The new and final Indiana Jones film starring Harrison Ford is finally out. And it’s more Dial of Disaster than Destiny...
Harrison Ford dons the fedora and the leather jacket for a fifth and final time in James Mangold’s Indiana Jones and The Dial of Destiny, the first Spielberg-less Indy. And it’s not the final hurrah we were hoping for...
It starts with a promising prologue, which features one of the best action set pieces in the series. The 1944-set first act has a younger Indiana Jones (an impressively de-aged Ford) and his pal Basil Shaw (Toby Jones) in the middle of a Nazi looting session in a burning fort. We’re in the dying days of World War II and the beleaguered fascists are desperately looking to secure some occult trinkets for the Führer, including the Lance of Longinus - the blade that drew Christ’s blood. However, the film’s true MacGuffin soon comes to the fore, as Nazi Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen) understands that true power resides in Archimedes’ temporal contraption, the Antikythera, halved in two so that the whole may never fall into the wrong hands.
Cut to 1969, when an aging Indy is living in a small New York flat, complaining about his beatnik neighbours making too much noise with their hippy music, and making sure his morning coffees are Irish. The grumpy Dr. Jones, who is on the verge of retirement, has also been served divorce papers from Marion (Karen Allen), who was not able to cope with the grief of their son’s death.
The monotony of his current life is quickly broken with the appearance of his goddaughter Helena Shaw aka: Wombat (Phoebe Waller-Bridge). She’s on a mission of her own to continue to her pop Basil's search for the Dial. Much like John Hurt’s Harold Oxley in the previous adventure, 2008’s Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Basil was driven insane by his research, believing that the Antikythera could predict “fissures in time”. The sizeable snag is that she’s not the only one looking for the steam-punk prize, as Voller – who has since helped the US win the space race – wants to get his Nazi mitts on the mythical object.
Cut to: Helena persuading Indy to join her on a globetrotting adventure to Morocco, Greece and Syracuse in order to “go out with a bang, back in the saddle – I’m not selling this, am I?”
You’re not wrong, Wombat.
Indiana Jones and The Dial of Destiny starts off well, continues serviceably during the predictable fetch quest, and utterly fowls it up by the last act. It’s not a complete disaster, but you genuinely wonder what the writers were mainlining when they came up with their barmy showdown, which completely wastes Mikkelsen’s efforts and feels like a cross between a Doctor Who episode retooled by the writers of The Magic School Bus.
The thematic of time is taken way too literally, and while more charitable viewers may see a heroically audacious swerve to be applauded, it’s hard not to curse the squandered build-up and bemoan the fact the line “I’ve learned that it’s not what you believe in but how hard you believe in it” wasn’t handled with more care. Or intelligence.
The alien payoff 15 years ago in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull suddenly don’t feel so naff.
There’s still plenty to admire in The Dial of Destiny: the repetitive action sequences do remain very slick; the de-aging technology doesn’t deliver the predictable uncanny valley / ice-cream face that audiences have been subjected to in countless movies attempting to rejuvenate their stars’ complexions for a flashback sequence; and this instalment’s theme of the passing of time (mostly) works. Mangold shines in understanding how to handle an aging icon in his twilight years, having given Wolverine a banger of a send off with Logan. The director handles bittersweet nostalgia well, acknowledging that our hero’s skills have been impacted by the passage of time, loss and regret; there’s a poignancy to his weathered mentality.
And Ford, 80, is sprightly and his impressively cut grandad bod is to be applauded.
His character is also given brief moments to dwell on death. When his colleagues or friends meet a grizzly end, none of it is taken for granted like it may have been before. “My friend just got murdered,” he snaps at Helena at one point, showing a man who’s dodged his fair share of bullets and realises that it's a minor miracle he’s gotten this far. Punching Nazis does take it out of you.
It’s in these moments that you remember why the Indiana Jones franchise is so beloved, and why the character remains iconic: he is relatable, fallible, and never superhuman. But while Ford gives it socks and confirms once again that “it’s not the years, it’s the mileage”, his never-not-entertaining swansong is truly ruined by a four-way screenplay (Mangold, David Koepp, Jez and John-Henry Butterworth) that clearly couldn’t figure out how to say goodbye properly. At least, not ridiculously.
“Yesterday belongs to us,” says Voller during the incriminating final act.
That much is true – we’ll always have yesterday’s Raiders of the Lost Arc, the unfairly maligned Temple of Doom and the wonderful The Last Crusade. And you can’t fault Ford for his stellar efforts in another legacy sequel which sees him bid farewell to another cinematic icon, after Deckard (Blade Runner 2049) and Han Solo (Star Wars: the Force Awakens).
However, if we’ve secured yesterday, today is decidedly a let-down that belongs to four writers who should have known better than to cackhandedly mess with the laws of time, and who should not have allowed Indiana Jones to limp into the sunset.
Indiana Jones and The Dial of Destiny is out in cinemas now.