A few spoiler-y thoughts on the ending of Indiana Jones & The Dial Of Destiny

Indiana Jones and the Dial Of Destiny
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The final act of Indiana Jones & The Dial Of Destiny is generating some conversation: here’s a spoiler-y chat about it right here.

Spoilers lie ahead for the entire Indiana Jones saga, including Indiana Jones & The Dial Of Destiny.

In an interview with Mark Kermode on the Kermode & Mayo’s take podcast last week, the director of Indiana Jones & The Dial Of Destiny – James Mangold – gave a very broad hint as to a spoiler with regards his new film. I won’t repeat it here, as we’re in the first paragraph and I’ve not done the full spoiler warning yet. But I found it interesting just how open he was about the film, and where it was heading. Almost as if it was barely a spoiler.

Thing is, every hint about it was suggesting the same thing anyway.

The next picture you’re going to see is of a ferret. Since our spoiler squirrel sadly passed away in a freak nut accident, we’ve hired Brian The Spoiler Ferret. Whenever you see Brian, pass him at your peril: we’re in deep spoiler territory once he has appeared. You’ll note his demeanour is not warm.

Over to Brian…

Brian The Spoiler Ferret

 

 

Still here? Right, let’s do spoilers.

Going back over pretty much every press interview I’ve heard from the creatives involved with Indiana Jones & The Dial Of Destiny, and time is constantly mentioned as a key theme in the movie. In fact, it was key to Mangold and his team cracking the narrative of the film.

On the one hand there’s time with the passing of age, and the ageing of the central character, something Dial Of Destiny very much leans into. But also, well, time. The direction the fifth and final adventure for Dr Jones was heading has been fairly clearly signposted in plain sight, and for some time.

The ending though is pretty, well, divisive. The idea of Indiana Jones after a career of archaeology actually going back in time on the one hand, then meeting Archimedes, and pondering a retirement spent thousands of years before he was born isn’t quite the final place most of us imagined for the character when we watched Raiders Of The Lost Ark for the first time, but, well, here we are.

Mangold has recently given an interview about the ending of his film to The Ringer. It’s an interesting chat, that you can find in full here.

The key moments from Mangold’s conversation in relation to the final act are that, unsurprisingly, the ending has been in place for the last two years. This wasn’t a rushed decision: they started working on their script, and it seemed the right place in their eyes to take the story. No multiple endings: they knew ultimately what they were going for.

Furthermore, Mangold addressed the Archimedes moment too, which from people I’ve spoken to feels like it’s coming across even more divisively than the time travel. He says that there was never a thought that Indy would ultimately remain in the past, declaring “it seemed to me it would have been a kind of suicide by time warp and kind of grim. Like, is he really going to be happy?” Hence, a chat with Archimedes. As you do.

Let’s thus dig into those a little.

I believe Mangold on the film’s direction for a start. I saw where the film looked like it was going fairly early on, and when clouds starting forming in the sky towards the end, there wasn’t really a jot of surprise. And to a degree, I didn’t mind it either. When you think about it, the Indiana Jones films have pretty much all required some degree of leap of faith (an actual one, in one case). Furthermore, by deciding on a path, they very much commit to it. I’d rather that than half measures, or some fudged compromise.

Raiders Of The Lost Ark

Going back to Raiders (pictured), a Saturday morning serial-style adventure that ended with the Ark of the Covenant being opened, ghostly figures zipping around the screen, and Nazis melting. Within the space of one film we’d come a long way from a guy armed only with a whip trying to stay alive.

Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade meanwhile may be a story that appears to keep its feet relatively close to the ground, but there’s still elements of faith that it depends upon, and by the end, we’ve met a knight that’s been alive for a very, very, very long time.

Then, of course, Indiana Jones & The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull throws in aliens, because by that stage, why not?

Crystal Skull’s ending feels like the one that’s drawn the most fire across the history of the saga, and I’d argue with good reason. I remember sitting in the cinema watching it play out and you may as well have written the letters W, T and F on the screen to my eyes. Because it just didn’t seem – other opinions are available – to work within the internal reality of the movie.

In Raiders, what happens does. In Last Crusade it does. In Dial Of Destiny, the time travel element sort of does (coming back to that). But also, it does feel like us as audience members are being asked to take some pretty big leaps with the last two films, that they don’t necessarily lay the breadcrumbs for those jumps as well as the earlier movies. Certainly, Indy aside, I was a lot less invested in the characters, and that feels an important note in the midst of all of this.

That said, there’s little reason why given the hardly underlying fantasy elements of the Indiana Jones films that time travel shouldn’t be a factor. I’m not saying I didn’t think it felt really daft as it was happening, but in the internal logic of the film and the saga, it sort of held together.

There’s no reason too why, given we’ve already met that knight who should have been dead a good chunk of time before Indy encountered him, why he couldn’t meet Archimedes, and have a chunter? The problem though is that it’s a second leap the audience is being asked to make in double quick time and, well, quite a big one. To ask them to swallow time travel? A long-ish shot. To throw in Archimedes as well? You’re very much pushing your luck.

Raiders ultimately asks us to jump once into fantasy for one key sequence, and it worked. They knew what they needed, they got it, they moved on. The challenges at the end of Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade meanwhile keep their feet somewhat close to the ground. As such, when we’re asked to go with the leap of faith, we do, because Henry Jones Sr is the prime focus. When the water from the cup heals his wounds, I never questioned it. It felt earned.

When Archimedes rocked up? Well, it felt an indulgence to me, and made me think that the saga had fled the planet for a bit. We’re not quite in Fast 9 levels of breaking your own reality, but certainly in the conversation. One thing too: I never quite worked out why the first impulse of the fighter planes when they saw people from around 200BC was to open fire on them without really thinking? Spears were being chucked, sure, but fly a bit higher, surely, and assess things? But nope: machine guns out.

Still, that feels quite minor in the scheme of things. Instead, the final act of Indiana Jones & The Dial Of Destiny, even accepting roads previously trodden in this particular franchise, feels like it’s left reality behind, twice.

A degree of sequelitus too, maybe? That the stakes of the film had to be higher than ever, because as we all knew, this is the last one. This is the end of the road for the character. And also, Disney threw a quarter of a billion dollars at the fifth chapter in a series that started with a reasonably economical pulpy adventure. That said, I come back to what James Mangold has been saying: this was the ending. This was where it was going. This wasn’t an attempt to throw money at a finale: it’s where they felt the story naturally led them.

Yet the fact that this article is being written, and that you’re reading it, suggests all didn’t quite fully work. On paper, there’s nothing that happened at the end of the fourth and fifth Indiana Jones movies that couldn’t have worked on screen with a different build up. They both arguably needed to feel a little bit closer to the ground than they ended up, but the precedent was there to tear up reality a bit in the last act of these movies. They took the leap, didn’t quite land.

Others disagree, and that’s half the fun. Indiana Jones & The Dial Of Destiny has done terrific business at the UK box office I’ve just learned, and many are happy to go with it. Good. Because whether you like the direction things went or not, at the very least, the fantasy element had long been established as part of Indiana Jones. It’s just whether you quite buy it in the latest movie. I wasn’t entirely sold. Hopefully you were.

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