James Mangold gives Harrison Ford’s Indy the Send-off he Deserves
DIRECTED BY JAMES MANGOLD/2023
Don your fedora. Crack your whip. Harrison Ford is suiting up as Indiana Jones for one last ride. Taking over directorial duties from Steven Spielberg is James Mangold, who also shares writing credits for this swan song adventure. Spielberg and George Lucas step back from their creation and assume producer’s credits as Mangold tries to right the ship after the last entry, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull nuked the fridge 15 years ago, threatening to end the series on a low note. If returning, Harrison Ford wanted to ensure that Indy went out on a much better story, avoiding so much that went wrong with the fourth installment. In short, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is the grand finale that Indiana Jones deserves.
While Kingdom of the Crystal Skull tried to appropriately age Indy into the 1950’s, that story was too beholden to its time period rather than where Indy was as a person at that point and time. Since it was the 1950s, the film focused on all things 1950’s: Lucas got to shoe horn in a 1950’s style car race ala American Graffiti to start things off. Shia LaBeouf had to constantly be James Dean because…its the 1950s. That was also the decade for UFO and aliens, which returned Spielberg to his roots, but again… it was the 1950s. The 1950’s also had the infamous nuclear testing towns, so we got a nuking the fridge scene that was laughable when Indy just walks away from it all.
The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull didn’t embrace Indy aging beyond it being a punchline for LaBeouf’s character, and the finale of that entry didn’t require a test of Indiana’s knowledge and faith like Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Temple of Doom, and The Last Crusade did. There wasn’t much growth to Indiana Jones in that film. He was just sort of an old artifact checked out of the museum to appeal to our fondness for the character. I recently re-watched it in preparation for this film and found that while it wasn’t nearly as bad as I remember, it still wasn’t a satisfying conclusion to Indy’s story. It felt forced and uninspired. As a result, for the last fifteen years, Ford has longed to bring Indy back one last time to try and get it right. For the most part, they have, and for that I am grateful. He may be weathered, but this is at least the Indiana Jones I’ve grown up with.
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny begins in the classic age of Indiana Jones, during World War II as he faces down Nazis who are trying to obtain another religious artifact Hitler is obsessed with. In the process of pursuing this artifact, he, along with his partner Basil Shaw (Toby Jones), come across Dr. Voller (Mads Mikkelsen) who has found half of Archimedes’ Dial. Ford and Mikkelsen are de-aged in a process that looks very good on screen compared to recent attempts in other films. We are then brought into the modern timeline, where in 1969 after the moon landing, Jones is teaching his final class before retirement at a Chicago university. He is living alone having received divorce papers from Marion (Karen Allen) when his goddaughter, Helena Shaw (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) shows up looking for help to find both halves of Archimedes’ dial, sharing her late father, Basil’s, obsession for it, albeit for different reasons.
Soon, Indiana finds himself pulled into one last globe-trotting adventure that will bring back familiar faces like Sallah (John Rhys-Davies), and introduce a whole new set of others. Of course Dr. Voller will be front and center, having been bested by Indiana Jones during World War II. Helena has her own Short Round-type character following her around, a kid named Teddy (Ethann Isidore). We also meet an old friend of Indy’s named Renaldo, played by Antonio Banderas.
Mangold incorporates the most well known aspects of an Indiana Jones film into this entry while also embracing the fact that Indiana (and by extension Harrison Ford) is now an old man. It isn’t a joke or punchline, but a fact. This is a man who has led quite a life, seeing things no one else has had the chance to see. He doesn’t want to be just an artifact himself, but his life is falling apart and everything he knew is ending. Similar to what is (supposed to be) Wolverine’s last adventure in Logan, Mangold is good at finding the heart of a character to put them into a setting where, despite who they are at that point in their life, they fit as they are into the larger story, organically. We even get a reason for Shia LaBeouf’s character Mutt’s (the son of Indy and Marion) absence that serves the larger story. Indiana can still punch, reason, and ride, but he obviously isn’t the man he used to be. This time it’s not the mileage, it’s the years. That being said, I hope I can still do what Harrison Ford can do at 80. Indiana Jones is not your average pensioner.
Dial of Destiny is not Indiana Jones’ greatest adventure, but it is a solid one. I found it much better than The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and even better than The Temple of Doom (which gets some nice references in this film). It will never be on par with The Last Crusade, or the greatest Indy film, Raiders of the Lost Ark. It doesn’t need to be. It simply needs to be a fun adventure, furthering the legend that is Indiana Jones, and do so without making him a caricature of what he once was, as Crystal Skull veered towards. On these points, Dial of Destiny succeeds.
There is no nuking the fridge moment in Dial of Destiny. Everything in this film is as grounded as it can be. You do, of course, have to suspend some disbelief to allow for the more supernatural elements that exist in these films to work their magic and make the adventure Indy is on worth it, but that hasn’t ever been the issue. We just don’t want Tarzan moments of LeBeouf swinging through trees with monkeys, weird fire ants pulling people into ant piles, boats that land in trees which carry them safely to the river, and other such nonsense like the last entry.
As I’m not allowed to break the review embargo for Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part One at the time of this writing, I will say that when people have seen both Dial of Destiny and Dead Reckoning, they will feel that in many ways they have seen the same film. With Paramount involved with both films, I’m curious how it ended up with two large summer tentpole films that have beat-for-beat similarities in the action and plot points that play out. The context, timeline, and plot may be different, but man did I feel deja vu at moments, having seen these films on two consecutive nights. We will see if this gets noticed by others after both films have been released. I was able to still enjoy this film despite feeling like I had already seen great big portions of this film the night before, but it was a little surreal.
The main thing is that Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny delivers an appropriate grand finale that will allow Harrison Ford to hang up the fedora and bullwhip for good. No one else should ever play Indiana Jones again (unless its like Young Indiana Jones) as this is Harrison Ford’s signature character. Even more than Han Solo, I hate to say. Mangold and his fellow writers have given Ford the send off he deserves, and in a way that still honors what Lucas and Spielberg created nearly 50 years ago. How appropriate that John Williams is also along for the ride in his 90’s to bring another classical score to life. The sun may be setting for Indiana Jones, but Dial of Destiny proves Indiana Jones still has some adventure left in him after all.