It’s no secret that we’re experiencing a tidal shift in how people watch movies.
Streaming and on-demand services have made it much easier to get films, even brand-new ones, delivered straight to your living room or laptop screen or even [sigh] the 5.8 diagonal inches of your smartphone.
There are some movies, however, that pretty much demand to be experienced in their natural habitat: on the big screen, with other people. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is that kind of movie.
The fifth and reportedly final installment of the beloved series brings back alpha movie star Harrison Ford for one last adventure. I’m happy to report that it’s a good one. Director James Mangold (Logan) uses all the tools of 21st-century filmmaking to revive the generous spirit of the franchise.
Destiny opens with an extended flashback scene in which a young Dr. Jones squares off against his traditional nemeses—Nazis—aboard a speeding train filled with war plunder. Set in the final days of World War II, the sequence features digital de-aging techniques to give us a long last look at Ford as Indy in his prime.
The de-aging works as well as I’ve seen this stuff work, largely because it’s actually deployed in service of the story. The following scene flashes forward to show Indy circa 1969, shuffling about in his small bachelor apartment looking old and vulnerable.
Word is that Ford insisted on filming this scene shirtless, to show the ravages of time on our intrepid archeologist. That’s a deliberate bit of sequencing because Dial of Destiny is all about time and its tyrannical march forward. By framing Indy’s last story this way, the film provides an emotional charge to the adventure that follows.
And what an adventure it is! Dial of Destiny has a half dozen brilliantly executed set pieces in classic series style. An extended fight through a protest march takes Indy from the rooftops to the subways of Manhattan. A fantastic chase scene in Morocco features those rickety three-wheeled taxis careening through the crowded streets of Tangier. We also get the mandatory dusty tomb filled with creepy-crawlies and a tricky underwater sequence in a Mediterranean shipwreck.
The showcase action scenes are stitched together with a tight script featuring an ancient artifact, a twisty time-travel mystery, a nefarious villain (Mads Mikkelsen as an unreformed Nazi scientist), and some of the series’ best henchman/goon characters.
But the film’s most crucial casting decision is Phoebe Waller-Bridge as Helena Shaw, a fellow adventurer with a connection to Indy’s past. Cool and competent, Waller-Bridge somehow manages the impossible task of matching Harrison Ford in pure movie-star charisma.
Director Mangold and his team handle all the tomb raiding and globe-trotting with skill and style. Indiana Jones is a hall-of-fame movie hero, one of the best Hollywood has ever created. Thanks to Ford’s characterization, he’s always been a relatable character, vulnerable to mistakes and harm and the passing of time.
Mangold realizes that, after all these years, we have an emotional investment in this guy. We need a proper ending.
The script provides one by bringing back some favorite characters—including John Rhys-Davies as Indy’s stalwart ally Sallah—and executing a triple-twist climax that works just fine, so long as you don’t think it through too much.
Everything in Dial of Destiny is designed to play in the big-screen environment, and the theater is really the proper venue to say goodbye to Indiana Jones. If you want to see Indy one last time, I recommend you do so the old-fashioned way: in a cool dark room with a big, rowdy crowd.
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