When I saw David Koepp’s name in the closing credits of the new Indiana Jones film, that explained a lot.
In particular, it explained why my wife and I loved this movie — especially the final half-hour, which is absolutely spot-on.
Koepp is the veteran screenwriter whose many blockbusters have netted $3.2 billion. These include the first three “Jurassic Parks,” the first “Mission: Impossible,” Spielberg’s “War of the Worlds” and 2002’s smash “Spider-Man,” which singlehandedly ignited the ongoing superhero craze.
It was actually a four-man writing team on “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny,” the fifth and final film in the fedora-flaunting franchise that began with “Raiders of the Lost Ark” some 42 years ago. But I’m wagering Koepp had much to do with what makes this movie work so well — starting with that letter-perfect finale. If only I could conscionably reveal where this culminating sequel winds up, it would certainly convince any Indy fans who haven’t yet seen it — especially those still stung by the fairly lukewarm “Crystal Skull” in 2008.
But even beyond its brilliantly executed climax and coda — providing perfect closure as it reaches far back in the Jones story-arc — “Dial of Destiny” has a lot going for it.
There’s the excellent Phoebe Waller-Bridge as Indy’s godchild — and the fine supporting cast with Antonio Banderas, Toby Jones, young Ethann Isidore, franchise stalwart John Rhys-Davies and newcomer Shaunette Renee Wilson. Mads Mikkelson, of “Casino Royale” and TV’s “Hannibal,” makes one terrific villain.
On this latest quest, Indy’s after an ancient device that supposedly allows its user to change history; fittingly, this quest involves Jones’ long-hated Nazi adversaries, starting with a sustained and exciting opener set during World War II — a sequence that required computerized de-aging of several actors. And man, when Ford reappears in his younger incarnation, it is not merely convincing; it’s also a nostalgic and bracing blast from the past that really gets the film off to a roaring start.
“Dial” is the first Jones film not directed by Steven Spielberg; yet the accomplished James Mangold (“Walk the Line,” “Knight and Day,” “Logan,” “Ford v Ferrari”) does a masterful job, particularly on the action scenes.
Indeed, one key to the film’s success is that it never seems to be trying too hard. In so many modern actioners, the chases and stunts are all working overtime to outdo the last three blockbusters you saw — resulting in scenes that are too long and too ridiculous, with way too much computerized imagery.
Here the action sequences are tight, economical, sometimes funny and self-deprecating — with Jones riding a horse down into the subway or wrestling through twisty Moroccan alleys on a dilapidated, three-wheeled tuk-tuk. (Yes, that’s a word — one which, coincidentally, I covered in my latest “Weird Words” column; see Webb Weekly, June 28.)
The film likewise looks great, with marvelous period detail from the late 1960s (who remembers overhead projectors and “H R Pufnstuf”?!) — and meticulous photography by Phedon Papamichael, who frequently works with Mangold and writer-director Alexander Payne. And 91-year-old John Williams, while making fine use of his soaring “Raiders” theme, isn’t exactly resting on his laurels with this galvanizing, high-powered score.
I had feared that “Dial’s” 154 minutes would be another case of “too much movie,” which happens a lot with these blockbusters these days. But this picture never overstays its welcome, never seems too fast or too slow. It feels, in fact, like a perfect blend of adrenaline, nostalgia and emotional closure.
Sadly, there won’t be any more entries for “Indiana Jones” — but “Dial” leaves you feeling like that’s OK.
Plenty of us already want to see it again.