“Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” Just Can’t Handle the Future

The Walt Disney Company

In POPSUGAR’s series “In Our Queue,” we’re reviewing the buzziest new projects with a critical eye on what works – and what doesn’t. This week, Victoria Edel is breaking down “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.”

The “Indiana Jones” films have always been concerned with the past. That’s baked right into the premise; Harrison Ford‘s titular Indiana is an archaeologist, obsessed with finding treasures of civilizations long gone. But this June’s “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” starts by making us think about the future. It’s 1969, the Apollo 11 astronauts have just returned home from their mission to the moon, and Dr. Jones is feeling a bit like a relic.

The plot is a classic “old guy who has one last adventure” story, and Ford gives the movie his all. In “Dial of Destiny,” Ford crosses paths with another Nazi (named Jürgen Voller, aka Dr. Schmidt, and played by Mads Mikkelsen), and, as always, he has to stop the historic villain’s dastardly plans. Notably, Indiana is usually facing down a Nazi: Dr. Rene Belloq in “Raiders of the Lost Ark;” Ernst Vogel in “The Last Crusade.” But in coloring in Voller’s scheme this time around, the movie’s plot makes a fatal flaw: Looking backwards instead of forwards.

If Indiana Jones is supposed to be our most intrepid fighter of fascists, in his final film he should have kept his eyes open at home.

Voller, we learn, was hired by NASA to help the United States win the moon race. That characterization is actually based in history: the United States did hire German scientists who had worked for Adolf Hitler to help them make it to the moon. The most famous of these was Wernher von Braun, who had designed missiles for Hitler’s regime. The U.S. also ran Operation Paperclip, during which 1,600 German scientists, engineers, and technicians moved to the U.S. after the end of WWII. Most of these expatriates were former Nazis, or even Nazi party leaders. And in “Dial of Destiny,” the fictional Voller seemingly has support from the U.S. government to do basically anything he wants – as long as he doesn’t cause too much of a scene.

The movie literally sets up the idea that the U.S. government has been working with Nazis, fascists, and their sympathizers for years. That’s heavy stuff. Is America the next frontier for the Nazi vision? No. Instead, Voller, we learn, is looking backwards. He wants to return the Nazi party to the “glories” of the past by rewriting history. In this, “Dial of Destiny” misses a huge opportunity. It would be much more interesting (and timely – more on that) for the movie to keep the bad guys’ goal focused, right here, on American soil.

Instead, the movie asserts that Indiana is too old-fashioned, too nostalgic for the world he finds himself in, and then gives viewers the most retro plot possible. It doesn’t make any deep attempt to grapple with how the world has changed and what the real legacy of fascism and imperialism is. Sure, Phoebe Waller Bridge’s Helena Shaw (Indiana’s newly-introduced goddaughter) makes a crack here or there about archaeologists like Indy stealing artifacts from indigenous people, but otherwise Indiana’s world is basically unchanged.

If “Dial of Destiny” wants to use NASA as the vehicle to bring back a Nazi for a more classic Indiana Jones villain, that’s fine. But the film should grapple with what that really means. The start of the movie features a scene during which Indiana runs away from the Nazis in the middle of the Apollo 11 ticker tape parade (which really happened). The pomp and circumstance of the moment is contrasted with the ruthlessness of the Nazis, who, in the film, start killing people right in the streets of New York City. The patriotic display is literally celebrating that same Nazi, even if no one else knows it. Sending a man to the moon becomes a win for fascists. If Indiana Jones is supposed to be our most intrepid fighter of fascists, in his final film he should have kept his eyes open at home.

And while Indy is in 1969, viewers are, of course, watching from 2023. The threat of Nazis hasn’t waned, just evolved. Just this week, protestors carrying the Nazi flag gathered outside a synagogue in Georgia, USA Today reported. “Dial of Destiny”‘s Nazism is one-dimensional – but Nazism’s continued prevalence in the real world makes for the perfect (missed) opportunity to dive deep in Jones’s fictional one.

All this is not to say that the film isn’t largely enjoyable. Ford’s movie star power has not waned, and he imbues Indiana with all the humor, wit, and charisma he needs. With whip and hat in hand, even the most reluctant adventurers can’t help but want to join his journey. He and Waller Bridge are also well-matched and have good chemistry together as elder statesman and reckless young daredevil. John Williams’s score for the film is sumptuous, spirited, and beautiful.

But overall the film feels like a missed opportunity to really bring Indiana into his future (which is still our past) while giving him a worthy send-off.

“Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” is in theaters June 30.

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