Reviews of Films I haven’t Seen: Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is (I pray) the fifth and final installment in the Indiana Jones series of films, which launched in 1981 with the mega-blockbuster Raiders of the Lost Ark. It features an 81-year-old Harrison Ford reprising his role as the daredevil archaeologist (is there any other kind?) as he battles Nazis to pry loose a priceless, magic dial that can turn back the clock of time and enable the holder to change history. Meaning… if the Nazis can get a hold of it, they can change the outcome of World War II.

Indy’s nemesis is Jürgen Voller, a former Nazi who works for NASA, who is played by the Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen (because for Amurrican audiences, a Dane is a German is a gaddamned foreigner). Assisting him in this is his goddaughter, played by Phoebe Mary Waller-Bridge, a British actress. This makes sense because Indy’s father was Sean Connery, so there’s an English connection there somewhere. And maybe it has something to do with UK tax subsidies for film production? Just takin’ a wild guess here…

The movie looks like a lot of fun. There’s action and suspense aplenty—lots of Indy socking it to the bad guys, as an 81-year-old is wont to do. Well, a lot of the action seems to be a flashback, so it’s a younger Indy who’s doing the socking.

Thrills and chills aside, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny does make you wonder who thought this film would be a good idea. Who did the studio imagine to be the audience? The last Indiana Jones movie, The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, came out 15 years ago. Today’s young audience was in nursery school, or not even born, when it came out.

As for people my age, who don’t go to the movies much anymore, the original film came out when we were in high school. It was awesome, one of the best movies I’d ever seen, but that was four decades ago. If you’d told me, in 1981, that I might want to watch a sequel to a movie made in 1939, the same time difference as we have here, I’d have thought you were out of your mind.

The plot of the movie might provide a clue. It’s this magic dial that can turn back time. But, it’s not Indy who needs it. It’s the studio. They desperately want a device that turns back the clock to a better time to be in the movie business: a time when you rolled honest-to-God Kodak color negative film through a Panavision camera, cut it up, ran some prints and voila, you’ve got, as Variety might say, “Boffo Box Office!” Take us back to a time when people went to the movies on Friday nights without having too many entertainment alternatives. No CGI. No AI. No comic book heroes. No social media campaigns.

Another clue is the soundtrack to the trailer, the great, but ancient Rolling Stones song “Sympathy for the Devil.” Really? You’re promoting a 2023 movie with a song that came out in 1968? Will the audience even recognize it?

The box office, alas, has not been so “boffo.” It’s grossed over $400 million, which sounds good, but that’s a breakeven at best for a film of this scope. This underscores the mismatch between the studio’s vision of the film and audience’s appetite for it.

And, can the studios stop torturing poor Harrison Ford? He’s one of our great movie stars. People still love him, but he’s an octogenarian. He needs his rest. The movie brought to mind a great Onion piece called “Harrison Ford Begs Agents to Just Let Him Die Now.” The whole thing reminds me of Jack Palance doing pushups at the Oscars. I still got it! We know! You’re great! But please, don’t hurt yourself.

Finally, can we talk for a moment about the heroic struggle against Nazis in World War II? It’s an admirable plot device, but there are at least two problems with it. For one thing, today’s youth audience in all likelihood has little understanding of what that war was about, or if that war even took place. Plus, in Trump’s America, is it so bad to be a Nazi? We’ve certainly got plenty of proudly self-identified Nazis running around in the open promoting their preferred candidate for president. Perhaps Indy’s triumphant victory over these eternal bad guys didn’t take. Maybe he should be going on a Nazi hunt in West Virginia.