The following story contains light spoilers for Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.
WHEN INDIANA Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was first released, back in 2008, there was no bigger rising star in Hollywood than Shia LaBeouf. Fresh off the release of Disturbia and Michael Bay’s first Transformers movie, LaBeouf was seen as Steven Spielberg’s hand-selected pick to be the industry’s next major star. And that was never more evident than in Crystal Skull, where LaBeouf showed up as a Marlon Brando-inspired greaser character named Mutt Williams.
Who the hell is Mutt Williams, you might ask? For anyone who hasn’t seen Crystal Skull in a while, or somehow hasn’t seen it at all in the 15 years since its release, here’s a quick recap: Mutt goes on an an adventure with Indy (Harrison Ford), who slowly-but-surely starts to like him, despite his try-hard attitude and slicked-back hair. Midway through the movie, the two encounter Indy’s old flame Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen, last seen in 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark), and she drops a major bombshell: Mutt is Indy and Marion’s son, and she just never told him until now.
Welp! The rest of Crystal Skull (
not nearly as bad of a movie as its reputation would have you believe) finds the three bonding as they continue on a typically-fun Indiana Jones adventure that involves aliens, alternate dimensions, and villains heads exploding. By the end of the film, Indy marries Marion and embraces Mutt as his son and, hey, who knows, possible successor. Mutt picks up Indy’s signature Fedora at the very end of the movie… but Indy takes it back before he could put it onto his hard noggin.
15 years later, and Indiana Jones is back for what will be his final big-screen adventure: Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. But there’s one major change—Indy is joined by a new sidekick, his goddaughter, Helena Shaw (Phoebe Waller-Bridge). And Mutt Williams is nowhere to be found.
What’s that all about? Well, as with most things, there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation.
Why isn’t Shia LaBeouf in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny?
The diplomatic answer is that director James Mangold simply wanted to go in a different direction. “I wanted to capture that wonderful energy between Indy and an intrepid female character,” he said in a red carpet interview with Variety. “So, that was my first goal, and there’s only so many people you can edge into a picture.”
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But, of course, there’s a lot more to it than that. In the 15 years since Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was released, there’s been lots of drama surrounding LaBeouf’s role within the movie (and his own personal life as well).
The movie received a polarized reception from both critics and fans, and the Mutt Williams character was particularly not liked. LaBeouf acknowledged the criticism of both himself and the movie at large in an interview with The Los Angeles Times in 2010. “I feel like I dropped the ball on the legacy that people loved and cherished,” he said. “Look, the movie could have been updated. There was a reason it wasn’t universally accepted.”
Ford responded to LaBeouf’s comments the following year in an interview with Details. “I think I told him he was a fucking idiot,” he said. “As an actor, I think it’s my obligation to support the film without making a complete ass of myself. Shia is ambitious, attentive, and talented—and he’s learning how to deal with a situation which is very unique and difficult.”
The very next year (lots of back and forth on this!), LaBeouf said that he deeply regretted his comments about the movie, and said that they wound up hurting his relationship with Spielberg—who helped him land his breakout roles in the first place. “He told me there’s a time to be a human being and have an opinion, and there’s a time to sell cars,” he told THR. “It brought me freedom, but it also killed my spirits, because this was a dude I looked up to like a sensei.”
In addition to all of this dialogue going on after the movie’s release, LaBeouf has also been in legal trouble the last few years. There’s not good press around his name, and it’s not surprising that Mangold, Spielberg, and Disney did not want him to be involved with their latest Indiana Jones outing.
How does Dial of Destiny explain Mutt Williams’ absence?
It’s said early on in the movie that Indiana Jones recently lost his son. This is elaborated on later in the movie, when Indy and Helena are discussing the potential power of the titular Dial of Destiny—to travel through time. Helena asks him what he would do with such a dial, and he doesn’t take long to come up with an answer. “Stop my son from enlisting,” he says solemnly.
Given that the movie takes place in 1969, we can figure out from here that in the time between the end of Crystal Skull and the start of Dial of Destiny, Mutt enlisted, and then was killed in action. Clearly, father and son never got quite on the same page after their alien encounter in the last film. “He signed up to piss me off,” he says.
The domino effect is then revealed: Marion held it against Indy that he wasn’t able to stop Mutt from enlisting, and following his death, put a splinter into their relationship. Early in the film, we see divorce papers on Indiana’s table in his home.
By the end of the movie, though, after one final swashbuckling Indiana Jones adventure—spoiler alert!—Indy and Marion are reunited, together once again, this time, we think, forever.