Indiana Jones and The Dial of Destiny: A fitting conclusion to a cherished legacy
Cast him into a pit of serpents. Suspend him from a burning structure. Kick him out of the moving vehicle. Place him in the center of a massive group of Nazis. Professor Henry Jones, also known as our beloved fedora-wearing, sling bag-carrying, whip-wielding Indiana Jones, will find a way to save the day. Over the course of four decades, we have witnessed the creators of the Indiana Jones franchise rewrite film history, taking cinematic liberties, and adding new chapters to alternate history to ensure that the globe-trotting nerd-hero finds ways to save the world. This is what makes Indy an ancient superhero. Nothing mattered as long as the work was completed. Indy did not care about recognition so long as historically significant artifacts did not fall into the wrong hands. As he says in the most recent installment, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, “We are just trying to save history.”
Director: James Mangold
Cast: Harrison Ford, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Mads Mikkelsen, Antonio Banderas
Given that The Dial of Destiny is billed as Harrison’s final appearance as Indiana Jones, he faces off against an old enemy: Adolf Hitler and his Nazis. James Mangold, who is in top form as a writer-director, and his team of writers (Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, and David Koepp) weave a story of infinite possibilities to pay tribute to Indiana Jones in his final film. The film begins near the end of World War II, and a de-aged Harrison Ford reminds us why we loved Indy to begin with. There is an appropriate amount of his signature swagger and weariness. He is in Berlin with fellow artifact enthusiast Basil Shaw (Toby Jones) to retrieve the Lance of Longinus, but they end up with the Archimedes Dial instead. This initiates a plot that becomes inexplicably intertwined with major historical events, such as the Vietnam War and the Moon landing, resulting in a comfortable, if occasionally distant, Indiana Jones film.
Similar to The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, a mentor-mentee relationship exists here. Helena Shaw, portrayed by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, is Indy’s goddaughter. She brings with her a unique set of problems that begin the process of bringing Indy out of retirement. Despite the fact that these portions aren’t always convincing, they allow the filmmakers to go all out in the inventive stunt sequences. They are a worthy addition to Indiana Jones’s already stellar stunt library. From the very first scene, the writing centers on the stunts. In fact, it has served as the foundation for the entire Indiana Jones franchise. The question is how far Indy can be pushed, even though we know he will be okay. It is not comparable to the stunts performed by John Wick and Ethan Hunt. Here, Indy may only deliver a single punch or kick, but it is the buildup to these blows that is significant. And these scenes in The Dial of Destiny are superbly on point. It is intriguing to see Indy face off against another scientist, Voller (a subdued Mads Mikkelsen), but the character’s lack of menace despite his lofty ambitions is somewhat disappointing.
There is no denying that this is Harrison Ford’s final performance as the title character, and director James Mangold and his team are well aware of the legacy he will leave behind. In almost every frame of the film, there are Indiana-specific elements. Even while riding a rickety tuk-tuk through the streets of Tangier, he is able to let Helena and Teddy, her own Short Round, know who is in charge. When he is riding a horse through crowded streets and subway train tracks, the scene concludes with an Indiana wisecrack that we have seen from a mile away, yet we are still captivated. Not only are there numerous stunt scenes involving airplanes, trains, and automobiles, but there are also surprisingly tender moments. The scenes in which he struggles with his personal tragedy and the conversations he has with Helena about what it means to be lonely and exhausted are beautifully subdued yet potent. Indy is old and aware that things are not as simple as they once were, and the filmmakers strive to give him a conclusion that honors not only the iconic character but also the legendary actor beneath that fedora.
The Dial of Destiny goes to places one would never have imagined, but it makes perfect sense in hindsight. The final act is extremely entertaining, and it is precisely what makes Indiana Jones what he is. There were, however, portions of The Dial of Destiny that were neither entertaining nor heartwarming, despite the gravity of the film’s subject matter. Without a doubt, the film is a lot of fun, but there are moments where it is less fun but still enjoyable. These locations take you away from the action on screen, allowing you to wander for a while before returning to the film when the next action sequence occurs. In all honesty, we would not have missed anything significant during such random forays into the mind palace, but this is a significant issue. However, the dips in the second act are elevated in the final act, which beautifully summarizes Indianapolis’s journey from Raiders to the present.
Just like every other Indiana Jones film and the character’s legacy, which was created by George Lucas and Philip Kauffman and cemented in cinematic history by Steven Spielberg, there are so many things that seem ‘too lucky,’ ‘overly convenient,’ or just plain and simple implausible, given that he is a man of science witnessing the most absurd events. In many ways, generations of audiences have viewed Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones exactly as described. We are aware that he would stumble upon treacherous rune-Goldberg machines and clumsily sidestep their attack. We know the world is his oyster because he always finds people to help him. We know he is someone who makes everything up as he goes along. We know that he is the type of person who would bring a whip to a gunfight and emerge unscathed. As Indy says in The Dial of Destiny, “It’s not so much what you believe, it’s how hard you believe it.” The five films may appear unbelievable and implausible on a macro scale, but “it’s not so much what you believe… it’s how hard you believe it.”
When the news of the end of a 42-year-old legacy was announced, the child in me, who first became fascinated with the franchise when I realized I was born in the same year as The Last Crusade and who drew on those memories as an adult to create a fedora-wearing, sling-bag-carrying persona for himself, trembled at the prospect of an Indianapolis-less future. With The Dial of Destiny, it is almost as if Indy, who has had a hell of a ride, decides to take a well-deserved nap, but not before looking directly into the eyes of a wide-eyed child whose favorite superhero is a professor of archaeology and saying, “I’m okay, kid.”
Many thanks, Indy. I adore you, and you were my closest companion.