The Plot: New York, 1969. Archaeologist and occasional tomb raider Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) is about to retire. He’s not quite able to deal with modern society in all its loudness and futurism, as men are now landing on the moon. The past has meant more to him and he’s in mourning for the life he used to have. An adventure is not on his mind, but his god-daughter Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) turns up to rope him into solving the missing piece of his career: the search for the other piece of the Dial of Archimedes, which is said to have mystical properties. They’re not the only ones looking for it. Former Nazi Voller (Mads Mikkelsen) is on Indy and Helena’s trail and has his own arch plans…
The Verdict: The Indiana Jones series was Steven Spielberg and George Lucas’ answer to the Bond series. Given that the Bond franchise custodians have a long-held policy that the director can’t be bigger than Bond himself, the duo set out to make their own rip-roaring, globe-trotting adventure mixing in the best of the Saturday matinee cliffhanger serials of yesteryear with modern special effects. The original trilogy ended on a symbolic note in 1989 and is a neatly-wrapped conclusion, so anything after that can be considered a bonus. 2008’s Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull led to a fair degree of criticism, but isn’t as bad as all that. Time moves forward and so does the character of Indy. The theme of time (past, present and future) is very much on the mind of the fifth and reportedly final entry Indiana Jones And The Dial Of Destiny, a title that initially sounded clunky but makes more sense once the film has been watched.
The Dial Of Destiny is fronted by a lengthy but thrilling 1944-set prologue, which makes liberal use of a much ballyhooed, digitally de-aged Harrison Ford – that most durable of film stars. Some shots of Ford look a bit dodgy (though not as dodgy as The Flash recently) and it’s more convincing when he doesn’t speak, but it mostly works and becomes integral to the story that follows a quarter century later. Indy’s favourite bad guys are at it again, trying to dominate the world and use ancient antiquities to further their nefarious cause. The idea of an embittered Nazi in 1969 plotting to correct the mistakes of Hitler is a callback to the series’ glory days. There is a familiar, nostalgic glow to the script by Jez Butterworth, his brother John-Henry and Indy veteran David Koepp, which plays out like a greatest-hits compilation: globe-trotting scenery; red lines following airplanes on a map; dangerous booby traps; character reversals; familiar faces returning; a macguffin device that sends things off the rails; and of course, John Williams’ iconic score (still finding the magic at 91).
Fears that it might be another Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull, particularly after its decidedly mixed reaction at Cannes, appear to be unfounded. It’s a more focused film than its predecessor, dropping in nostalgia but not overplaying it and building up a more solid partnership between Indy and his sidekick Helena (who has her own young sidekick too). Indy is a grizzled veteran, a man out of his time. He might now change his earlier opinion and say that it is the years and not the mileage. Perhaps controversially the screenwriters and Logan director James Mangold have done an elder Luke Skywalker on him and made Indy a bit more bitter and weighed down by guilt over past mistakes. With his customary gravitas though, Ford brings that depth of character and introspection necessary for an aging hero along with his duck-for-cover, making-it-up-as-he-goes-along approach to life that made the character so memorable in the first place. It’s Indy allright, but an older and hopefully wiser one. Ford and Waller-Bridge crackle on screen as a result.
The controversy doesn’t quite end there though. The third act goes off in an admittedly loopy direction, even more so than its predecessor and might prove divisive. Of all the places it could have gone… Mangold decided to go there and that’s something that audiences will have to deal with – buy into it or not. For this reviewer though, it worked because it grounded Indy in what he truly felt at that moment in time… and it’s warmly funny too. It’s so audacious and off-the-wall brilliant that it’s a wonder that Spielberg didn’t think of it before, but one also has to wonder if he would have gone that far in pushing Indy to the very edge of the cliff. Passing on the fedora and whip to Mangold so that he could make his passion project The Fabelmans, Spielberg’s reaction says it all: ‘Damn! I thought I was the only one who knew how to make one of these’. Mangold has done a worthy job here in continuing the Indy tradition while taking it in an exciting but conclusive (?) direction. The Dial Of Destiny is one last wild ride of a film that is more than a bonus entry. If it’s to be the last, then Henry Jones Jr. is going out with a sharp crack of the whip.
Rating: 4 / 5
Review by Gareth O’Connor
Indiana Jones And The Dial Of Destiny
One last wild ride
Indiana Jones And The Dial Of Destiny (USA / 12A / 154 mins)
In short: One last wild ride
Directed by James Mangold.
Starring Harrison Ford, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Mads Mikkelsen, Antonio Banderas, Toby Jones, John Rhys-Davies.