Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is a fitting end to a multi-decade adventure!

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is a fitting end to a multi-decade adventure!

James Mangold is not Steven Spielberg, and even though the latter is synonymous with the Indiana Jones franchise, the former has done a bang-up job of capturing its tone for the final entry, while also injecting it with his own distinct style. Most notably, Mangold has invoked his Ford v Ferrari chops in generating the exciting action for which the franchise has become known. Here, in what is promised to be the final outing of everyone’s favorite whip-wielding adventurer, we find a wealth of vehicular action, which allows for high-octane thrills without the need for a team of obvious stunt performers standing in for Harrison Ford and his glass skeleton. This ain’t to say that America’s favorite lovable grump is in poor shape. In fact, he exhibits a glow and an energy that could put most men thirty years his junior to shame. Yep, Indiana Jones is an octogenarian, and if you thought he was too old for adventures back in his Crystal Skull days, don’t fret. He doesn’t appear to have aged a day since.

The franchise, however, has aged quite a bit, but such a statement is not meant to be an insult. In fact, despite canonically occurring long before whatever year each entry was released, few franchises have been able to adapt to the style and filmmaking technology of their time with such chameleonic ease. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny looks like a 2023 movie, for better or for worse, but it’s undeniably an Indy movie. Assertions that this is “fan fiction” can be ignored — it’s all meant to play like a serial, is it not? The fact of the matter is that Indiana Jones is not something that really can end, even if this is indeed the final entry. In fact, the notion that all of us are eventually doomed to fade into line behind a new generation is precisely what this movie is about. If Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was designed to give Dr. Henry Jones a happy ending, complete with a wife, a kid, and proof that there are other universes than ours, Dial of Destiny is here to remind Indy, and us, that happy endings are a myth, nothing ever ends, and everything, no matter how lovely it may be now, will one day become the very same ancient history that Jones has spent his life chasing. Happiness is not an endpoint, but a state of being that must be worked toward at all times. Living in the past is a great way to obtain information and inform decisions, but one must always live in the moment. As Indy said to a perplexed student in Crystal Skull: If you want to be a good archaeologist, you gotta get out of the library.

The film opens during WWII (yes, that means Nazis), and it features a younger Indy getting into a scrape alongside his buddy Basil Shaw (a perfectly cast Toby Jones). There’s a train, a noose, and a whole lotta running and jumping as this scrappy duo works to rescue the titular dial from the hands of Dr. Voller (Mads Mikkelsen, who was surely designed in a lab to play an Indy villain). The de-aging on Ford is the best use of this odd technology yet, owing largely to the massive amounts of footage of his face that exists in the vaults of Hollywood (surely guarded by top men). We’re still not fully there, nor do I expect we’ll ever be, but we’re close.

I was admittedly concerned about how the film looked based on the opening mini-caper. One moment of rubbery CGI stuntmen aside, it’s all staged brilliantly, but it’s dark. Partially, I’m sure, to hide the seams on the de-aging, but mostly because this press screening was at AMC, where good projection is limited to the premium theaters (and even then…). In this particular instance, the projector had a dim bulb and a regular flicker that was markedly distracting for the entire film. It’s a credit to the artists who made the film that I was ultimately able to tune out this increasingly common exhibition problem that would’ve had me asking for a refund had it not been a press event. As such, I don’t feel comfortable making too heavy a judgment on the opening sequence since it would be based on a considerably suboptimal experience.

Luckily for those of us in attendance, the rest of the film happens in daylight, and the action looks wonderful.

The plot is vintage Indy: a lot of people want the legendary Archimedes Dial, an artifact that has the power to “change the course of history.” Dr. Voller, now a NASA scientist, wants it for his own nefarious ends, while Helena “Wombat” Shaw (Phoebe Waller-Bridge — incredible!), Basil’s daughter and Indy’s goddaughter, seeks the dial to close the book on the very item that drove her father mad. She figures Indy, having been the last man to see the dial, can help her find it. And who knows? Maybe it’ll be good for Indy to have one last ride. He’s retired from teaching, his divorce is pending, and his son is dead (yes, this is the second franchise to unceremoniously kill off Shia LaBeouf between movies). What’s a few new body aches on top of his already large collection?

Ford gives more than he owes, bringing Jones to life one last time. As a failed husband, a failed father (as he sees it) whose legacy is fading with the rapid onset of the 1960s, Jones is forced to reconcile the transient nature of all things. Fatherhood ostensibly had Indy trading any illusions that he was the main character in his own life for the joys and responsibilities of family, but now that said family is gone, the great Indiana Jones is just some dude. The biggest hurdle this movie has to jump — why doesn’t Indy just stay home? — is explained through this thematic angle. The script has Indy playing father to Helena, herself perfectly reminiscent of Temple of Doom-era Indy. She even has her own Short Round in the form of Teddy (Ethann Isidore, ably filling big shoes), a petty thief with a heart of gold. The trio has a fantastic dynamic that allows for big action (in which Indy can take a back seat), and clever thematics that comment on our hero fading into a supporting role. This isn’t to say that he’s a secondary character, nor that he’s sidelined in his own movie, just that he’s now in the brains/wisdom role that Henry Jones Sr. populated in Crusade. If this transition was a bit undercooked in Crystal Skull, it’s finished here in Destiny.

Don’t worry, the good Dr. Jones can still deliver (and take) a solid punch!

There’s plenty of comedy, wordplay, and one-liners punctuating the action/jet-setting, as is to be expected, and there’s no shortage of effective character drama either. In fact, of all the series standards that Dial of Destiny attempts (and mostly succeeds) in incorporating, it’s the pacing. Every action sequence has its own multi-act structure. Every act has a perfectly fluid shifting of tones. For every dramatic moment there’s a cutesy punchline to let some air out, and for every comedic moment there’s a dramatic counterbalance. Mangold got many things right, and this is perhaps what he got most right.

This isn’t to say that the film couldn’t be pared down, here and there. At just over two-and-a-half hours, Dial of Destiny is the longest film in the series by a considerable margin. Yes, blockbusters tend to all be quite lengthy these days, to mixed effect, but it does feel a bit excessive. I’m no prude who wishes to receive less Indiana Jones than the powers that be want to give, but there are some shaggy ends that could easily be clipped. No, there’s no single scene that could be excised outright, but an overall trim could eliminate 20 unneeded minutes. Regardless of the length, it all leads to one of the biggest conceptual swings in any of the five films — one which literalizes the overall thematic material in a huge, show-stopping way. Many will hate it, but it’s exactly the type of imagination for which these movies have become known.

At the end of the day (or the era), time spent with Indy is quality time indeed, and here in 2023, over four decades since he first appeared on screen, that time has come to an end. This is his last adventure, and what an adventure it is! A fitting, touching end to an American institution.

Directed by James Mangold

Written by Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, David Koepp, James Mangold, George Lucas, Philip Kaufman

Starring Harrison Ford, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Shaunette Renee Wilson, Boyd Holbrook

Rated PG-13, 154 minutes

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