It can’t be as bad as The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. That’s what I was telling myself as I took my seat for an opening-night showing of Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny at my local movie theater. Granted, that’s a pretty low bar to clear, but after the film’s somewhat-middling early reviews, I wanted to keep my expectations firmly in check.
Welcome! This column is part of a new series where we aim to help you determine if the latest movies are worth seeing in theaters or if you should wait until they are available to stream in the comfort of your own home. This week, we're looking at Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.
Considering Dial of Destiny has been confirmed to be the iconic character’s last ride, many hopes are likely sky high for how our favorite whip-cracking archaeologist goes out.
Even with its so-far rather lukewarm reception, this is still a tentpole blockbuster that represents a very significant investment by Disney. So, many might be wondering if it's a movie that demands to be seen in theaters, or if you can safely wait until it's available to stream at home (likely on Disney Plus and/or Paramount Plus, as the previous chapters both currently stream on those services). And that's the question we're here to answer for you.
A strong start, a muddled middle and an awful ending
To its credit, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny starts wonderfully with a flashback to 1944 that sees a digitally-de-aged Harrison Ford as Indy in his prime. The sequence involves multiple historical McGuffins, German soldiers and a lengthy chase across a speeding train. It’s arguably one of the franchise’s most thrilling set pieces, and it had me practically grinning in my cinema seat.
Disappointingly, the movie never reaches that height again. Instead, it stumbles into a repetitive groove that sees Jones forced to work with his estranged goddaughter Helena Shaw (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) in order to locate the two halves of the titular dial. There’s plenty of action — including a well-choreographed tuk-tuk chase through the streets of Morocco — but the playful nature of the original trilogy has been lost somewhere along the way.
In fact, there’s a strange lack of joy throughout the entire proceedings. Considering this Indiana Jones movie, it’s frustrating that the globe-trotting adventure never feels like much fun. Indy treats the whole thing like a big annoyance and that quickly rubs off on you as a viewer. The Dial of Destiny is less of a pulp adventure and more of a joyless slog, especially in its saggy middle.
While the middle can be accused of being fairly muddled, I suspect the third act will be highly divisive. I don’t want to tread into spoilers here, but the movie takes a big risk, and it doesn’t pay off in my books. If you can go with the flow, you might find it just absurd enough to be sort of charming, but I’d argue it’s a leap too far in a series that has already tackled lava-strewn underground temples, face-melting religious arks and even telepathic extraterrestrials.
One for the Indy superfans
Perhaps it goes without saying, but as the fifth and final movie in a decades-old franchise, The Dial of Destiny is clearly for the superfans. Ford is not the only familiar face making a return here, and there are several sneaky references to Jones’ past big-screen adventures that observant fans will take great delight in spotting.
The film also serves as a bittersweet goodbye to the character of Indiana Jones. Harrison Ford has confirmed this is the last time he will don the fedora and wield the whip, and so Dial of Destiny may be a bit of an emotional affair for viewers who have grown very fond of the explorer over the years.
Watch in theaters or wait for streaming?
If you happen to fall into the superfan category, then I’m sure you don’t even need the above question answered, you likely already have your ticket booked. However, if you’re not quite as enamored with the world of Indiana Jones, you might want to pause before coughing up your hard-earned money for pricey movie theater tickets.
As a flagship blockbuster with a budget that reportedly ballooned to almost $300 Million USD, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny does offer plenty of cinematic spectacle that shines on the big screen. However, it’s lacking the fun factor of Indy’s previous outings, and it relies a little too much on nostalgia for the previous movies to the degree that it could alienate some fans who don’t know their Lost Ark from their Last Crusade.
The excellent introduction will potentially lose some of its excitement when watched on a smaller screen, but unless you’re a diehard enthusiast, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiney is definitely a movie that can wait for its streaming debut later in the year. We expect it on Disney Plus and/or Paramount Plus somewhere between late August to October, but that's just an estimate based on the normal window for streaming, though it could be a longer wait if the movie's a huge hit.