining and well made, felt a bit generic.

The type of action we’ve seen many times before (often in previous Indy film too!): running on top of a train (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade), insects in a cave (Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom), falling off a plane (endless films, but recently Uncharted), a chase on a tuk tuk (Octopussy) and so on.

Some of them felt even a bit inconsequential, like the above-mentioned bug scene, or the moment where Indy steals a FIAT 500, which you think would like to hilarious consequences, but actually is then dropped straight away.
Not to mention the last action set-piece which was probably the most underwhelming in terms of its execution (and also wrapped up a bit to quickly).

And talking about slightly pointless moments, however much I adore actor John Rhys-Davies, having him here playing Sallah again really goes nowhere and feels more like fan-serving than anything, and as for Antonio Banderas, his character is probably the one who suffered most in what must have been some real surgery in keeping the film under three hours.

Still at two hours and 34 minutes, there is no denying that the film is still long, but if you ask me, I would have watched another two hours anyway, so I am probably the worst judge for that.

However what does work very well here are some of the more emotional moments in the film, courtesy of Harrison Ford giving it his best. I’ve got to be honest, I watched the last few minutes through teary eyes.

In the end, while this is clearly not the perfect film by a long mile and it’s a rather superfluous entry in the Indy canon, whose only purpose seems to be to redeem the character after the previous entry, it is still a very watchable ride.

Fans of the series, and adventure films in general, will certainly find a lot to enjoy and hopefully will leave wanting more. I certainly did and so did my son who was jumping up and down the chair next to me, excited like I was at his age when I saw the first film.

Watching this one with him was particularly meaningful to me and made the whole experience even more worthwhile (hence my four stars.. . even though it probably deserves three and a half. It’s Indy after all).

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is out in cinemas now.

Andrea Carnevali is a Bafta winning film maker who lives in Chiswick, and a co-creator of the Chiswick In Film festival.