It’s kind of crazy that this movie even exists. Just think about it. Indiana Jones has been a big screen character for over 40 years now. Sure, Raiders of the Lost Ark got two good to very good sequels in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom as well as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, but the long in development Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull underwhelmed, seemingly putting the franchise on ice. Now, Indy is back, not so much taking a victory lap as much as attempting to go out with more of a bang. The result is Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, which won’t make anyone forget about the first three, but is a welcome step up from the fourth one. Mostly, if you enjoy this character, there’s more fun to be had with him, before hanging up the fedora for good.
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is a farewell to an all-timer of a cinematic character. At the same time, it’s an adventure fit for our hero. Not all of it works, but in comparison to the wildly uneven nature of his prior outing, this is mostly satisfying. Would it perhaps have been better to just leave Indy be? Maybe, but after continuing on from a really strong trilogy, it made sense to try and course correct here. What we end up with is no modern classic, to be sure, but an entertaining adventure with an old friend.
We catch up with Indiana Jones (Ford) in Germany during the waning days of World War II. Along with Basil Shaw (Toby Jones), he’s searching for the Lance of Longinus, currently in possession by the Nazis, including scientist Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen). As all involved realize the Lance is a fake, they wind up aboard a speeding train with something else to covet. That something is the Antikythera, the titular dial invented by Greek mathematician Archimedes in the third century B.C., which will become the focus of the film. Half of it is here, the other half a mystery. Basil and Indy escape with it, but its existence will haunt Voller.
Fast-forward to 1969 and Indy is a shell of his former self. Teaching at Hunter College in Manhattan, he lives in a small apartment, drinks, and shows no real interest in anything. That is, until a visit from his goddaughter, Helena Shaw (Phoebe Waller-Bridge). An archeologist herself, she wants his help in finding the other half of the dial. However, she’s in it to sell at auction to the highest bidder. Voller is in town too, having escaped and become an integral part of NASA pulling off the moon landing. One big chase later and Helena has Indy with her going after the Grafikos, the missing half of the dial. Alongside her young sidekick Teddy (Ethann Isidore), they set off on one last adventure. This one goes from the Big Apple to Tangier, as well as Greece and Sicily, among other spots. All the while, Voller and his goons are never far behind. I won’t spoil the third act, but it does what the franchise has always done, just on a whole other level.
Harrison Ford is fully engaged here, knowing this is his final ride as the archeologist. As such, it’s more satisfying watching him here than in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Ford shows his age a bit, but the flick doesn’t shy away from it. It’s never a punchline, but just changes the type of journey, to some degree. When the emotional moments arrive, Ford is at the top of his game. As for Phoebe Waller-Bridge, she’s a delight, playing the other side of the adventurer coin. Indy may want the artifacts in the museum, but Helena harkens back to his days of seeking fortune and glory. They have nice chemistry together, while Waller-Bridge shows the evolution of the character quite well. Mads Mikkelsen is a traditional villain for this franchise, colder and almost gentlemanly, but with a deranged side, to be sure. It’s a slightly new spin on the Nazi bad guy, while still remembering who the series is at its best in presenting as villains. Ethann Isidore isn’t bad, but the character is annoying and really doesn’t add much to the proceedings, while Toby Jones doesn’t get a ton to do (though he fits the franchise like a glove). Supporting players here include Antonio Banderas, Mark Killeen, Thomas Kretschmann, Nasser Memarzia, Billy Postlethwaite, Olivier Richters, Shaunette Renée Wilson, and more, including cameos from Karen Allen and John Rhys-Davies. Both of them will make you smile when you see them pop up.
James Mangold takes over for Steven Spielberg and does a very nice job. The camera work isn’t as dynamic as Spielberg’s films (Douglas Slocombe in the original trilogy and Janusz Kamiński last time), but cinematographer Phedon Papamichael is no slouch here. Mangold’s direction leans in to what Ford does well with the character, only occasionally leaning too heavily on CGI action that feels more anonymous than this franchise has as a hallmark. That being said, the CGI used to de-age Harrison Ford in the prologue is pretty good. It’s just his voice that betrays the age, but visually? It works well. There’s also potentially the last John Williams score (though he’s recently rescinded his retirement plans), which is reliably strong and sweeping. The weak link is the screenplay, which is credited to Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, David Koepp, and Mangold. It’s not a bad script, but it gives us things we don’t need, like another child sidekick, alongside a frivolous action sequence or two. Now, they take arguably the biggest swing yet with the third act, though the series never went small with their climaxes. This one might prove divisive, but I got a kick out of it.
Compared to the rest of the franchise (which I’ll rank later on this week), this one is not a patch on the original trilogy, though it is a course correction from the prior installment. Mangold and company, which includes Spielberg, clearly wanted this to end things on a better note. They certainly managed to accomplish that goal, though I honestly would have been curious to see Spielberg helming this one. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull isn’t particularly good, but individual sequences are great, so had he been on board and into things like Ford is, they could have made one more really strong one.
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is a solid film that mainly suffers from heightened expectations and the hope that it could have been great. The movie works, gives you what you want from Indy, and says goodbye in a way that feels right for the character. It may not be what you’re expecting (and boy the third act is a big swing), but it does right by Indy. At the end of the day, what more can you ask for here?