I am a lifelong fan of the Indiana Jones series. When I was in 2nd grade, I remember being embarrassed at the beginning of the year's get-to-know-you sheet, because I didn’t want the rest of my classmates to know that my favorite movie was Temple of Doom, a PG-13 movie (even though it’s actually rated PG, but we won’t get into that drama right now). I have both Raiders of the Lost Ark and Temple of Doom almost entirely memorized, and when Crystal Skull came out when I was 7, already being an Indy connoisseur, I was sorely disappointed. All that background is just to share the perspective I am coming from as someone who has just gone to see Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.
I’ll start off by saying the movie isn’t bad. It is certainly a fun adventure with a suitably grand scheme for the series. But much of the time, I didn’t feel like I was watching an Indy movie. Even Crystal Skull felt more like an Indiana Jones movie than Dial of Destiny. Something about the style of the action, and the sorts of battles that are fought and the adventuresome moments that are had, didn’t feel true to the Indiana Jones series I’ve lived and breathed my whole life. It felt more like The Jungle Cruise, an Indy-adjacent film that has a more simplistic and somewhat cartoonish approach to its action. Now, I greatly enjoyed Jungle Cruise, but in my opinion an Indiana Jones movie shouldn’t feel like it’s emulating Indiana Jones - it should be Indiana Jones. After re-watching the four others just before going to see the fifth, I can attest that Dial of Destiny is the only one that sticks out when it comes to that.
That said, the opening sequence with de-aged Harrison Ford felt much more true to the rest of the series, and it is great fun! The other scene that felt in-line with the way Indy is supposed to feel is the one on the little motor-trolleys in Tangier. Everything else felt much more generic than we’re typically treated to in the classic Indy movies.
Harrison Ford of course reprised his role as the swashbuckling archeologist for the last time. No one will ever be able to replace him as Indy, and anyone who’s loved these movies wouldn’t want anybody to try. Indy only ever lived through Mr. Ford. We owe him a huge debt of gratitude for all he’s given this character over the many years. But it has been a long, long time for him. I noticed when re-watching Crystal Skull that something about the way he played Indy had changed during the 20-year break he’d taken from the character. It isn’t out of character or a bad performance, it’s that Indy himself has changed. The way Indy is played in Dial of Destiny matches up with that performance, rather than the way Indy was in the original movies.
I suppose it makes sense. No one can remain exactly the same as they continue marching along the weary path of life. The end of the movie also brought an interesting turn in Indy’s character that I didn’t expect (though it does also make sense in its own way). For spoilers’ sake I won’t mention what it is, but I’ll leave it up to you to decide if you think it was a good place for them to go with him or not.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge (“Crashing”, “Fleabag”) gives a great performance in her own right, but her character, Helena Shaw, isn’t at all what I was expecting based on what I’d heard. Helena also took an interesting turn right at the end, at the same moment as Indy. I don’t feel like I can speak very much about her without giving too much away, but she’s not up there with my favorite Indy sidekicks. She is certainly a vast improvement from Elsa, but she is no Shorty or Marion.
Speaking of not living up to Short Round, Ethann Isidore (Au Revoir, Tom Selleck”, “Sam”) who plays Teddy also didn’t have a bad performance, but the script just didn’t give him nearly enough to do. The movie would have been almost exactly the same if Teddy hadn’t been there, which is never a good sign about a character. The way his and Helena’s relationship mirrored Indy and Shorty’s is fantastic, if only Indy had ever mentioned it! Or if only Indy had mentioned Shorty at all, for that matter.
Every other character who’s ever been in Indy’s family made some sort of appearance or had a reference made to them, except for poor Shorty. Although as a Temple of Doom superfan, the parallels between Teddy and Shorty were clear, which is I guess the intended reference to Shorty. I only wish Indy had actually said anything about it.
Mads Mikkelsen’s (“Hannibal”, “Dr. Strange”) Jurgen Voller, our villain and of course our Nazi of the movie, had a more interesting motivation than I expected, though it isn’t revealed until right at the end of the film. Other than that, he doesn’t stand out among Indy villains, although in my opinion no Indy villain stands out compared to Belloq. The series was never able to top (or even come close to) their original adversary. Voller is, however, probably more interesting to watch than any of the others besides Belloq.
On the subject of villains, there is another baffling case of “the movie literally wouldn’t change at all if this character had never been in it.” Shaunette Renee Wilson’s (“Black Panther”, “Billions”) character, Agent Mason, accomplishes exactly nothing in the story. Once again, a great performance from a great actress, but a head-scratching performance from the screenwriters. If they were going to include this character, why not have her do something? Anything? But Shaunette Renee Wilson does a lot with the little she is given, and her time on-screen is very enjoyable to watch, even if it doesn’t progress the story or the action at all.
Boyd Holbrook (“Logan”, “In the Shadow of the Moon”) as Voller’s main goon, Klaber, also gave an excellent performance, though at first his character is just a little bit too cartoonishly evil, even for Indy. He’s toned down to more of a standard villain sidekick in the movie’s second half.
Seeing Anotonio Banderas (“Puss In Boots”, “Shrek”, “Spy Kids”) in an Indy movie is SO much fun. He played Renaldo, an old friend of Indy’s they meet partway through the story. Though his screen time is minimal, he brought his standard level of vibrant life to a character even as small as this one.
The cameos from previous Indy characters I found to be somewhat disappointing, as did most who watched this film. Still, it’s always nice to see a familiar face. John Rhys-Davies and Karen Allen played their characters as well as they ever have, but it is sad that neither of them got more time on screen. It would have been more than fitting for Indy’s partners from his first adventure to be the ones by his side on his last. This unfortunately isn’t the case, though Sallah’s introduction into this film is incredibly delightful.
Surprisingly, this Indy movie didn’t have one death that was particularly gory and horrifying, or even anything gory and horrifying. There is a minimal amount of violence on-screen compared to previous installments. I can’t remember a single instance of noticing that a character death had happened, even among the nameless faceless bad guys. So if your kids have seen any of the previous Indy movies, they’ll absolutely be fine to go see this one. If not, I wouldn’t recommend starting anyone with the final movie in the series, but it is up to you. Nonetheless, if you’re worried about its violence level based on the other movies in the series, I guarantee you it won’t be a problem.
All-in-all, I would say that although it wouldn’t be a waste of time to go see this movie (if you’re an Indy fan that is- Harrison Ford wasn’t wrong when he said this has a more satisfying ending than Crystal Skull left us with) you could easily skip it. It’s quite a fun, high-paced romp regardless, so if you enjoy that kind of thing and you have free time this summer (or Fall), definitely go ahead and enjoy!
It’s a sad day to see Indiana Jones hang up his hat for good. This movie played on a lot of themes of the past vs the future, and as we move on and say goodbye to our beloved Dr. Jones, I hope the future has something just as great in store for us someday. But not from this franchise, because Indy is finally taking his well-deserved rest.