Harrison Ford is in typically redoubtable form in his fifth and final Indiana Jones film, titled The Dial of Destiny, but it is otherwise sprawling and very uneven. It starts promisingly with an action sequence toward the end of the Second World War in which somehow, using the magic of CGI, Indiana is shown as a youngish man tussling with the Nazis. This is when he first encounters the fiendish Jurgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen). This prelude offers exactly what you expect from an Indiana Jones adventure: chases, explosions and an epic fight sequence on top of a runaway train. Toby Jones registers strongly as Indy’s companion, Basil Jones, a diminutive, eccentric but staunchly heroic English academic who helps Indiana stay alive.
We’re then whisked forward to the late 1960s, the era of The Beatles and the space programme. Indiana is in New York, on the verge of retirement from the university where he teaches. His students can barely stay awake in his classes. Basil’s daughter Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) turns up at one of his lectures. He’s her godfather, but hasn’t seen her for years.
Ford’s age isn’t ignored. In fact, it’s one of the wellsprings of the plot. Age has made Indiana even more crotchety than he was in the previous four movies. There are constant references to his aches and pains, his “crumbling vertebrae” and his diminishing stamina. He’s referred to as an “ancient grave robber” at one stage. Nonetheless, he still climbs up rock faces and brandishes that old bullwhip with the elan that generations of fans have grown to love.
Helena reminds him of the mysterious ancient dial that he found on that runaway train during the war. He is soon competing to retrieve it with Voller, who has changed his name and is now working on the American space programme. The dial was designed by Archimedes thousands of years before. If its two halves are brought together, its owner will be able to leap across time.
The movie consists of a series of chases and fights linked by ever more improbable plot twists. The action is often very inventively staged. James Mangold, who has taken over directing duties from Steven Spielberg, sets a breakneck tempo. One bravura early set-piece involves Indiana riding a policeman’s horse down into the subway with his antagonists in hot pursuit.
Waller-Bridge’s Helena is a disconcerting presence: an intellectually brilliant adventuress who is also a mercenary and con artist. Her partnership with Indiana is a little strained. There’s obviously no romantic spark between them – he’s far too old for her. She is incongruously cheerful, whooping excitedly in one scene after someone close to Indiana has just been killed.
Tonally, the film wavers. It pulls in too many different directions at once. On the one hand, this is an exercise in affectionate nostalgia. On the other, like its predecessors, it’s an old-fashioned matinee adventure in which characterisation is deliberately broad. Certain episodes are knowing and ironic, while others seem painfully naive.
Fans of the franchise will still find plenty to savour. Indiana and Helena tussle with insects and hang from the wings of planes. There are scenes of deep sea diving and sequences set in caves. However, the screenplay, by Jez Butterworth, John Henry Butterworth and David Koepp, sometimes seems like a mish-mash of elements from the older movies thrown together in scattergun fashion. In the final reel, the film slips into outright absurdity. Harrison Ford is the hero of the hour. He never loses either his scowl or his doggedness. He plays even the flimsiest scenes with conviction and dry humour. His performance carries the movie. Age cannot wither him in the slightest but the franchise itself is looking a little ragged. This is a good moment to put a full stop on it.
Dir: James Mangold; Starring: Harrison Ford, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Antonio Banderas, John Rhys-Davies, Toby Jones, Boyd Holbrook, Ethann Isidore, Mads Mikkelsen. 12A, 154 mins.
‘Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny’ is in cinemas from 30 June
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