For those of us who adored Indiana Jones growing up, the fifth and final instalment of the franchise is a fitting goodbye to an action hero that changed our lives. On Thursday at the Cannes Film Festival, the global premiere of Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny — held at the Grand Auditorium Louis Lumière with all the epic grandeur of major Hollywood events taken to the Côte d’Azur — transported us back to the adventure dreamworld we were swept into in our youth.
There are moments when Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, which is directed by James Mangold, actually retreads ground that is too familiar to its viewers. The beginning of the movie, with Harrison Ford digitally de-aged, directly meshes with previous passages of the saga — but this time, despite costing a pretty penny to make, the result looks a bit too much like a video game. It’s an overly elaborate opening that only serves to introduce the characters played by Mads Mikkelsen, a baddie whose evil the Dane portrays almost effortlessly, and Toby Jones, in the role of an old archaeology buddy of Indy’s. The English actor’s diminutive stature provokes a touch of amusement when, years later, his daughter reappears in Professor Jones’ life as the tall, slim figure played by Phoebe Waller-Bridge.
Thankfully, there are no more flashbacks, and the rest of the movie takes place in the 1960s. Jones lives alone in a New York apartment, is about to retire and is a cranky old man with no wife or kids who can’t stand his young neighbors’ partying. His female students no longer write “I love you” on their eyelids; they can now be seen yawning through his archaeology classes. It’s 1969, and people are listening to the Beatles, youngsters are demonstrating against the Vietnam War, and humankind has now walked on the Moon. But such moments in history are just background noise to a man whose best years are well behind him.
That’s when the story really gets going. A movie that doesn’t miss the opportunity for the odd nostalgic nod, it throws up spectacular action sequences, such as one that sees Indiana gallop through New York’s streets and subway on a horse, in a delightful anachronism. There’s also an exotic, entertaining chase through Tangier on a three-wheeled tuk-tuk; that one is right up there with the franchise’s best.
The choice of Waller-Bridge to accompany Ford on his adventure, as well as the presence of Ethann Isidore as her sidekick, provides a generational divide that ends up working, particularly in a final stretch that gives the hero an honorable farewell. With a skillfully crafted ending, Mangold opts for a solution that reminds us that what defines Indy best as an action hero are the scars he bears. He’s an adventurer who, despite the fantastic feats he pulls off, is deeply human.
A blend of Bond and Bogart
That humanity is all down to an actor who gave meaning to a character envisioned as a mixture between James Bond and Humphrey Bogart, but who Ford took to a place that is his own. If there’s one thing we can learn from the adventures of Indiana Jones, it is that failure is a form of victory, erudition is a variant of elegance, and humor and mischievousness are a form of survival.
In Cannes, the spotlight was, unsurprisingly, on Ford, an actor who brought to life all the contradictions in a unique character who revived the adventure genre. Before the movie was shown on Thursday, Ford was unexpectedly presented with the Palme d’Or d’Honneur, with festival organizers playing a short video tribute that looked back over his career, amid applause from the audience. It was a moment that left Ford emotional, putting his shyness and serious demeanor firmly to the test.
“They say when you’re about to die you see your life flash before your eyes, and I just saw my life flash before my eyes — a great part of my life,” Ford said after watching the montage of his illustrious filmography. In a brief, intense speech, he told the audience: “You know, I love you, too. You’ve given my life purpose and meaning.”
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny closes the circle that opened in 1981 with Raiders of the Lost Ark, the best in the franchise together with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989). The story concludes 42 years later, with an octogenarian archaeologist who doesn’t hide his gray hairs or the toll time has taken on his body, and who says goodbye to the big screen with the dignity he has always deserved.
Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get more English-language news coverage from EL PAÍS USA Edition