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Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

(2023) **** Pg-13
154 min. Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. Director: James Mangold. Cast: Harrison Ford, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Mads Mikkelsen, Toby Jones, Boyd Holbrook, John Rhys Davies, Antonio Banderas, Ethann Isidore.


[Spoiler-free review:] "Eureka," a character exclaims at a pivotal moment of Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. The word, legendarily attributed to Archimedes, of course means "I have found it," and sure enough director James Mangold has. Given the high degree of difficulty involved in crafting this fifth and final chapter of the Indiana Jones franchise—with a 79-year-old action star and against the sky-high expectations set by having to follow in the footsteps of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg—Mangold has practically worked a miracle: an experience that delivers everything a fan should want from an Indiana Jones movie.

Like every franchise entry since Raiders of the Lost Ark introduced the character dreamed up by George Lucas & Philip Kaufman, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny hinges on a supernatural MacGuffin, in this case the Antikythera, or Archimedes' Dial. According to Mads Mikkelsen's villain—a NASA-employed ex-Nazi rocket scientist named Jürgen Voller—the dial confers its owner with the power of God (sound familiar?); Indy's scientist friend Basil Shaw (Toby Jones) agrees, insisting that the dial allows for nothing less than time travel. Shaw's whip-smart, mercenary, horny daughter Helena (the prodigious talent of Fleabag, Phoebe Waller-Bridge) sees dollar signs in the Dial, disappointing her godfather: archeology professor and sometime adventurer Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford). Helena, by the by, has a childhood nickname befitting Waller-Bridge's quirky sense of humor: "Wombat." There are solid henchman: Boyd Holbrook's smarmy Klaber and hulking Dutch bodybuilder Olivier Richters, filling in for Pat Roach, of the original three films. Plus, we get a likeable variation on Short Round in teenage Teddy Kumar (Ethann Isidore). The casting, all around: impeccable. 

As you may have read, Dial of Destiny received lukewarm notices out of its Cannes premiere (probably a bad idea), sending expectations south. Imagine my surprise, then. How does Indy 5 stack up to its predecessors? It's a damn sight better than Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, has zero of the cultural cringe factor of the otherwise magnificent adventure Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, less humor and family drama than Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and less assurance than Raiders of the Lost Ark, but it can hang with Raiders (to which the new film is closest in tone) and Last Crusade in terms of slam-bang action. Sure, there's no action scene here so elaborately designed or indelible as the opening sequences of Raiders, Temple of Doom or Last Crusade, or Doom's mine-car ride and rope-bridge finale, but the slightly more grounded action scenes here entertain plenty. Dial of Destiny's climax delivers the requisite wonder of the opening of the Ark of the Covenant with a device no more loony than an ancient knight and worlds more satisfying than the appearance of interdimensional beings. Better yet, this fantastical science-fiction climax provides opportunities to explore the depths of its leading characters.

Unlike the passable but disappointing Crystal Skull, which grew increasingly synthetic by the minute, Dial of Destiny always proves tasteful (perhaps somewhat to a fault). It's delightfully old-fashioned in spite of the state-of-the-art wizardry employed to accomplish that, with surprisingly good CGI (no the de-aging isn't perfect, and yes, there's some telltale blur to some of the action, but there's only one terrible CGI element, and it lasts for three seconds: a digital-double Indy, viewed from a distance, weightlessly running across the top of a train). As co-scripted by Mangold, playwright Jez Butterworth, his brother John-Henry Butterworth, and franchise vet David Koepp, it's also a smart movie, in how its conception rounds off the franchise while devising clever puzzles and "spoon-feeding" us a few dollops of real history. Plus, Mangold and cinematographer Phedon Papamichael give the film an inviting, period-evocative look, and can we all give a standing ovation to John Williams, who serves up another classic adventure score at age 90?

The naysayers are too much in their heads, seeming to fundamentally forget what Indiana Jones movies do, why they do them, and why they've endured. This movie is just a series of chases, they say! Oh so, unlike all the other Indiana Jones movies? And despite being pacy (unlike some, I wasn't bored for a second), the movie stops for several character-building conversations between Indy and Helena, who at one point asks him where he, an archeologist with a lifelong history obsession, would go if he had a time machine. That's an interesting question, isn't it? And the answer may surprise you. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is a series of chases, but Jones is also chasing life just as he goes over the brink of retirement, chasing healing, chasing love, chasing eternity. In my book, that's plenty interesting while also fulfilling the necessities of a franchise picture. What would a Bond film be without scenes in which James Bond gets laid, defies death, travels the globe, and says, "Bond. James Bond"? And what would an Indiana Jones movie be without creepy-crawlies, antiquities and a tomb needing de-coding, and villains on the order of Nazis? Would anyone have stood for that?

Speaking of Bond, Indiana Jones has always been Lucas and Spielberg's homegrown American answer to England's national hero, but for one thing: there'll never be another Indiana Jones than Ford (the Dial of Destiny willing). Perhaps there'll be a "Wombat Shaw and the Pants of Mystery" one day, and I'd welcome the experiment, but a deeply committed Ford here gets a chance to wash the bad taste of Crystal Skull out of everyone's mouths, and he hasn't lost a step since 2008. In fact, he weirdly seems to have gained one, perhaps because the screenwriters and Mangold have devised action sequences credible for Ford's advanced age rather than ones that constantly beggar belief.

Not to put to fine a point on it, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (as screened at San Francisco's magnificent Metreon IMAX theater) gave this critic one of the most satisfying moviegoing experiences of his life—or as Helena describes it, "A final triumph...Indiana Jones, back in the saddle." Mangold's film burnishes the Indiana Jones legacy by crafting a fulfilling and moving finale for the character, with an ending that will give true fans the chills. Indy's latest and last magical mystery tour only provides fan service by being a great Indiana Jones movie, and I won't knock it for that (callbacks are few and organic). Even with Lucas and Spielberg stepping down to executive producer status, this movie truly, madly, deeply understands the character of Indiana Jones and the choices he'd make. Don't let anyone—film critic or otherwise—tell you this is anything less than a great Indiana Jones movie. Congratulations, Disney. I can't wait to get on this ride again.

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