Relics and Regret, Aging and Adventure. Harrison Ford whips up one last performance for the series.

For over 40 years, Indiana Jones has delivered a quintessential slice of adventure. A series crafted by George Lucas in homage to the TV serial adventures of his youth, stories drawing from myth and antiquity, guided the sublime hand of Steven Spielberg, and driven by the charms of its lead, Harrison Ford. After the muddled effort that was Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, we last saw Indy in 1957, fresh off foiling a Soviet threat, reunited with old flame Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) and his estranged son Mutt (Shia). James Mangold (3:10 to Yuma, Logan, Ford v Ferrari) takes the reigns for this new installment, one that opens in the last days of World War II, where Indy (a de-aged Ford) and academic associate Basil Shaw (Toby Jones) are on a mission to save some priceless artifacts from the Nazis. Scavenging treasures as they make their retreat across the continent. While making their escape, they cross paths with Nazi scientist Dr. Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen) who has in his possession one half of the famed Archimedes dial. A relic of the ancient Greek inventor that once rebuilt, is believed to lead the bearer to fractures in time. Taking custody of the artifact, the pair make their escape as the Third Reich comes crashing down.

Flash forward to 1969. Dr. Voller is now aiding the US with rocket development under the protection of Operation Paperclip. Dr. Jones is on the cusp of retirement. The family unit we saw in his future has fragmented. Old, alone, a man out of his time and out of his prime. Enter Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), Shaw’s daughter and Indy’s goddaughter, who has picked up her now deceased father’s festering obsession with the dial. Dragged back into action, the aging adventurer finds himself in a race against a face from the past, as Voller is determined to use his position and privilege to find and unify the two pieces of the dial, and use it to right the outcome of the war, and put the Nazi’s on the winning side.

Set in the shadow of the moon landing, it’s a great backdrop to revisit an old archeologist in as new age. An era where Americans look to the stars and Indy is still digging in the dirt. The students in his final class have eyes glazed with boredom, rather than adored with messages of adoration. Professionally and personally, he’s mired in the past. It’s a great angle to revisit the franchise, and to give Harrison Ford something meaty to dig into. A return to a role that complements his other recent revivals in the Star Wars sequels, and the superb Blade Runner 2049. Roles that reflect on how the years have been both kind and unkind to these embattled men. For Indy, it’s a begrudging return that opens up into a chance to correct some of his mistakes.

You’d think after his potent and poignant handling of Wolverine’s swansong in Logan, James Mangold would be perfect for this Indy’s last huzzah, but instead of leveraging nostalgia and building on history, he gets mired in it. The story unfolds in a familiar way, delivers moments of action, snappy one liners, and a great cast. There’s even a magical score from John Williams. But overall, the film recycled and clunky. So rooted in nostalgia and paying homage that it forgets to cut loose and have a bit of fun. Surprisingly for Mangold, the action beats are some of the weaker aspects of the film. Muddled sequences, poorly cut and framed, clunkily paced, and often exposing some of the shoddy effects work. The opener encapsulates this perfectly, with a de-aged Harrison Ford taking center stage and driving home the lifelessness and lack of physicality in CGI-driven sequences, as well as the ongoing questionability of leveraging this technology into films. Dial of Destiny just lacks that breathless sense of adventure that infused its predecessors, and the wit Spielberg brought to his set-pieces.

The addition of Phoebe Waller-Bridge is certainly a rejuvenating presence, adding a chaotic energy and cheeky freshness to proceedings. Her sidekick Teddy while played admirably by Ethann Isidore, is sadly written as a pale imitation of Short Round. Voller (Mads Voller is again a lightly sketched character, but Mikkelsen infuses him with a quiet fanaticism that makes him effectively menacing. Boyd Holbrook is perfectly serviceable as his right hand man Klaber. One standout who sadly doesn’t get swept along for the duration of the film is Shaunette Renée Wilson, whose CIA agent Mason feels the most era-appropriate character in the lineup, and like a truly untapped resource. While Ford’s performance doesn’t quite match the gruff grandeur of his return to han Solo in The Force Awakens, he showcases his range, and adds empathy to a character that has made him a household name. Despite Ford’s clear commitment, the script from Mangold, David Koepp, and Jez & John-Henry Butterworth feels like a real missed opportunity to take this character and this shift in era, and get into any deep exploration. Personal investment and character motivations shift according to the needs of the plot. Characters that seem well positioned to spark off each other’s themes and journeys, barely spend any time together. This older Indy seems more predisposed to punch his way out of situations than think his way out. In fact more problem solving seems to fall in Helena’s lap than his. It speaks to thinking about the old, rather than what is immediately at hand.

One part of the film does flex in terms of its boldness, a wild left-turn coming in the final act. It stands out, even with previous films showcasing Nazis melting from the wrath of God, demonic black magic, or aliens ascending to the heavens in a flying saucer. It’s a sequence that is surprisingly poetic and gets to refocus the film on how archeologists are obsessed with antiquity. Their dreams and desires look to the past. We see how Indy’s mindset puts him at odds with the present, and indeed his own future. Rather than resolve this once and for all, the film takes the choice away from him. Even its ending embraces one path, then snatches it away. Dial of Destiny is at its core about the damage that comes with holding onto the past. Ironic then that Mangold’s chapter in the Indiana Jones franchise so often seems afraid to commit to something new, depriving it of any real sense of adventure.

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny hits theaters on June 30th

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