To no one's surprise James Mangold - a man who has made solid films across multiple genres - does well to craft a loving and honorable homage to Steven Spielberg. There is no broader a canvas on which to paint to Spielbergian strengths than an Indiana Jones adventure and Mangold does his best to utilize Spielberg's trademark sentimentality along with his own brand of sturdy and assured filmmaking concurrently for the purposes of, if nothing else, ensuring Harrison Ford's titular character is given a properly satisfying farewell. Though Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny may not reach the heights of the first or third entries it's a far more enjoyable film than the second and a much more gratifying experience than the fourth which is to say this follows two stone-cold classics as the third best film in the franchise; nothing to scoff at, especially given the star of this action film made it as a seventy-nine year-old. 

It is to the point of Mr. Ford's age that Dial of Destiny (and yes, I do think there could have been a better subtitle for this movie even if I'm not yet sure what that is yet) finds its true meaning beyond the chase for the MacGuffin and besides the establishing of supporting players that might continue this franchise elsewhere should Disney decide to do so (they shouldn't). That is to say, said titular MacGuffin is very purposefully made an agent of time manipulation in order to construct a story around not only the pursuit of artifacts and the pedigree and recognition that may come with as much, but more to emphasize the inability to go back and alter our regrets or act differently given a longer perspective. After the flashback-based opening set piece we are introduced to an unhappy Dr. Jones in 1969, a man out of time who doesn't even pretend to understand where he fits into the modern world or how optimism continues to exist. Indiana Jones is not who he once was no matter how much we or he would like him to be and dealing with this harsh truth and tackling it head on is largely what gives this fifth film that comes to us some forty-two years after Ford first donned the fedora the endearing quality that delivers on both the genuine entertainment and sincere send-off it delivers.

Harrison Ford suits up for one final go-around as the famous archaeologist.
Photo by Jonathan Olley/Jonathan Olley / Lucasfilm Ltd. - © 2022 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

Does the film need to stretch past the two and half-hour mark to accomplish these results? Absolutely not and there are portions in the middle where I had to actively remind myself of both the current and overall objective as the film so breathlessly transitioned from one chase sequence to the next and with very little to differentiate one from another. Aside from a slightly muddled middle though, there is plenty to appreciate in Mangold’s film from the way in which it handles Indy’s life falling apart in the set-up, the large action sequence through the Apollo 11 astronaut ticker-tape parade in New York City, and the introduction of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Helena who is part stand-in for Mutt, but mostly a nice continuation of Karen Allen’s Marion in the tradition of strong, self-sufficient female characters that don’t take shit from anyone, including our hero. There is a deep sense of regret that permeates through the whole of the movie and more specifically in Ford’s (clearly committed and more fragile) performance lending each of the action set pieces a bit more heft. A diving sequence featuring Antonio Banderas is a nice change of pace and kind of sets the stage for the finale where the Helena character along with her Short Round AKA Teddy (Ethann Isidore) help make the third act a chain of events where the bar gets increasingly higher yet the execution is able to keep in step as Mangold and co. really land the plane (pun intended) on upping the stakes along with the more outlandish elements of the plot. Of course, Indiana Jones finales tend to always go for broke and Dial of Destiny is no different in that it both feels true to Indiana Jones conventions while also resolving the inner conflict of our protagonist and rounding out the themes quite nicely. 

The most important facet regarding Dial of Destiny is that it feels necessary in its finality. As much as a Kingdom of the Crystal Skull apologist as I am it’s not difficult to admit it would have been a slight bummer had that been the last time we saw Ford portray the character on screen and while, as stated earlier, Ford was closing in on eighty when he shot this film there is a liveliness to the execution even if there is a solemnity to the tone. One of the (surprisingly) weaker links in this movie is Mads Mikkelsen’s Dr. Voller, a Nazi turned NASA hired gun who is after the titular dial along with Helena. Aside from expecting more from a villain played by Mikkelsen, there seems to be an extra layer of commentary to access here about why Indiana Jones is always running up against Nazis and how, even as the times change, the intentions and existence of evil men do not. I’m not smart enough to assess the whole of what the screenplay might be attempting to say, but it feels there might have been a more effective way to communicate this concept especially when you have someone as magnetic as Boyd Holbrook playing a Mikkelsen lackey who is clearly devoted to Voller on a level that makes you question his commitment, but nothing more is developed or explored in that relationship or in these ideas. There are other knits to be picked, no doubt, but while Dial of Destiny may not reach the highest highs of the franchise that came before it’s aware of what it should make audiences feel and there is enough of that intrinsic DNA present alongside the growth and progression necessary for this final film to have successfully delivered both what fans wanted from the franchise as well as what it needed.

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